I get lots of emails and messages asking for advice on choosing the right oven so I thought I'd put together a blog post as this might help you if you're looking to move to commercial food premises.
Let’s face it, as a food entrepreneur or hobby baker moving to professional, getting the right oven to fit your particular circumstances is absolutely crucial. My oven has been my single biggest purchase EVER (after my house). I spent more on my oven that I ever have on a car.
When I moved my biscuit production from my home kitchen to commercial kitchen I invested in a 20 rack oven commercial oven. It is brilliant and has really helped to ramp up our bakery production. With 20 racks (or trays) we can bake around 400 biscuits at a time. I love my oven, we have an emotional bond.
I worked with an intermediary company to source a 20 rack Rational Oven. I didn’t have the budget to buy brand new so I asked them to see if they could source a used or ex demo model for me, which they did.
This is the oven I bought. Perfect for cookies. It wouldn’t be so good for cakes as its very narrow in design so large baking pans wouldn’t fit.
So here goes. A list of the random and not so random things you might want to consider when choosing your commercial oven.
Consider cleaning and maintenance of your oven from the beginning
Keeping your oven clean is massively important not only from a hygiene perspective but also as this will help to keep your oven running well. When I was buying my oven I had no idea that such a thing even existed but my oven is SELF CLEANING. Yes, you read that right! It cleans itself. Like a dishwasher, you put in cleaning tabs, press a few buttons and off it goes. It does mean that your oven needs to be hooked up to the mains water supply so something to bear in mind. I wish I could get a domestic oven that self cleans!
Depending on your exact make/model you’ll probably need two different types of cleaning tabs and be warned they are not cheap. Last time I looked, they cost around £120 for 2 tubs. Depending on what you’re cooking in the oven - so if you’re cooking meats or meals with lots of sauces, oils etc its likely that your oven will get messy. Also if you’re using the oven 12 hours a day, it will need cleaning more often.
Consider safety for yourself and your bakery staff
My oven has a mobile trolley. So you load the trolley up with all the trays and then you wheel the trolley in and out of the oven. This way the staff don’t need to handle hot trays or physically pull the trays in or out of oven. The trolley has lockable wheels to stop it moving. Not only is this super safe but also speeds things up as you can move 20 trays around at a time
Attend a Demo day
It’s always worth taking part in one of the manufacturers open / demonstration days if you can. Even if you’re not buying brand new, they can talk through the specifics of how their ovens work etc which can be really useful info. I spoke to the Rational team (who happen to be based in Luton) and they invited me in to speak to a chef about how to use their ovens. I took my cookie dough, rolling pin etc in with me and actually baked some biscuits with them. So I got a chance to see how the finished biscuits would look, how they were baked, how easy it was to operate the oven and ask lots & lots of questions.
Extraction and ventilation for your commercial kitchen
One of the things I needed to consider with the design / operation of the commercial kitchen was extraction and ventilation. So when the oven is doing its thing, how do all the fumes and gases that are created get removed from the kitchen and where do they go?
When I went to the demo day with Rational I had a chat with them about this and they showed me a whizzy super duper oven hood. That basically extracts the fumes etc and then magically dissolves them. (This is obviously not the scientific explanation for what happens - I’m simplifying it so its easy to understand). But basically by purchasing and installing the oven hood, I didn’t need to worry about any extraction issues, or install piping to take the fumes/gases/steam etc out of the building.
Acccessories for your commercial oven
The oven came with the trolley and 10 trays. So I needed to buy another 10 trays. The rational trays cost £35+ VAT each or similar. Very expensive. At the time I couldn’t afford to buy the Rational trays so I sourced some generic trays which were a little bit cheaper. In retrospect, this was a false economy as the cheaper trays didn’t measure up. The biscuits would stick more to these trays and over time I noticed that the biscuits we baked on the generic trays would shrink more than biscuits baked on the Rational trays. So if we baked a full rack of 20 trays we’d end up with 2 different sizes of biscuit in one batch. Not massively noticeable but when you’re icing it does make it tricky.
I've used my oven for a number of years now and it's a real workhorse. But if I was buying an oven today I might do things a bit differently.
Firstly, because of the way our production runs, we don’t always need to bake the full 20 trays of biscuits. When we do, it’s super effective. But sometimes we might only need to bake 2 or 3 trays for a short run or for samples etc. Putting the oven on for just a small number of biscuits is not efficient.
Also, there have been a couple of occasions that the oven has been out of action. Both times due to normal wear and tear or because parts needed replacing. This meant that by the time we’d called out the engineer and they had fixed the oven and got it back up and running, we’d lost a couple of days of production which at peak times can be a bit of a nightmare.
What might be a more practical solution, instead of having one 20 rack oven, would be to have say two 10 rack ovens. Stacked so they don’t take up too much space. I think 2 ovens is probably going to work out more expensive to purchase than just 1 but it would also mean that if one oven broke down we could continue production with the other one. I wouldn’t have the trolleys which then means more time pulling trays in and out of the oven etc. So I’d have to weigh it up. But sometimes it would nice to have the option to use a smaller oven, or to be able to keep production going at all times.
So to sum up, some key points to think about:
Try to get recommendations from other bakers on the exact make and model of oven they use. See if they'll let you go over and test out your baking or just give you a run through of how their oven works.
Be really clear about how you’ll use the oven. How often, what quantity of cakes, cookies, etc will you need to bake in a regular day, week etc. So you can get a feel for what size you might need.
What space do you have for the oven? Does it need to be tall and narrow? Could it be shorter and wider? Will it be freestanding? Or table top?
Generally, the more racks, the higher the quantity of items you can bake but also look at the dimensions of the oven and the trays. You might be able to get away with a smaller oven if the trays are bigger.
If your oven is in a domestic property, it will need to run off 2 phase electric - so with a standard 3 pin plug. If you’re in commercial premises then you may need to have 3 phase power. So you need to make sure you get the correct version.
If the oven is self washing, it will need to be hooked up to a water supply. Depending on the location of the oven this might mean you have get some plumbing work done to hook it up
Make sure you do your research into supplies. So how much do the accessories cost as an example. How much are the cleaning tabs? These costs can quickly add up. If you have the budget its worth trying to negotiate to see if you can get any discounts if you buy in bulk.
Think about and make provision for the ongoing cost of maintenance and repairs. Firstly if something goes wrong who will repair the oven and how quickly will they respond? What will it cost? Rational engineers are super responsive and helpful but they don’t come cheap.
I also had to pay an extra sum for the Rational engineers to deliver and install the oven and hood and get it all up and running. I hadn’t factored this in and assumed this would be included in the cost of the oven. They did however come out first to check the kitchen space was suitable for the oven and advise on the plumbing and electric hook up requirements, so when they did the installation it all went a bit smoother.
It was an exciting day when the oven was finally all in, and up and running. It did change my life (he he) and improved production and productivity in a way that I couldn’t have imagined.
Here’s a pic of my Mum and Dad enjoying the very first test biscuits I baked in my new premises with my new all singing all dancing oven.
I hope that's all really helpful to you and will give some pointers to get you started in your quest for the perfect commercial oven for your bakery.
If you're a food entrepreneur starting or scaling your food business or a hobby baker looking become a professional baker then do come over and join my members only facebook group Kitchen Table Entrepreneur where I regularly offer support, tips/tricks and training to help you grow and become profitable.