Essential Ovens for Your Choice

Beside some gadget for preparation like meat slicers or other cutlery. The word oven means many different things. The group that can be used for any roasting or baking task includes so-called conventional ovens, convection ovens, roll-in rack ovens, deck ovens, conveyor ovens, revolving and rotary tray ovens, cook-and-hold ovens, and combination convection/steamer ovens. Then there are the specialty ovens: microwave, barbecue, rotisserie, slow cook, and finishing ovens. Ovens come in stand-alone models, built into ranges, stacked, or banked.

People may want an oven heated with gas, electricity, wood, or charcoal. But, there are only four basic ways of cooking in an oven: conduction, convection, radiation, and with microwaves. Some ovens use a combination. What are generally referred to as conventional ovens work by a combination of radiation, conduction, and passive convection. Some call them bake ovens or roasting ovens, but a better term today is probably standard oven.

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Standard Ovens

Standard ovens are primarily sold for use beneath a range’s cooktop. But, they’re also available as stand-alone units, and are available for either gas or electricity. Some are specifically made for use with wood or charcoal. Standard ovens use a combination of conduction, convection, and radiation to cook foods. The oven compartment is usually heated from outside, with the hot walls heating the inside. Passive convection also takes place as the air circulates from the bottom to the top of the compartment. And the hot walls radiate heat onto the food.

Features include swing-down doors, side-opening doors, and doors with glass panels. Conventional dial thermostats and timers, push-button controls, and/or cook-and-hold cycle timers are available.

Convection Ovens

These are really forced convection ovens. Air in an oven naturally circulates from bottom to top. A convection oven uses a fan to force the heated air past the food. It’s much faster than a standard oven. Food tends to brown more evenly, and up to 30-percent larger loads can be roasted or baked at one time since the moving air heats the food evenly.

  • There are energy savings, too, since a convection oven uses less heat. Some operators find they can roast at 50 degrees lower than in a standard oven.
  • There are disadvantages, however. Some foods dry out from the air, so certain models have a steam or water injector to increase moisture. A pan of water in the oven also provides moisture. To save energy, some models recirculate and reheat air instead of losing it up the flue.

Forced convection is available in deck, roll-in rack, conveyor, and rotary ovens. There are also divided-compartment convertible ovens which can be used as two separate ovens or, by removing the divider, as one large oven.

Roll-In Rack Ovens


A roll-in rack oven is generally a convection oven whose floor is flush with the kitchen floor. A metal rack is loaded with pans of food and rolled into the shelfless oven. This oven permits a large load with quick batch loading and unloading. The rack, with cooked food can be rolled directly to the point of use.

Deck Ovens

Deck ovens are available in standard or convection models. Food is generally cooked directly on the floor (deck) of the oven. A stationary pizza oven is a deck oven with a higher temperature range and generally a thick metal or ceramic hearth upon which the pizza is baked by direct contact.

Even though deck ovens have a larger “footprint,” they can be stacked up to four high, permitting more oven space in the same floor space.

Conveyor Ovens

For customers with heavy continuous baking or roasting schedules, a conveyor oven may be ideal. Food cooks as it travels a wide metal mesh belt or rollers moving from one end of the horizontal oven to the other. The biggest users of these ovens include pizza-takeout units, fast-food operations, and any large-volume, short-peak operation.

Heating sources, usually forced-air convection or infrared radiation, are mostly above and below the belt. Large ovens have several heating zones. A convection unit has hot jets of air directed at the belt from above and below. Infrared radiant metal, ceramic, or quartz emitters provide even heating from above and below, although combination units may have the emitters on the bottom and heat the top with convection. Conveyor ovens have the most versatile controls. One supplier has developed computer controls which allow programming and storing up to five combinations of heat and belt speed for simple push-button operation.

Rotary Ovens

Like the conveyor oven, the all-purpose rotary oven allows continuous high production, not batch cooking. A typical unit has one or more circular “trays,” which revolve lazy-Susan style around a central vertical shaft.

Food in pans is placed on the trays and is cooked as it revolves through the oven compartment. Foods of different cooking times can be accommodated by the number of rotations. A variation is the roll-in rack. Racks of food are rolled into the oven and attached to a revolving frame, which allows for high-production batch loading. Rotary ovens are generally very large and have a big footprint, although there are single-tray, countertop models. Standard and forced-convection ovens are available.

