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Microwave Ovens – Pat Bray of Regale on How and What to Buy

A commercial microwave oven is one of the most essential items in a ‘fast food’ commercial kitchen, unless someone comes up with a quicker method of turning out hot food in seconds, then the commercial microwave oven will be around for many years to come. To demonstrate this one only have to see the volume of replacement microwaves sold every year which is “thousands upon thousands” in addition to new hospitality sites opening which are automatically being fitted with them, sometimes in the region of six per unit!

Currently, as new models are coming on the market they are basically the same as the models that they are replacing! Generally, they only had ‘added’ programmes and facilities (which sometimes are never used). However there is one feature that Panasonic introduced was to stop using incandescent lamps (which are never covered by the manufacturer’s warranty) and fit an LED electronic circuit which can be programmed to flash when the cooking has finished instead of (or with) the bleep, so with a bank of microwaves it is easy to see which oven has completed the cooking cycle. The other good reason for this the savings made as the new LED has a three year warranty – so no more expense for lamps! Regale Microwave Ovens also followed suit with the LED idea and when they supply a new microwave oven complete with their Microsave Cavity Liner they change the incandescent lamp(s) to LED free of charge in the heavy duty compact range of Daewoo and Sharp and give them a free 3 year warranty.

Microwaves cannot be compared with other cooking methods as generally in the fast food market microwaves are used for re-generation of pre-cooked product. When used as a cooking aid (for example melting chocolate, cooking vegetables etc there is no other kitchen equipment that can compare with a microwave for speed, footprint and running costs.

So what should dealers look out for when specifying microwaves, going forward?

That they firstly consider what power is required to do what is required and how heavy the usage is, it is pointless to buy on ‘price’ as you can end up with a low powered ‘back bar’ or ‘sweet’ type microwave which would be useless in a fast food environment situation, bear in mind that a microwave with only 1000watts to 1200watts is a low powered unit and should not be expected to be used continually during the day, quite a few of this power level are generally ‘uprated’ domestics so don’t go on price – go for a branded product, preferably one that you know of.

If you are wanting to cook items, or reasonably fast regeneration, then look for a branded 1400watt – 1500watt output but if somethings are frozen to be regenerated and you also want quick re-heat then you must go for an 1800watt – 1900watt output to be on the safe side, but once again, as there are very many microwaves that all come out of the same factory with different names on them so always go for the branded names that you know well of. Another fact that would be of help in the longevity of the microwave, help avoid some costly repairs if the ceiling plate burns out or the base plates crack which are not covered by the manufacturers and can cost well over a hundred pounds to have replaced, you should consider making sure that the microwave has a ‘Microsave’ Cavity Protection System pre-fitted which will also save ‘cleaning time’ and avoid ‘down time’ whilst waiting for the engineer to call to replace the ceiling or base plate.

There are currently three brands on the market in which the Microsave can be pre-fitted and they are Panasonic (for models NE1843 and NE1853 both 1800watts) the Sharp (for the R22AT 1400watt – R23AM 1900watt and R24AT 1900watt) and the Daewoo (for the KOM9F50 1500watt and KOM9F85 1850watt) all the above will have LED type of lighting when purchased with the Microsave. All are available from the dealer network of Regale Microwave Ovens.

Factors to take into consideration include:

1) Some operators often make the mistake of using domestic models. What is the single biggest factor that sets a commercial microwave apart from a domestic model?

Domestic microwaves are generally made of less expensive parts and materials therefore will not work correctly over extended periods of use. A medium duty (1500watt output) and a heavy use (1800watt plus) commercial microwave will have at least two magnetrons’ to help provide a constant heat for long periods of time. The lower powered commercial microwaves from 100watt to 1200watt output tend to have a more efficient single mangnetron to which is generally only for light duty use (ie sweet counter – back bar use) but is far more rigorous than a standard domestic unit and generally all come with some sort of three year manufacturer’s warranty.

2) I am a foodservice operator that uses my microwave dozens of times a day, every day of the week. How long can I expect it to last?

A good quality ‘branded’ medium to high duty microwave oven will have a manufacturer’s three year warranty and looked after can last years, however, bear in mind that NO manufacturer will give a warranty on the ceiling plate (roof liner) base plate or lens light cover (let alone the lamp) so it would be prudent to always use a ‘Cavity Protection System’ at all times whilst the microwave is in use as a single as a call out by an engineer in the warranty period plus the parts can cost in excess of £140 which is twice the price of an actual Microsave Cavity Liner (which will continue to protect these parts).

