Conveyor Ovens - getting the best out of new technology

Former Australian champion pizzamaker Bruno Gentile is the Queensland Business Development Manager and Corporate Chef for Middleby Marshall, a leading name in conveyor oven design. The great benefit of the latest conveyor ovens is that they’re faster and more economical than before, as well as being easy to operate. We asked Bruno how to get the best out of this new technology that’s taking the world by storm.

The traditional woodfired pizza oven requires a lot of attention on the part of your pizza cooks to ensure the pizza cooks evenly and doesn’t burn. In contrast, the latest conveyor ovens offer consistency of throughput — once you’ve got the temperature range and conveyor speed right, you can put through pizza after pizza, and they’ll cook in a consistent manner.

This removes the need for highly trained staff and makes the process almost foolproof. You have ease of operation, faster cooking times, greater energy efficiency and a smaller footprint in the kitchen. Plus, these ovens are affordable.

The technology has really grown in leaps and bounds. In the old days you would use a deck oven where you had to keep opening and closing the door to check the pizza. Every time you did this the heat would escape and the oven temperature dropped very quickly. But with the latest conveyor ovens, you put your pizza in the front and it comes out the other end so quickly and fully cooked! No matter how many pizzas you put through, the performance isn’t affected.

As the market has expanded, demand for smaller ovens has increased. Obviously the size of the oven you need depends on how many pizzas per hour you want to produce. At Middleby Marshall our biggest is the PS670, which will cook about 200 pizzas an hour. Some of the big pizza chains have these double and triple stacked. It all depends on how much throughput you want to achieve.

We have test kitchens in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne where we invite pizzamakers and other foodservice professionals to come in and test their products — you can set the oven up and play with it until you get the consistency you want. This is important because many of the new ovens operate at much greater efficiency than what you might be used to, despite being a similar size.

For example, our WOW Oven cooks pizzas about a third faster than a lot of the older ovens. So if you are cooking a pizza in 6-7 minutes, the WOW Oven could cut that down to 4½ minutes. This means you can produce more pizzas per hour without increasing the footprint in your establishment, just by upgrading to the newer technology.

Technological improvements like the impingement cooking process also produce a finished pizza that’s more evenly cooked than in the past, ensuring greater customer satisfaction. And because these ovens are so simple to use, you don’t need someone to constantly monitor the cooking. That frees up staff to concentrate more on making the pizza itself and lets them put a little more love into the presentation.

Many pizzamakers are now using pre-made and frozen pizza bases and these new ovens have adjustable settings to suit those as well. They’re actually highly adaptable and foodservice operators are using them for much more than just cooking pizzas. You can use them for steaks, fish, chicken - we have pastry people putting them into their production kitchens because they like the even cooking that they’re able to achieve.

I know of some foodservice business who have triple stacked PZ 311 infrared ovens, which will cook at up to 500degC — that’s super hot. Doing this will not only enable you to cook pizzas but will cover all your protein cooking needs. You put your fish, steak, chicken or whatever you want in the top two ovens and have your pizza oven on the bottom — all set at different temperatures according to need. With that footprint of three ovens stacked on top of each other you can basically cook everything you need for the foodservice menu.