If you have customers who roast a lost of meat and don’t use roast-and-hold ovens, do them a favor and introduce them to slow cooking. Equipment designed for this task is known variously as roast-and-hold, cook-and-hold, or low-temperature ovens, and there are several variations. But, they all cook food at very low temperatures, then hold it at even lower temperatures–just sufficient to suppress bacterial growth–until product is needed for serving.
The biggest use of roast-and-hold ovens is meats. However, these ovens are excellent for reheating foods such as casserole dishes and foods in sauces or gravies that will dry out or crust when heated in a conventional oven at high temperatures. The low temperature of the ovens usually doesn’t produce satisfactory baked goods. Ovens that provide both high-temperature and low-temperature cycles may be used for baking as well as the best slow cooker.
Differences from Older Limited Equipment
A few years ago, an operator wanting to slow roast was limited to equipment for that function only. Today, however, several manufacturers produce units that will operate as normal ovens or, by switching to a roast-and-hold cycle, will slow roast meats. And some slow-roast ovens have provision for smoker opera oration.
- Slow roasting meats have major advantages for the operator. Better product is one. Slow-roasted meat is moister and tenderer, and has a better texture and flavor than conventionally roasted meats.
- Another advantage is economy. Slow-roasted meats have less shrinkage than meats cooked at high temperatures. Slow roasting uses less fuel or power. And many roast-and-hold ovens don’t require expensive ventilation-hood installations.
- There’s even labor saving. Because of extended roasting time, meat is generally placed in the oven near the end of the evening shift so it will cook overnight; the holding cycle will keep it at a safe temperature until the morning crew arrives.
Two Main Types of Slow-Roasting Ovens
One operates on the conduction principle, with heat delivered from the heated walls of the oven. The other uses forced air convention, circulating heated air around the cooking product. There are high-and low-velocity convection ovens, although most high-velocity models have a combination of conventional and slow-roast modes. Slow roasting involved higher humidity than other cooking. The highest humidity is in conduction-type ovens. Since meat moisture can’t escape the oven cavity, humidity reaches as high as 95 percent in a fairly short time. This inhibits further evaporation and produces the moistest product.
Forced convection ovens don’t maintain as high humidity as conduction ovens. But, at slow-roast temperatures, they have higher humidity than forced convection at conventional meat-roasting temperatures (typically 350 degrees). Depending upon the velocity of the convection, humidity in the oven will generally be between 30 and 60 percent.
Slow-roast ovens operate from 200 to 250 degrees, depending on type. At these low temperatures, there isn’t the intense browning that’s obtained at 350 degrees. But, meat surface does develop a brownish color during slow roasting. Forced convection ovens generally provide greater surface browning.
Low-temperature ovens are designed to maintain precise cooking and holding temperatures. Temperature is kept consistent throughout the oven chamber by using highly accurate temperature-sensing mechanisms and by better insulation than in most conventional ovens. Most roast-and-holds ovens, whether gas or electric, are dedicated to this cooking process, but an increasing number of dual-cycle ovens provide the best of both worlds: conventional roasting and baking, and the slow-cooking roast-and-hold method.
Two Basic Approaches to Roast and Hold in Gas Ovens
The conduction/natural-convection ovens don’t have any air-circulation device except natural convection. Force-convection gas ovens have a fan to continuously circulate air. High-velocity models generally brown the outer surface of meat somewhat more and withdraw more moisture from the surface of the meat.
- One major type of electric slow-roasting oven uses a heated metal wire element which is embedded in the wall of the oven and provides even heat throughout the oven
- The other type, often referred to as a hot-wall oven, uses an oven chamber that is surrounded by heated air, which is kept separate from the air of the oven chamber. This insures that moisture from cooking meat stays in the chamber.
There are two basic approaches to timing the cooking: a conventional manually set timer and the meat-probe sensor. The latter reads the meat’s interior temperature and switches to the holding cycle when meat reaches desired temperature.
At the end of the cooking cycle, roast-and-hold ovens automatically switch to a holding cycle which is generally from 140 to 160 degrees until the food is removed from the oven. This temperature range will not further cook the meat, particularly at the low end of the scale. Meat can be held up to 12 hours on the low-temperature cycle, although most even manufacturers recommend no more than six hours.
The long cycle of roast-and-hold ovens permits flavor changes in the natural meat juices to penetrate the tissues, carrying the flavor evenly throughout the roast. Since slow cooking also makes meat tenderer, operators can get excellent results from less expensive cuts of meat that wouldn’t be suitable if roasted at conventional high temperatures. And slow-roasted meat is more evenly cooked and consistent because there’s far more even distribution of heat in the oven chamber, letting heat evenly penetrate the roast.
The uniform distribution of moisture throughout slow-roasted meat has another advantage. It lets the operator refrigerate unused roasts and later reheat them at low heat without the meat drying out of losing flavor. Although there’s always reduction in meat’s weight after cooking, this shrink is greatly reduced in roast-and-hold ovens. Shrink results from heat driving moisture and fat from the roast, loss minimized with slow cooking. Control of shrinkage is a major concern of sophisticated operators. Savings on shrink from a roast-and-hold oven could substantially affect food costs and profits.
There are two ways slow cooking saves energy. Roast-and-hold ovens are better insulated than conventional ovens, and low temperatures result in more effective use of heat since not as much gas or electricity per pound is needed.
With gas, the real energy savings are obtained at the end of a cook-and-hold cycle. That’s when the oven stops putting out new heat. In a roast-and-hold oven, heat already expended is used to bring the meat’s internal temperature up to the desired level, and then is utilized to hold the roast at its holding temperature until more make-up heat is require.
Gauge your prospect’s need. There are large-medium-and small-capacity ovens. Some are floor-mounted, other are designed for countertop operation. There are under-counter models, and ovens on casters. Some can be built into serving lines or work tables.