What’s New with Gas Combi Ovens

Advanced Controls Make Oven Operation Easy!

by Russell L. Bean,
CFSP

Combination oven-steamers or “combi” ovens, as they are commonly called, have been around for just over thirty years. They made their European debut in the early 1980s, offering their space-saving, multifunction cooking capabilities to classically trained chefs working in the notoriously small kitchens common in Western Europe. Those early models relied heavily on complex electromechanical control systems to harness and meld dry heat and steam into the three cooking modes that set combis apart: convection cooking, steam heating, or a combination of both. In the hands of a skilled chef, a combi could make culinary magic in a very limited footprint.

North American oven and steamer manufacturers took notice and began developing their own combination ovens, or partnered with one of a growing number of European combi providers. But the North American foodservice market was a tough nut to crack, with bigger kitchens, inexpensive oven alternatives and often, less sophisticated kitchen staff. While some chains showed interest, their propensity to beat up equipment and blast it with high pressure steam, caused service and reliability problems for these more sophisticated ovens. Hard water issues also tempered initial combi acceptance.

In the 1990s, the rise of supermarket competition and their “home meal replacement” drive provided a boost to combi sales. Both North American and European manufacturers were using more powerful process controller (PC) technology, which not only simplified component wiring but also refined cooking control and expanded their capabilities – adding cook-and-hold, rethermalizing, advanced humidity control and more. In addition, most combi oven manufacturers added menu or cook setting memory capability, plus compartment cleaning and deliming capabilities.

But all those different cooking options required more operator decisions and training. For years, most manufacturers offered two or even three oven control packages, designed to satisfy cooks looking for knob-set simplicity, chains looking for pre-programmed one-button repeatability, and chef’s looking for do-it-yourself creative control.


Control Technology in the 21st Century

The popularity of the iPod and iPad, and their image-driven, touch-and-flick user interface, is having an impact on foodservice equipment design. With their history of innovation, it is no surprise that combination ovens are leading this charge.

Combination ovens have always relied on sophisticated process controllers (PCs) to manage multiple cooking modes, calculate compartment humidity levels and perform oven diagnostic chores. Category leader Rational has been in the forefront in the development of advanced control systems and they were first to address the issue of simplifying the operator/oven interface, culminating in the introduction of their SelfCooking Center.® The operator just uses simple product category icons to choose the product and desired degree of doneness. The SelfCooking Center does the rest, determining product load and optimum cook mode(s), cook time and temperature to deliver the desired results.

The North American combi oven market is very competitive and a bevy of manufacturers have been busy introducing new control technology designed to make their ovens more user-friendly and simple to operate.

In 2009, Hobart introduced a line of boilerless combi ovens offering simple-to-use controls that include: a water injection button, automatic humidity control in the combination mode, 100 programmable settings for repeatable results, plus an auto-reversing fan. As an option, these models can incorporate a Bluetooth-enabled Barcode Scanner, with supporting software. The software is used to enter and convert detailed product cooking instructions that are tagged to a unique barcode and transferred into oven memory. The operator just points the scanner at the barcode label to instantly program the oven cooking mode, temperature, cook time, humidity level and fan speed for that product or recipe.

Alto-Shaam has launched CombiTouch control technology for their Combitherm® line, earning 2010 National Restaurant Association (NRA) Kitchen Innovation Award recognition for their efforts. CombiTouch is a bright, touch-based, graphics-driven control panel that commands all oven cooking functions. It is simple and intuitive to use, offering easy access to 100 preprogrammed recipes. It also lets you save up to 250 recipes and upload your own food images to identify those menu items. The CombiTouch package includes downloadable HACCP documentation, settings for six levels of browning and multi-shelf product timing capability. On the mechanical side, Alto-Shaam also added a two-speed, reversing fan, to improve baking results.

Electrolux Professional has added Touchline to their air-o-steam® combis, to make cooking easier. Touchline has a user-friendly high definition touch screen with 30-language capability and simple, recognizable icons and food images. The automatic mode allows operators to press one of eight cooking category icons. The Touchline system automatically detects type-of-food and load size, then sets cook time, temperature and compartment climate, adjusting those settings as needed. The Touchline System also has a programs mode, for storing up to 1000 favorite recipes; plus a manual mode, for when a chef wants total control over the cooking process.