Revolving-Tray Ovens

The same principle as the rotary oven governs the revolving-tray oven, with trays rotating around a horizontal shaft,. Also large, most revolving-tray ovens are in commercial bakeries and foodservice operations that do large-volume baking in house.

Cook-And-Hold Ovens

Cook-and-hold ovens are ovens that have two temperature cycles controlled by a timer or temperature probe. After food is cooked at the selected temperature, it is switched to a safe holding temperature until removed.

Although cook-and-hold ovens are generally used for roasting, with proper temperature ranges they also can be used for baking.

Combination Oven/Steamers

The oven part of a combination oven/steamer is a conventional convection oven. It can be used for any baking and roasting task. A major advantage of the combination oven/steamer is the ease with which the operator can add moisture during baking or roasting.

As a straight pressureless steamer, the combination unit can be switched between tasks. However, it should be considered only a backup unit instead of a replacement for an oven and a steamer, since when it’s being used as one, the other one isn’t available.

Microwave Ovens

The microwave oven is the most frequently used specialty oven. It’s considered a specialty oven because there are limitations on the items it can cook.

  • A microwave oven cooks using electronics, not applied heat. A device called a magnetron emits very high frequency radio waves. These heat the food by “exciting” the water molecules in it, which are agitated to spin at high rates, creating frictional heat.
  • A microwave oven doesn’t cook from the inside out, as many believe. The microwaves actually heat the outer layers of the food and the center is heated by conduction. The more moisture in the food, the faster it cooks.

In most kitchens, the biggest use for the microwave is baking potatoes and reheating pre-cooked meats, sous vide, and cook/chill foods. Speed of cooking is related to the wattage of the magnetron. Ovens range from 400 watts for self-service vending use to 2,000 watts.

The biggest difference between models of the same wattage is the sophistication of the controls. User-programmable computer controls featuring push buttons are at the top of the line. Economy models may feature just on/off switches and a simple electric rotary timer. Some models offer multiple-cycle controls. These allow the user to turn on the oven for a specified time at one particular power say, to defrost a frozen item and then automatically change to another temperature for another purpose. Microwave ovens are the most stringently regulated equipment in a kitchen. Federal regulations require safety interlocks in the door and special glass to prevent any leakage of microwaves. As a result, they’re probably the safest kitchen appliances.

Barbecue Ovens

These ovens, often called smoker ovens, are wood- or charcoal-heated. Smoke from the fuel goes through the oven compartment. This lends a wood smoked flavor to food.

Some conventional ovens also provide a wood-smoke accessory. This is a heated container that can be placed in the bottom of the oven to fill the compartment with smoke from wood chips placed in the container.

Rotisserie Ovens

Rotisserie ovens rotate food for even heating. One type has a series of fixed but rotating rotisserie spits upon which food is impaled. A second type works like the revolving-tray oven. Revolving around a horizontal shaft, food is carried around the oven compartment on spits, trays, racks, or in wire baskets. The most common method of heating is radiant infrared emitters, either gas or electric. There are also forced convection models available.

Most rotisserie ovens have glass sides so customers and/or cooking crew can watch the food revolve. Floor models and countertop units are available.

Slow-Cook Ovens

Slow roasting at lower temperatures produces is less shrinkage in food than when cooked at higher temperatures. Slow-cook ovens operate at temperatures from 130 to 225 degrees. Food generally is roasted overnight. Timers automatically switch to a safe holding temperature after the food is cooked.

Various methods are used to heat slow-cook ovens. An example is the hot-wall” type, one style has the oven compartment heated by thermal wire wrapped around its outside. Another uses an outer jacket to conduct hot air to heat the compartment from outside.

There are some slow-heat convection ovens on the market, but these use a more gentle flow of air than a conventional convection oven does. Some slowheat convection ovens allow the forced convection fan to be switched off for certain applications.

Most units have available a wired temperature probe, which allows the cycle to switch to the holding cycle when the food is done. This eliminates guesswork in setting the cycle timer.

Finishing Ovens

Small ovens that “finish”a product, rather than completely cook it, are similar to the cheese melters often included as an accessory in kitchen ranges. Usually electric countertop units, they’re for melting, browning, making garlic bread, and reheating.