A KEY component in many commercial kitchens, the microwave now seems to offer caterers greater flexibility and functionality than ever before.
In fact, such is the range of products now available that choosing the right unit can be just as confusing as any other technology purchase.
As with any new kit, the first step is to decide on the exact requirements of the premises. Will the microwave be used mostly to defrost frozen ingredients, for example, or will it be used to quickly heat dishes?
But microwaves offer much more than a ‘quick fix’.
According to the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA), there are now four main types of commercial microwave oven: standard, microwave with grill, combination and turbo.
Standard models are suited to general cooking, defrosting and re-heating, while those fitted with a grill are able to crisp and brown food after it has been heated – something standard microwaves are not equipped for.
Combination ovens combine the features of both a microwave and electric oven, allowing the caterer to quickly heat food in microwave mode, while in convection mode the heat is circulated in order to bake and brown dishes in the oven.
“Standard microwave ovens do not brown foods,” said a spokesperson for the CESA.
“Food browns when amino acids and certain sugars are brought together under dry heat, at least 90°C, for a sustained period of time.
“Microwave cooking just does not create these conditions.
“If you want to brown foods, choose a combination convection/microwave oven which still cooks up to 80 per cent faster than a standard convection oven.”
Turbo microwaves, meanwhile, use hot, blown air to offer a faster version of standard microwave cooking.
And as with any kitchen equipment, size matters.
There are four main types of oven which each offer a range of different functions.
“A food pub’s microwave oven needs to be fast, easy to operate and have the capacity and power to handle bulk food containers and over-size dinner plates,” said David Watts, senior manager of Samsung Professional Appliances.
“In an ideal world it should also be compact and stackable, to save space, and be able to run off a 13 amp supply, for maximum flexibility.”
Any equipment will last longer the better it is cared for, of course, and there are a number of steps caterers can take to ensure their machines keep operating at their best.
“In constant use for reheating, defrosting and cooking, they often get taken for granted, abused and misused,” said Watts.
“But when budgets are tight every piece of catering equipment needs to be looked after, even the humble microwave, to maximise its service life and ensure it is working to optimum efficiency.”
Caterers should regularly clean the air filters on their microwaves, said Watt, by removing them and washing them in soapy water, as well as cleaning the ceiling plate in the dishwasher.
Operators can also steam clean their microwaves themselves, by placing a wet cloth with lemon fluid in the oven and turning it on for a few minutes, before wiping the microwave down with another clean cloth.