Cleveland Range, in addition to recently expanding their line of mini (quarter-size) combi ovens, has introduced new easyToUCH(sic) controls to their complete line of Convotherm® Ovens. As the name would suggest, easyToUCH provides a user-friendly electronic touch pad system with large, easy-to-read color graphics that help users navigate the various menus. Along with the menu decision functions, the controls have a visual help mode that provides operating instructions and instant service diagnostics, to help resolve simple problems. A USB connection is included for easy uploading and downloading of new programs and recipes.

In addition, Cleveland’s easySystem capability allows central control of menu planning and can limit access to only recipes approved by managers. Their easyControl feature allows automatic HACCP data logging, while easyService provides clear text display of error messages, to help service agents diagnose problems and deliver a one-trip-fix of any problems.


Now Available in GAS

In our review of new combi oven control technology, we mentioned the Hobart Combi® Oven with optional Bluetooth-enabled Barcode Scanner technology. That development earned National Restaurant Association Kitchen Innovation Award recognition in 2009, but it was only available in an electric model. We are pleased to report their Combi is now available in a gas model and has earned additional recognition, being named one of the “10 Most Innovative Products for 2010” by the Foodservice Consultants Society International.


Self-Cleaning Combi

Cleaning has always been an issue with combi ovens. In addition to oven compartment degreasing and cleaning, combi steam generators are subject to the same hard water, lime scale issues that plague steamers with enclosed boilers or steam generators. Some combi manufacturers have tried to minimize water issues by creating steam in the cooking compartment, often by aspirating water on hot surfaces. Natural gas models are a bit less subject to water-related breakdowns, however, all combis face some water issues.

Rational has introduced integrated cooking compartment spray cleaning systems in past years. They have more recently introduced CareControl technology to their SelfCleaning Center. CareControl detects when water scale treatment is needed and makes it fast and easy to get the job done. Their sensor and PC technology measures lime scale buildup and indicates the need to clean using their own Care Tabs biodegradable scale-dissolving product. A number of Care Tabs are placed in a pullout drawer positioned below the cooking compartment and just left of the integrated pull-out spray. Regular use of the Care Tabs eliminates lime scale buildup and prevents service problems caused by hard water. Rational now offers a standard two year warranty on new SelfCooking Centers equipped with CareControl.


Self-Cleaning Combi

In a market dominated by sophisticated, and some would say too complex, combi ovens, Unified Brands has introduced their Groen® ComboEase, a full-size gas-fired combi designed for operators looking for an oven that is easy to operate, easy to maintain and easy on the environment. ComboEase uses a patent-pending boilerless reservoir with three sections that delivers high-performance steam production without the maintenance and high water usage of enclosed steam-generator models.

ComboEase uses a single under-cavity burner system to both heat the oven compartment and boil water for steam. Aided by a wrap-around flue design, ComboEase uses 40 to 75 percent less BTUs than comparable combis. They generate steam using one, two or all three water reservoirs, depending on the cooking mode and need for steam, which reduces overall water usage.

As the name implies, ComboEase is designed to be easy to use with a simple and intuitive control panel, hands-free door latch, wire shelf grab handles and the ability to get rookies cooking in five minutes or less. It is available in single and double stacked gas models.


Easy Combination

In a market dominated by sophisticated, and some would say too complex, combi ovens, Unified Brands has introduced their Groen® ComboEase, a full-size gas-fired combi designed for operators looking for an oven that is easy to operate, easy to maintain and easy on the environment. ComboEase uses a patent-pending boilerless reservoir with three sections that delivers high-performance steam production without the maintenance and high water usage of enclosed steam-generator models.

ComboEase uses a single under-cavity burner system to both heat the oven compartment and boil water for steam. Aided by a wrap-around flue design, ComboEase uses 40 to 75 percent less BTUs than comparable combis. They generate steam using one, two or all three water reservoirs, depending on the cooking mode and need for steam, which reduces overall water usage.

