It mostly seems as if food trucks use just about the same kind of range equipment and ovens amongst each of them, but the almost unlimited number of options can make actually choosing the oven that’s right for your operation extremely difficult. We want to go for something that ‘works’ but won’t cost an exorbitant amount of money; though dangers do then abound when going for ‘cheaper’ options that might break down or not even heat properly after a month has passed, if that. And sadly there’s no real ‘one-fits-all’ option in the category; otherwise we wouldn’t be in the decision of needing all these other options. Different food trucks are going to need and want different kinds of equipment to fit their space and suit the daily cooking to produce their desired menu. So here’s the information YOU need to know when looking into the best oven for your operation. Note we are NOT discussing Brick/Pizza ovens, as those really are only ever installed into trucks for the distinct specialty needs; for everyone else, other conventional ovens are what you want to look at when choosing ahead-of-time.
Probably the one aspect of ovens most people think least about, being the most non-visual aspect of the whole appliance, but easily the most important. British Thermal Units basically measure the ‘heat output’ of an oven, which is basically how fast or slow it will heat up, and as such cool down, to a desired temperature. Both ends of the spectrum certainly do have their pros and cons.
Higher BTU machines will reach their temperatures in much faster periods of time, they’re powerful machines; but that said, the process of doing this takes a lot of energy to do, like sprinting to a goal post vs walking. Secondly, since it can change so quickly, these are likely the ovens that are so infamously known for shifting their heats wildly and inconsistently as they get older; it’s more likely to fluctuate between 325F and 375F as opposed to staying close to that perfect 350F you set it to. These are the ovens to shoot for when you have a lot of different temperatures to switch back and forth in with food prep or service, but you WILL want to have one of those extra oven thermometers to hang inside or set in the back to actually ensure the temperature is where it needs to be and see when it starts to go off-balance in later months/years.
Lower BTUs, as one can imagine by now, heat up slower, but are more energy efficient; plus, once they get to a temperature, it’s going to hold it rather steadily for as long as one needs, so long as they don’t keep opening it for notable periods of time. Great for one you only need the oven at one, or perhaps two, temperatures for almost the entire day.
The most common type of heat source seen on a food truck, with all one needing to do is connect a couple tanks on the outside or stash them somewhere in the truck in a SAFE location. These create heat through a central burner in the bottom, activated by a pilot light which needs to be kept on. Compared to their main counterpart, Convection ovens, heat distribution is slower, but it will get to the temperature you SET it at so long as the burner hasn’t started to fluctuate. These are also known to develop their own particular hot and ‘cool’ spots, becoming more distinct with use; much like a grill. That said, these guys are very sturdy and will last on your line with minimal need to repair, one less pain in the ass part that needs to be brought into the shop every month or two.
For our benefit, many gas ovens come with an additional gas stovetop or other range on top, giving increased functionality. Of course these are for the low single-oven models as opposed to any large, multi-stacked versions. They come in 4, 6, 8, and even 10-top burners, as well as griddle or char-broiler/grill options, even combos.
A complete wonder in the world of ovens, convection designs rely on a wall-mounted fan that circulates the hot oven air around the interior chamber. They are very popular in commercial kitchens and bakeries, especially large-batch required places, as this function eliminates ‘cold spots’ and cook foods evenly throughout no matter where they’re placed, even when heavily loaded. Thus do the foods also usually cook much faster than usual.
An important thing to note with these, though, is that one always needs to adjust the actual oven temperature lower than what your recipe usually states, usually 25F; with the full air distribution and intense assault directly on the food, the actual environment usually acts more intense than gas ovens. Though this also means a potential saving of energy to operate; speaking of which, they can be gas or electric powered.
However, the even distribution only applies when it stays closed; opening the oven doors for extended or multiple periods can mess with the inside convection currents. Constant switching between temps isn’t always best for the sensors and other doodads inside. Not to mention the added fan and mechanics needed to run it create yet another thing that is likely to break down sooner or later; take it from me, I’ve worked with restaurant convection ovens when they’re deciding to be annoying, it’s not a fun period. Not to mention they DO cost more than conventional ovens. Ideally, these should be considered when you have a lot of long, large-batch baking/roasting projects at consistent temperatures, like for dessert/pastry trucks or if you only need it for a few specific before-service food preparation items.
Much like electric stovetops, these operate with giant hanging coils that heat the inside of the oven. Of course with the energy requirements, you’ll definitely need to make sure you have a powerful, if not an extra, generator to power this; probably one of the reason why these aren’t normally seen used in food trucks, not counting smaller countertop ‘oven’ models.
Range vs Stacked
As mentioned with Gas ovens, one can get low ovens that have a stovetop, griddle, or other such range on top for functionality. In reality, one can also find this in certain Electric and even some Convection oven options. They are usually the most popular choices to make in kitchens both restaurant and mobile, as many need only so many ovens and can fit all of that under their stove/flat-top cooking equipment, limiting line space.
That said, one can also go for stacked ovens; we’re rather familiar with this for convection ovens, where we see one oven on top of another, offering a great way to get extra appliances in the kitchen while saving line space, though of course that reduces the amount of space one could get a range in. A very desirable option for those needing a LOT of baking/roasting/broiling action done for the bulk of their items and very little, if any, finishing sauté/sear/grilling during service.
The question of Size can also come into play here; generally, most ovens, single or double, can come in 24”, 36”, 48”, 60”, and even 72” widths, the pluses and minuses of bigger vs smaller being rather clear.
There’s a chance you might be a food truck that doesn’t really NEED an oven except in the very rare, small-scale situation; many a place just making simple burgers would qualify. In which case, it might not be a bad idea to get some cheaper, simple counter-top alternative, like a toaster or pizza oven, while you get a sole griddle/burner equipment that can be set on a much cheaper steel table for use.
Wheels vs Lock
There is always the option to get a model that one can bolt down into the floor and/or wall, or get a standing oven/range that has non-wheeled feet; great for keeping them immobile via truck movement, but then deep cleaning underneath and behind becomes that much more difficult if not absolutely impossible. Not to mention, if bolting an oven in… better hope that’s the oven, or really overall line configuration, you want to keep from then on, because changing it up will now become quite the project.
Better to just do what everyone else does, get caster-bottomed ovens that can be easily wheeled and moved around as needed; just ensure that they DO have locks on them so the damn things stay put, and really give it some good kicks to make sure they work properly.
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