3) Is there a correlation between the power and internal capacity of a microwave? (e.g. if I want a microwave that holds larger portion sizes, does it require more power to do so?)

Basically, Yes. In theory a microwave bounces around the actual cavity, therefore the larger the cavity the more time it will take. However, the difference in size is quite minimal therefore the answer to this is, (a) decide the size of the plate (receptacle) that you are cooking/reheating on, then (b) how fast and often it is required, if for heavy continual use then a minimum 1500watt output should be considered. (c) if only a single portion re-heat ‘one offs’ are required in a few minutes every-so often then 1000watt to 1200watt would suffice.

4) What factors determine the power ratings that come with microwaves and can this be distinctly categorised into ‘low’, ‘medium’ and ‘heavy’ duty?

When talking about basic ‘microwave ovens’ and not combination microwave ovens then these can be categorised. A ‘low’ power single magnetron microwave of 1000watt to 1200watt is ideal for back bar use, reheating small portions or at sweet counters. The ‘medium’ power is generally classed as 1500watt and, in some cases, are only a little slower than an 1800watt output, and there is not much difference in price as it costs nearly as much to produce them! however, in busy sites it would be practical to have an 1800watt or 1900watt (there is no noticeable time difference between them). There is of course the extra heavy duty models which generally require to be hard wired directly into the mains (they cannot be used in a standard 13amp socket) the output power of which are from 2000watts to 3200watts of output – so powerful and fast, some with FOUR magnetrons,(don’t consider these for small portions!) they are ideal for large batch cooking.

5) Is a 1000W microwave likely to be less rugged or durable than a 1900 watt model? Or is the difference in rating purely a question of power and speed?

A 1000w only requires a single magnetron and High Voltage circuit, some are only ‘uprated domestic microwaves’ so care should be taken to choose a ‘branded’ low powered model that has been specifically designed for a commercial environment.

6) What’s more important when choosing the right model for my business: How frequently I intend to use it? How much food I want to cook at once? How quickly do I want it to work?

(a) Decide the size of the plate (receptacle) that you are cooking/reheating on, then (b) how fast and often it is required, if for heavy continual use then a minimum 1500watt output should be considered. (c) if only a single portion re-heat ‘one offs’ are required in a few minutes every-so often then 1000watt to 1200watt would suffice.

7) It’s been stated that the main feature that operators should pay closest attention to when buying a microwave is the number of magnetrons it has. Is that true or false?

On low powered ovens there will only be one magnetron, on 1500w to 1900w there will be two magnetrons and two High Voltage circuits, it is important that when there are two magnetrons then to get a good even cooking pattern that one magnetron should be placed at in the top of the microwave and second one is under the base plate, this will mean that you get a better cook pattern across the food, especially if two plates are stacked one above the other.

8) Microwaves can get dirty very quickly. How important is it to make sure my microwave has a removable oven cavity liner?

This goes without saying! It isn’t so much that microwaves get dirty quickly, it is the fact that food particles splash and splatter onto the ceiling plate and start to burn holes, ceramic glass base plates get broken, seals around the base get torn and become leaking due to grease penetration and lens light covers become dry and brittle and start to peel off all of which are not covered under the manufacturer’s warranty. Most of the major Restaurant Groups and Brewery Groups realise the savings on repair costs that having a Microsave Cavity Liner pre-fitted into the microwave when purchased that has helped prevent ‘down-time’ – ‘cleaning time’ – ‘costly repairs’ – and by keeping the microwave clean can help to extend the life of the microwave oven, In fact there are over 15000 units in use every day in all the top food establishments, they think all it’s a ‘must have’ product.

9) Some microwaves come with manual dial controls and others with programmable touch controls. What are the pros and cons of each?

This does depend on the actual operator, the touch controls are now-a-days quite simple to use and when set up correctly can make life quite simple, however, there is a good case for manual controls, it is easy to see and set the correct power level and timer, BUT it is important that if a manual control microwave is selected then make sure it has a separate START button or a digital manual control, this will prevent the oven from being switched on or operating when then door is closed with no food inside the cavity. Beware buying a manual control microwave that only has the power and timer dials – for safety sake look for a model with a start button.

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