As the name implies, ComboEase is designed to be easy to use with a simple and intuitive control panel, hands-free door latch, wire shelf grab handles and the ability to get rookies cooking in five minutes or less. It is available in single and double stacked gas models.


Energy Matters

Most foodservice operators prefer natural gas ovens because of the substantial energy cost savings they deliver when compared to electric models of similar capacity and production output. Full-size combi ovens, especially the big roll-in rack models used for banquets, catering and central commissary production feature big cooking compartments which need plenty of power to heat. Natural gas is the clear choice to do the job.

Gas combi ovens also offer some installation advantages. In most commercial kitchens, significant gas load can be installed without the need to increase the size of the gas supply line. A typical gas oven installation only requires a shutoff valve, approved gas appliance connector and a lower power electrical connection (typically 110/120 volt) for the blower motor, electronic ignition and controls. Major electrical panel upgrades are not required when installing a gas combi oven. Gas models also can provide a significant energy Demand Side Management (DSM) alternative for the operator and their local electric utility.


Did You Know...

  • Alto-Shaam, Blodgett, Cleveland, Electrolux, Eloma, Henny Penny and Rational all offer 20-pan (full-size pans) roll-in rack combis for high production and cook-chill kitchens.
  • Combi ovens can be paired with blast chillers of matching size to provide a complete cook-chill production capability, with 5-day safe refrigerated shelf life. Alto-Shaam, Electrolux and Henny Penny sell the complete package, including the blast chiller.
  • If you want a bit smaller oven with the convenience of roll-in rack loading, Electrolux, Eloma, Henny Penny and Rational offer 20-pan (half-size pans) models.
  • Some combi manufacturers including Groen and Blodgett can stack two full-size combi ovens to double capacity.
  • In addition to the sophisticated flagship model controls offered by combi manufacturers, most also offer a base model or control package with simple mode, time and temperature controls.

Russ's Top 10 Combination Oven Specification Tips

  1. When evaluating combi pan capacity, remember that pans are typically positioned every-other-rack, with 3- to 4-inches of clearance between racks. All roll-ins and many smaller models have a removable rack system for loading pans while others have side-mounted pan supports for wire racks.
  2. Cooking at lower temperatures can improve recipe results, increase yields and save energy. You can often reduce time, temperature or both, when cooking in the combi mode.
  3. Some manufacturers can stack a convection oven with a combination oven for more cooking versatility and space savings.
  4. Most combination oven manufacturers offer multiple control package options, from basic to sophisticated programmable and preprogrammed cooking systems. If your combi product list is short and simple, go with simple controls.
  5. Keep in mind that all combi ovens require water and drain connections. Most require a free-venting (not hard piped) drain connection to avoid water dams and building pressure in the cooking compartment.
  6. If the unit has a boiler or steam generator, delime it on a regular basis, per manufacturer’s recommendations. (Some units provide an early warning of scale buildup. Some newer models offer semi-automated systems for cleaning the cooking compartment and deliming the steam system.)
  7. Some combi manufacturers, their representatives and area gas utilities have demo kitchens to test-drive equipment. Some offer regional cooking schools to demonstrate oven performance. Take advantage of these opportunities to learn about and work with combi ovens.
  8. Keep in mind all gas heated combi ovens require electric power for the blower and controls.
  9. Check out the Food Service Technology Center’s performance reports for guidance on combination oven models’ operating efficiency and production rates. [www.fishnick.com]
  10. See the Foodservice Gas Equipment Catalog for one-stop source information on manufacturers, models and sizes available.

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Osso Bucco

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ALTO-SHAAM
Combitherm
www.alto-shaam.com

apr10_blodgett

BLODGETT
BCX Series
www.blodgett.com

apr10_cleveland

CLEVELAND RANGE
Convotherm
www.clevelandrange.com

 

DOY ON
JAOP14G
www.doyon.qc.ca

ELECTROLUX PROFESSIONAL N.A.
air-o-steam
www.electroluxusa.com

ELOMA
Multimax B
www.elomausa.com

GROEN
ComboEase
www.unifiedbrands.net

HENNY PENNY
SmartCombi
www.hennypenny.com

HOBART
Combi
www.hobartcorp.com

RATIONAL USA
SelfCooking Center
www.rational-usa.com

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