Speed of service and minimal food wastage have made microwaves an indispensable fixture in commercial kitchens. But how can operators get more value from them and what’s the key to prolonging their usage? FEJ investigates.
Microwaves are typically thought of for the simple reheating of small portions of food, additional items such as sauces and defrosting.
But they can increasingly be utilised to help expand a pub menu and give operators the opportunity to offer dishes that may otherwise be time-restrictive.
Today’s professional-grade microwave ovens are sophisticated yet easy to use and produce excellent cooking results in a fraction of the time it takes to cook foods conventionally.
The most obvious benefit to any operator is speed, but there is a great deal of versatility that a microwave can offer, too. Deployed properly, a microwave will form a key part of any kitchen operation and offer the ability to serve a full menu.
“Microwaves are excellent at regenerating ‘wet’ food,” says Iain Phillips, deputy managing director at Regale Microwave Ovens. “Any food with a high moisture content should be suitable for cooking in a microwave. This could be sauces, curries and stews, but microwaves will also cook fish and vegetables very nicely.”
One of the latest developments in the commercial microwave oven market is the use of inverter technology to provide outstanding cooking results. Inverter technology differs from traditional microwaves by providing constant, rather than pulsed, power when cooking, reheating or defrosting at reduced power levels.
For example, a traditional microwave set at 50% will pulse by switching power on and off throughout the cooking period, which can lead to uneven results in some foods.
“Inverter technology will provide a precise and constant supply of power at 50%, making it easier to cook or reheat foods slowly and defrost dishes to perfection,” explains Kris Brearley, sales director at RH Hall.
“Thanks to precise temperature control, you can cook, reheat or defrost a far greater variety of dishes that conventional microwaves were previously not able to prepare to the same high standard. There will always be a place in every kitchen for a basic microwave, but future developments are likely to focus on automation, particularly for multi-sited operations. Menu consistency is key and machines which offer easy menu programming will become more and more appealing.”
Operators can undoubtedly maximise the investment they make in purchasing a good microwave by using them for a wide variety of cooking applications, rather than just seeing them as an item of equipment to reheat and defrost.
Inverter technology will provide a precise and constant supply of power at 50%, making it easier for operators to cook or reheat foods slowly and defrost dishes to perfection”
Jared Greenhalgh, business development manager at Panasonic UK, says: “We’ve seen some imaginative uses for our microwaves including cake-making, chocolate tempering, roasting spices, drying herbs, making lemons more squeezable and even disinfecting chopping boards.
“At the end of the day, microwaves will cook quickly from fresh or frozen, save on energy costs and can result in less waste. They come in many formats and, as such, have several applications that can benefit any catering operation. When used for reheating wet foods such as lasagne or chilli, a standard oven will perform very well, and you can even cook items from scratch such as sponge puddings and brownies,” he says.
Kurran Gadhvi, marketing manager at Valera, says that pubs and restaurants which integrate microwaves into their wider cooking strategy tend to get more from the functionality they offer.
“The operators that use the microwave as an added tool in the kitchen instead of a one-dimensional use are the ones that really utilise it properly. That includes using it in food prep and cooking as well as finishing.”
A heavy duty commercial microwave from a recognised leading brand should have an expected lifespan of at least five years if it is used and maintained correctly, suggest market experts. There are still a number of machines offering a standard one-year warranty, but foodservice operators are advised to look for enhancements such as extended cover on the magnetron, which is the heart of any commercial appliance.
“Heavy duty models should have at least a three-year warranty as standard, which can often be extended to five years on core components when utilising items such as the Microsave Cavity Protection System,” comments RH Hall’s Kris Brearley.
“There are two different approaches to microwaves and machines are available on the market to meet both requirements. There are many entry-level machines available, at low price points, which meet simple reheating requirements and are often cheaper to replace than repair. However, it is always best to get the best possible product to ensure as much longevity as possible — so always consider the warranty and reputation of the product being purchased, rather than just the cheapest option available.”
Panasonic’s Greenhalgh suggests the lifespan of an average microwave will depend very much on the build quality of the oven, the number of cycles it is being used for each day and the cleaning regime that is employed during its lifetime.
The biggest point to get across is keeping a microwave as clean as possible day to day. Allowing a build-up of food and debris only ever causes issues long term”
Panasonic has had enquiries from customers asking about replacement models that have long been de-listed and would always recommend using a cavity liner in its ovens to extend its usability alongside a proper cleaning regime,” he says.
Marren Group’s technical manager, Kane Needs, says that as with all equipment, a lifespan is only determined by the continuing costs to keep operational.
“One of the biggest problems the industry faces on microwave repairs currently is the cost to repair. This soon tips the balance of replace rather than repair — something that is key to our recent microwave release.”
Indeed, Marren claims its first ever own-label microwave, the ISM-1800, is between 40% and 80% more affordable than other models on the market based on its own study of their top 10 replacement parts.
An important factor throughout the development phase was a lower overall cost of ownership and to encourage repairs rather than replace the microwave when a breakdown occurs.
To do this, Marren examined the top 10 replacement parts of a number of leading comparable microwaves and measured them against the ISM-1800 model, resulting in the cost reduction it says is achievable. On the whole, Needs says a regular cleaning regime is central to ensuring appliances don’t break down. “The biggest point to get across is keeping microwaves as clean as possible day to day. Allowing a build-up of food and debris only ever causes issues long term.”
Regale Microwave Ovens, which produces the Microsave Cavity Liner, says that build quality will always be an important factor in determining the lifecycle of a commercial microwave, but how clean the unit is kept will most certainly enhance the longevity.
“Food splatter that is not cleaned away is cooked and re-cooked each time the oven is used and will eventually burn a hole in the cavity and this almost certainly means the oven is beyond economical repair,” says Iain Phillips. “A Microsave Cavity Liner simply slips inside the cavity of the microwave and, at the end of service, is just removed, washed in a pot wash or dishwasher and slipped back in, ready to protect your investment.”
Microwaves are a tool that few kitchens could be without, but they need sufficient care to ensure they remain in perfect working condition.