Found in homes, restaurants, cafes and other businesses, cookers and broilers are typically distinct from oven ranges in terms of size and application, but not always. Home broilers, for instance, are commonly a part of the oven range, that being used to do most of the home's cooking. However, many consumers use one or more of the wide variety of specialty cookers as a second option. Everything from slow roasters to steamers, pressure cookers and toaster broiler combos enjoys widespread use in kitchens of all sizes.
Advantages and Applications
Small specialty cookers are advantageous for a number of reasons. First, they are compact, storing away tidily on a countertop or in a cupboard. Second, they are easy to use and to clean. While they are multifunctional in some cases, operation is simple and fast, and often there is no need to periodically check the cooking progress, as the unit may automatically shut off once cooking is complete. Their small stature combined with nonstick surfaces makes cleanup practically effortless. Select cookers also work faster and more efficiently than many stoves and ovens, saving cooks both time and energy while preparing great-tasting foods.
Homes have the most use for the variety of cookers available, while restaurants are more likely to feature commercial-grade broilers, whether it's of the vertical, conveyor, under-firing or over-firing variety. Backyard char broilers are available for consumer purchase, while select oven makers may provide an indoor broiler attachment to replace a standard cooktop.
It used to be that the oven range was used for all cooking. Between the microwave and the assortment of available cookers, that is no longer the case. Cookers include compact rice makers, steamers, pressure cookers, slow ceramic roasters and freestanding induction cooktops. Hamburger cookers, pasta cooker inserts and toaster/broiler/convection cooker combos are a few other specialty items. Cookers used indoors are primarily electric powered. Gas-fueled cookers are great for outdoor use and camping. Jet cookers and camping stoves hook up quickly to a propane tank and provide a convenient means of deep frying, boiling and preparing basic foods outside.
Broilers put out quick-acting radiant heat that crisps or browns the outside of food while keeping the inside moist. Char broilers are used to slightly sear or char steak, fish, burgers and more. They serve as an alternative to a standard grill. Oven broilers and toaster broiler combos heat from the top down and are ideal for melting cheese, preparing frozen pizza or browning the top of a cooked dish. In restaurants, broilers include conveyor, vertical, salamander and under-fired grill units. Conveyor broilers are used to prepare pizzas, bagels and sandwiches, while vertical broilers are a mainstay of Greek and Mediterranean restaurants where gyros are on the menu. Salamander broilers are smaller and provide top-down heat. These are used to keep food warm before serving, melting cheese, carmelizing sugar or browning creme brulee. Commercial under-fire grills are large, multi-burner char broilers with stainless steel, structural steel and cast iron parts.
Cookers feature designs as diverse as their capabilities. Component materials vary according to brand, product, application and overall quality. High-end pressure and multi cookers often feature stainless steel parts, from the outer shell to the cooking insert. Anodized or stamped aluminum is another common material. Stainless steel handles, rims and rivets are common as well. Countertop cookers typically feature a removable pot or insert in which food is prepared. The shell and heating element never come into contact with ingredients. Power cords may be fixed or detachable, while cleanable parts are generally dishwasher safe.
Outdoor cookers such as deep fryers feature a durable, welded-steel frame, adjustable flame control and a hose and valve assembly for attaching to a propane canister. Camping stoves feature cast iron grids, a stainless steel or aluminum body, wind guards and individually controlled burners. Outdoor stoves range from single, fold-up pocket-sized units great for backpacking to 4-burner or bigger family stoves for car camping.
Depending on the cooker, the operational features will differ, but many disparate units come with similar controls. Multi cookers generally feature several cook settings, auto shutoff and a power-on indicator light. Basic rice makers may feature a single power mechanism. Advanced features include programmable timer, digital display and even preset cook settings. Pressure cookers offer a healthier, faster alternative to microwaves and standard cookware. They feature sealable lids with a cover lock indicator, pressure regulator and steam release valve. Pressure cookers are usually compatible with all cooktops, including regular, smooth and induction.
Perhaps the main reason people like specialty cookers is their versatility. Some, like a basic rice cooker or quart-sized pasta cooking insert, are fairly one dimensional. Multi cookers, however, are useful for making rice and pasta, steaming vegetables, roasting meats or preparing soup. Similarly, countertop soup kettles cook meats, stews and more. Even ultra-small hamburger cookers that close down over a patty (as a waffle iron does over a waffle) work for making fries or eggs. An outdoor jet cooker provides a high-output flame to deep fry fish or meat. Boiling, simmering, pan frying and steaming are also possible at different settings. The cooking volume is an element of a unit's versatility as well. Most feature a multi-quart/liter capacity that varies according to the cooker's use.
Brands and Prices
Numerous small appliance manufacturers offer cookers of all types. A short list of them includes Deni, Cuisinart, Wolfgang Puck, Sunpentown, Delonghi, Panasonic, Hamilton Beach, Presto and Sanyo. Presto and WMF offer a number of high-end pressure cookers. Commercial broilers are produced by brands like Vollrath, Garland, Star and Imperial Range. For home cookers, prices commonly range from $20 to $250 depending on the purchase. Outdoor gas cookers may be a bit more expensive. Portable induction cooktops can cost several hundred dollars each. The cost of commercial broilers is much higher, anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 depending on the scale of the unit.
In the home, especially, specialty cookers save time and energy. While the oven range will always serve its purpose, countertop appliances are more convenient, faster acting and efficient. Providing a great second cooking option that may well become the primary one, a consumer-grade cooker or broiler offers an affordable, often tidier solution to food preparation.