CHICAGO — Here's a one-word summary of the advances in new ovens displayed at the 2005 National Restaurant Association Show: Efficiency.
Whether their newest models are powered by gas, wood, electricity, infra-red or microwaves — or some combination of the four — manufacturers claimed they bake faster than ever and use less energy.
"All our new ovens bake faster — usually by about a minute — than our older models," said Les Nowosad, director of key accounts for Elgin, Ill.-based Middleby Marshall. "They're also quieter and more energy efficient."
Attendees hoping to see Middleby's award-winning WOW oven (read also Middleby Marshall pizza oven wins Chicago Innovation Award) at the show were told they'd
have to wait a while longer. The new conveyor-impingement oven, which promises to save as much as 40 percent on energy costs, remains in test with Pizza Hut and Domino's Pizza, two of Middleby's largest clients. Regardless, Nowosad had much to say about the innovations within the current Middleby line, namely energy savings of 25 percent to 30 percent, depending on the heat source. The company's newest gas burners, for example, are equipped with a modulating gas valve that adjusts automatically to load input.
A view through the wide front door of a Wood Stone horizontal stone-hearth oven.
"Most ovens have solenoid valves, which are 100 percent on or 100 percent off," Nowosad said. "This valve actually modulates and restricts the flow of gas, so we use a lot less energy and maintain a more consistent temperature. It also requires less utility support (via) smaller gas lines."
Multiple thermocouples within the cooking chamber allow the oven to sense load changes. Whether the oven is completely full or partially full, heat output is altered accordingly.
Electric Middleby ovens operate similarly, but not as efficiently, Nowosad said, reducing energy usage by about 20 percent. The oven's modulating relay pulses energy into the heating element relative to the load inside the oven, which eliminates more common "full-on" or "full-off" cycles.
"It's what we call cool-element technology, and that extends the life of the heating element because it's never glowing red," he said. "It's just keeping it right at the temperature; it's partially on, where it needs to be."
Per usual, the Wood Stone Ovens booth was teeming with a mix of interested buyers and hungry attendees seeking a slice of the best pizza baked on the show floor. Known best for its round, stone-hearth ovens, which can use gas or wood, the Bellingham, Wash., company is shifting some of its manufacturing focus to rectangular ovens, which company president Keith Carpenter said boosts productivity.
"Last August we added a new-size oven called the 9660," said Carpenter in a telephone interview. "We made the traditional round ovens forever because we believed, like everyone else did, that all stone-hearth ovens were round, beehive shaped and domed round.
"But we realized that it didn't matter what shape it was; the materials and the mass were what mattered. So we started creating rectangular ovens, which give (pizza operators) a chance to do larger pies if they want."
The new oven, which was unveiled at the February North America Pizza & Ice Cream Show in Columbus, Ohio, is 96 inches wide and 60 inches deep. The added depth allows room not only for more pizzas, but for a greater number of super-large pies. East Coast operators who make 20-inch
pies, Carpenter said, can place them two deep in the 9660.
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The sheer mass of the oven and the gas flames required to heat it make "it the most powerful oven we've ever built," Carpenter said. "The larger door allows more access inside the oven, and makes it easier to arrange product in the oven."
Though "wood" is in its name, Carpenter said the vast majority of ovens his company now sells are gas fired. Wood can be added, he said, but most operators avoid doing so because they've learned it's not necessary.
"They believed in the beginning, as we did, that wood was a huge part of these ovens, and that you had to have wood for a flavor component," he said. "Now we know better; we know it imparts no noticeable flavor." Additionally, some municipalities have outlawed wood-burning ovens. "You hate to open up a million-dollar restaurant and find out that high rise next to you has two floors of environmental lawyers living there. That has happened a few times. So just avoid it and use gas."
The need for speed
Operators looking for one of the fastest-baking ovens in the world could find it in the TurboChef Tornado oven. The 2005 NRA Innovation award-winning unit uses three heat sources to change products from frozen
to piping-hot in mere minutes. TurboChef business development manager Erwin Boon expects the oven to be particularly popular with operators selling toasted sandwiches and reheatable side items, like wings.
The award-winning TurboChef Tornado cooks 12 times faster than a standard convection oven.
"This oven cooks up to 12 times faster than a normal convection oven," said Boon. "It uses air impingement, infra-red and microwave elements to heat the food. You can do a frozen pizza in 2-and-a-half minutes."
The oven is fully programmable, allowing operators to tweak and perfect cooking cycles for each item, store them on a smart card and secure them with a PIN-protected password.
"This makes it goof-proof to use this oven," Boon said. "And you could take the smart card and send that information anywhere in your company."