Are you planning a new athletic dining facility or teaching kitchen and looking for the best commercial kitchen equipment brands? You’ve come to the right place! I was fortunate to work at a university that was one of the first to have a teaching kitchen solely for our athletic department. We utilized it regularly – it was my favorite thing to do with my athletes! It was built right before I arrived at the school, and while it was an essential aspect of our program, over the years of use, I have identified some items that I wish we had and want to share with you so you can create a masterful design with function. This list may not be exhaustive, and your needs will depend on the primary purposes of your kitchen, but it is a good starting point.
Must Have Kitchen Equipment
Let’s start with the must-have food service equipment. Look for stainless steel throughout for a sleek, uniform look, and opt for energy efficiency and NSF certifications for safety.
Double Oven or Combination Ovens
To me, this is a must-have. Having just one oven means you have about three usable racks. Say you are making flat-bread pizzas. You can fit six individual pizzas in the oven at a time, but the cooking will take a bit longer. And most of the time, my cooking classes had about ten athletes each. Having a double oven means cooking 12 individual pizzas at a time or having the ability to cook vegetables in one oven at a certain temp and a main dish in the other oven. These don’t need to be spacious ovens, and they can be space efficient in a small kitchen if they are attached to the wall, jutting out no more than the fridge and stacked on top of each other. If you don’t listen to anything else, get the double oven.
Yes, you need a commercial oven; the ones in your house will not cook as quickly or efficiently at a high volume.
You could even get these cute, custom oven mitts personalized for your school or team!
Electric range or cooktop
These will be used to cook everything from omelets to pancakes to stir-fry. Get one with safety features such as an automatic off, lights up when the surface is hot, and various pan sizes. I would get two of these and have them on opposite sides of the counter because it can be difficult for more than 1-2 students to cook on the burners simultaneously in one space. Do three burners on one side and three on the other. I would also get these separate from the oven, not as a combination, to split up space in your kitchen. This one from Whirlpool Induction cooktop comes with essential safety features. It has a pan sensor that will turn off if the pan is removed and has a control lock mode that prevents it from being accidentally turned on. My only complaint would be that there isn’t a digital temperature reading!
An alternate for this, if your space is limited, is to get hot plates. They are common and popular with caterers and work well and heat quickly. There are different types, so check out the safety and position of electric plugs when choosing between a portable option with an open flame or an electric plug-in option.
Above the stove, you will need some range hood, especially if you are in a shared building. Get one that is high off the ground but still able to protect the walls from high temperatures and prevent smoke and smells in the building. Keep in mind athlete heights when designing this, or you will have heads constantly knocking into this.
Nothing like a four-minute wash cycle to make cleaning up after a cooking class a breeze. I like the Hobart Advansys, as it’s easy to operate, quick, and requires minimal maintenance.
Work tables or large counters
These are self-explanatory; you’ll need space for cutting, chopping, peeling, etc.
This should be separate from a bar sink connected to the dishwasher. For easy access, it should ideally be close to the door, be consistently filled with soap and paper towels or hand dryers, and have all the proper signage about hand washing before food preparation.
Optional Kitchen Equipment
These are items you can do without, especially if the size of your kitchen is a limiting factor.
Unless you are cooking gourmet meals, you should not use a food processor. You are teaching these students how to cook in their dorms and homes, and food processors aren’t commonly owned items. A good blender will suffice if you do a pesto or something that needs processing.
While this is helpful in many ways, it is a bit of a pain. Get ready for leaking water on the floor, random days when the ice isn’t coming out, and lots of replacement parts. And a lot of noise. For me, the benefit doesn’t outweigh the annoyance in the teaching kitchen. Likely this is a must-have in your fuel station or smoothie bar, but your demo kitchen can do without it. If you need a small, under-counter ice maker, check out the Manitowoc SM-50A, which has an automatic water filtration system.
Aside from the safety risk and the need for grease/fat, it doesn’t make sense for a nutrition kitchen to have a fryer. Grab a big air fryer or two, as they are more common in dorms and apartments, easier and safer, and produce healthier food.
Okay, you don’t NEED this, but I love this option as a fun team activity. While this is a must-have for me in an athletic dining hall, a teaching kitchen can go without one. If you need pizza, think about what will work best in your space. A conveyor belt would work if you had the proper ventilation and space. If not, opt for something that can be multi-purpose, such as this countertop convection oven.
While I love this feature, it takes up a lot of space, and if you can have a dishwasher along with large bar sinks, you can get away without the three-compartment. Keep in mind any items that cannot go through the dishwasher or may be too large for the bar sink.
If your teaching kitchen will be used by nutrition or culinary students, I highly encourage a three-compartment sink in this case, as it is a staple in any industrial kitchen or food service business and an essential tool for them to experience.
A note on NSF certification. While your teaching kitchen may not be a food service operation in a traditional sense, you are still undertaking food preparation. Thus it would be best if you utilized commercial kitchen equipment held to industry standards and made of quality materials designed to last a long time.
Depending on your local statutes, you may not need your teaching kitchen certified by your health department. However, you should still ensure that you have all the proper safety equipment, including a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, safety features on kitchen utensils such as knives, and handwashing instructions.
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