Forget about soggy sausage rolls and watery vegetables, modern microwaves are the caterers best friend, as they are hard-working and packed with helpful features. The key is for caterers to make sure they are using their microwaves properly and, if they’re just about to upgrade, to invest in the correct model. There’s a lot on the market so it pays to spend some time considering the options.

In the commercial kitchen, time is money. And when it comes to saving time, microwaves have been proving their worth with speedy cooking for more than 40 years. Providing a cheap, compact and versatile cooking solution, they can be among the hardest-working appliances in the kitchen. They also use comparatively less energy than larger appliances, making them a valuable investment for any busy kitchen.

When deciding which microwave is best for you, think about the sort of menu you serve. In cafés and coffee shops, microwaves are most likely to be used for defrosting and reheating individual dishes. From bringing jacket potatoes to temperature, to heating beans for cooked breakfasts, a microwave can benefit even the most basic setup.

But the way microwaves are used will change from one kitchen to another and the full scale of services they offer is broad. For example, by placing vegetables in a bowl with a drop of water, the microwave will essentially “steam” the vegetables. This is not only ingenious but can use up to three times less energy than doing so on a gas hob. Many experts also claim that vegetables prepared in the microwave retain more of their nutrients, making this an ideal way to prepare vegetables for health conscious consumers.

Kings of convenience

Panasonic Commercial Microwave 1800Watts NE1853Beyond speed and versatility, one of the key benefits of microwaves is their sheer convenience. A standard microwave is an inexpensive way to boost output, and even in tiny of temporary kitchens, there’s usually space for one. In addition, they require very little support, as they produce virtually no steam or smell so there is often no need to consider additional extraction or ventilation. This makes it very easy for caterers to invest in a microwave as and when the need arises.

Whether you are looking to add an item to the menu or simply speed up service, the microwave is a simple starting point but consider your needs before investing. Most operators want a combination of speed, reliability, power usage and quality. It is also important to consider the whole life cost of the item.

For some, the question may not simply be which microwave is best for your business, but rather how many microwaves do you need? What processes are they going to be used for and how many items need to be reheated? To have too few will slow down the delivery process, as staff could potentially be left standing idle waiting for machines to become free. Even with something as quick as a microwave, time wasting will effect your bottom line.

Where multiple microwaves are needed but space is at a premium, stackable units could be the solution. It is possible to buy stackable microwaves which will double capacity without taking up any extra counter space – for many caterers this is a great solution, helping them make the most of limited space.

Whether stacking or not, always consider the position of your microwave carefully. A microwaves position in the kitchen can have an impact on it’s safety and performance. For example, placing it near or above a fryer where it could suck in the greasy air could cause cleaning and operational issues.

As well as considering placement of a new microwave, caterers should look at the different types available. Microwaves have moved on a great deal in the last few decades and now offer advanced programmes, improved functionality and intuitive usability. The scope is broad and even size is a factor worth considering. Panasonic, for example, is the only manufacturer to to make microwaves big enough to accommodate 1.1 Gastronorm containers.

A great combination

Another key development is the growing prevalence of combination microwave ovens. Using a combination of microwave technology and convention cooking, these powerful units can rapidly heat like a microwave, but also leave a golden crisp finish, like a traditional oven.

That’s not to say the combi oven is right for everyone. For caterers who simply need to reheat and defrost (or steam vegetables), a standard microwave will do the job.  However, for some tasks a combination oven is king. Items such as pastry will become soggy if reheated in an ordinary microwave, whereas using a combination microwave the crisp, golden brown and conventional finished results will be achieved in microwave time.

Power struggle

Whether you choose standard or combi, it is very important to choose the correct microwave oven wattage. Of course, caterers need an oven with sufficient power, but it’s just as important not to over specify. Caterers commonly choose powerful microwaves believing that this will cook more quickly, but it is also very important to understand that some food products (delicate and sugary types, for example) can be destroyed by powerful microwaves.

Even with the best microwave installed, caterers will have to engage in a little trial and error before serving their dishes, and overcooking is one of the common problems experienced. You should also factor in standing time and test a dish after this to help establish the correct timing for perfect results.

Every food has a different moisture, fat and sugar content and different starting temperatures – which means every meal on your menu will require different treatment in the microwave.

Adapted from Ohh magazine (June 2016)