First Question: what are you cooking? This sounds obvious, but in most kitchens I have walked into, the combi is being used for a third of its true potential. 

Are you steaming vegetables and roasting proteins with a minimum of combi cooking? Do you have under-skilled staff? Do you have overnight cooking requirements? Do you have staple menu items that require a set recipe? Do you have stage-set cooking processes? Are you cooking finer pastry items?

These questions will help you decide whether you need a touch screen, a dial system, spitter or boiler, do you need 1/1gn or 2/1gn. It will also help you save thousands of dollars if you get it right. 

Factors to consider…

Size. How much product are you dealing with day to day? A common mistake is purchasing the wrong size combi costing you thousands more in set up costs and day to day running. Drill down on how much you will use your combi – do you need a 6 tray, 10 tray, 20 tray or roll in 20 or 40 tray. Be sure not to under or over cook your decision.

Space. If you are replacing a current unit, measure the space you are using now and add approximately 5mm for wriggle room for removing and replacing with the new unit. Be sure to measure entrance doorways as well. I have seen contractors forget this step and have to remove an entire wall to make a combi fit. 

When placing an order some of the major brands of combi give you the option to swing your door left or right. Doesn’t sound like much but when you get it wrong it can really mess with service cross over and safety. No one likes a great big burn on the elbow!

Combi-oven Controls are often down the left hand side of the unit, with the exception of slim line models. if this is next to your cook line you need to allow a minimum of 600mm from your griddle or stove top or the constant heat will burn out the electronics. 2 major brands Rational and Moffat, can add on a heat shield for around about $1200 extra. 

If space is a major concern a slimline can be an option. These slimline units have come a long way with Blue Seal Sapiens now available in touch screen and auto wash systems. So you get all the big combi tech in a small package. With most being 510mm to 550mm wide, you can fit a combi just about anywhere. 

Power, Gas & Water Supply. Do you have access to stable 3-phase electricity or do you need Natural Gas? If you are replacing an existing unit it is always easy to determine what you need. If you are planning on a new unit get your electrician to see what room you have left on your sub-board for 3-phase, meaning you will need a minimum of 3 circuits to split the load. Also get them to ensure a 5 pin 32amp 3-phase isolation switch is set up as this is industry standard for combi-ovens.

Natural Gas will need your gas plumber involved early, to ensure you are getting enough regulated flow and can draw the required amount of gas to sustain consistent temperature and ensure you do not “starve” other gas appliances in the kitchen. You will also still need a 10amp or 15amp power supply (dependent on brand ) to run your Controls.

Some combis can be converted to LPG if required - talk with your supplier to ensure the correct model is presented to you. You will also need the combi connected to a water supply for the steam and cleaning cycles, and drainage for waste water.

Cleaning. Many units have very effective cleaning cycles, and these often require the use of the supplier's brand of cleaning liquid. 

Servicing. At present there are 130 different brands of combi-oven available on the market. To help narrow down on a logical solution what brand is your cookline? Is it Garland? Is it Waldorf? Is it Electrolux? 

Particularly if this is a new build, you may be able to save $$$$ by choosing all your appliances with the same brand, increasing your buying power ie: Garland becomes Rational. Waldorf becomes Convotherm etc.

A certified service technician for your cookline will most likely be the recommended tech for your combi. (Check with your supplier for preferred technicians). This will help with warranty. A preferred technician will also increase the life of your combi with regular servicing. Better still ask about preventative maintenance, and online monitoring options. This will give you a minimum 10years life expectancy. 

Aftercare Service. Rational and Convotherm are clear leaders in this space. But what does it mean? You’ve bought your fancy new oven, now how do you get the most out of it?! Both of the leading brands mentioned above offer the following:

  • Commissioning of the newly installed oven – to ensure this is done correctly and make sure no warranty issues arise later.
  • On-site training FOREVER – within reason of course, meaning they will help you along the way any major changes.
  • Menu set up – if you have a new unit which needs your menu uploaded into the controls they will help.
  • Software upgrades for the electronic system – usually done by a technician visiting. 
  • Both suppliers are constantly evolving their demonstrations with influences from Asian cuisine, Smoking Classes and other food trends to maximise the benefits and menu options you can get from the combi.

How you are looked after once the product has been sold is critical - it is vital in our industry to have ongoing support. We have a high turnover of under-skilled staff and this can be problematic when it comes to producing consistent quality.

Touch Screen or not? Touch screens are great for ease of use but not always necessary. Go back to your required needs. If you are confident your staff can follow a more manual process or you are not doing multi-level cooking or multi stage cooking process, then go with a digital control or manual control.

Touch screens are great if you have multiples of various cooking programs - this makes it easier to find, easier to manage, easier to program and easier to teach others. Touch screens are a necessity if you have under-skilled staff and you can lock in specific processes for menu items and then lock out staff so you get consistency. 

Accessories. Combi-combi ovens work at their best when using the right accessories for the application. In almost every kitchen I have walked into everyone is using a gastronorm tray for everything. Frying, grilling, roasting, steaming. 

There is no point purchasing a combi (in my opinion) if you are not going to get the right accessories. A griddle plate for proteins, a frying racks for frying, chicken racks, egg trays, steam baskets etc. It is so important to use these to achieve the best result no matter the brand of combi accessorise.

What if You Chose the Wrong Size Combi? If you bought one that’s too small or too large, and purchased it through Silver Chef’s Rent-Try-Buy program, you have the option to return it and upgrade to the size you really need. 

What if You Paid Cash for a Combi and Now Money is Tight? Silver Chef's Buy Back program allows you to finance equipment after you've already bought it (within 6 months). We can help to ease cashflow problems - talk to us...

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By Ryan Parker, Chef and Equipment Specialist, Bunzl Outsourcing Services