Commercial Kitchen Equipment: The Ultimate Commercial Kitchen Equipment List (2024)
What happens when a high-performance commercial kitchen meets incredible food? Hopefully, the food business of your dreams. Far from the bare-bones setups of the past, today’s commercial kitchens are just as sophisticated as their restaurant counterparts and require the same high-quality kitchen equipment and tools.
The popularity of commercial kitchens has skyrocketed in recent years, with ghost kitchens popping up to meet delivery demand and chefs renting kitchen space to test out exciting new dining concepts. In 2022, the U.S. “virtual kitchen” market was estimated at over $130 billion and is expected to reach $223.7 billion by 2027, according to Statista. Without the right tools for the tasks at hand, creating those epic dishes (and capturing your slice of this booming market) will be a lot harder. Begin by purchasing the best you can afford, and you’ll be rewarded with evenly cooked meats, silky sauces, and an organization roadmap that you’ll use for years to come.
In this article, we’ve narrowed down the list of the essential items worth investing in. We also provide direction on safety equipment and implementing kitchen technology, which helps streamline commercial kitchen operations just as they do full-service restaurants. Finally, we’ll share some shopping tips before you go hunting for that specialty wood-fired oven. Read on for some practical kitchen wisdom.
Starting a Commercial Kitchen Checklist
The Ultimate Commerical Kitchen Equipment List
Your range and oven are among the most important long-term investments you can make as a restaurant owner. It’s probably the most expensive, so it’s worth researching before you commit.
This is the Grand Central Station of your kitchen, where chefs and line cooks will griddle, fry, simmer, boil, and sauté. There are two primary types for commercial kitchens: restaurant ranges and heavy-duty “battery” ranges. Restaurant ranges are stand-alone units best for smaller outfits, whereas heavy-duty ranges boast larger burners and are designed to connect to a “battery” of stoves or other equipment for maximum efficiency. You can also find specialized wok ranges for heavy-duty stir-frying.
Restaurant ovens come in an array of styles and materials far beyond the standard issue equipment of the past. The first question is: will you need a standard oven or a specialty version? Increasingly popular types include “deck” ovens implementing a heavy stone as the heating element (stone-fired), classic wood-fired ovens often used by pizzerias, and rotisserie ovens for slow-roasting meats. Let’s not forget stacked ovens, convection ovens, conveyor ovens, and steam ovens that cook with water vapor.
Unless your dream is to run a raw vegan restaurant, your commercial kitchen will likely generate copious smoke, heat, and grease, so a commercial vent is essential. And it’s the law; you’ll need to check your location's specific health, safety, and building code requirements. There are two types of hoods. Grease hoods should be positioned over all gas equipment and any electric equipment that generates smoke, such as ranges, ovens, griddles, and fryers. Then there are heat hoods that, as the name suggests, dispense with heat, steam, and smells. These are typically installed over dishwashers and steamers.
The microwave may be low on the restaurant kitchen totem pole, but this small and mighty appliance will be beeping all day and night. Make sure to choose a commercial microwave with an output of at least 1500 watts (some models amp up the power to 3000 watts).
The most significant advancement in kitchen equipment over the past half-century has been the continual improvement of refrigeration systems. With so many bells, whistles, and price points, there’s a lot to consider.
Walk-in refrigerators are now available with temperature sensors, various temperature zones, WiFi connectivity for remote temperature control, and adjustable shelves — a simple convenience not to be underestimated! Some smart refrigerators are downright futuristic, alerting staff when ingredients are running low or about to expire. In post-pandemic times, blue-light technology has gained traction, which emits a special bacteria-killing blue light wavelength.
A reach-in refrigerator have less bells and whistles than their walk-in counterparts but get the job done for a much lower price. Often you can use both – walk-ins for larger items and bulk storage, and reach-ins for daily needs. These stand-alone units are typically narrow and tall and set on casters to make them portable. Solid door models tend to be more energy efficient, whereas glass doors allow you to quickly size up your ingredients with a glance.
The ideal freezer truly depends on the size and type of your kitchen, though the most popular is the classic large stand-up freezer. Other options include walk-in freezers for more storage, chest freezers for smaller eateries, display freezers popular with delis and ice cream shops, and under-the-counter freezers for shared kitchens tight on prep space.
Is there any food business on earth that doesn’t offer refreshing cold beverages? An ice maker is a must-have and comes in various iterations, from small countertop models to hefty machines that make all the ice shapes, from flakes to cubes.
Storage and organization equipment
Stocking your commercial kitchen in a useful and organized way begins and ends with storage. If you research proper containers and shelving at the outset, you’ll create a roadmap to organizing that will likely last for years.
A shelf is a shelf, right? That’s not always the case. Most restaurant owners seek out materials resistant to corrosion, so stainless steel (which works in refrigerated and dry areas) remains the most popular choice. Epoxy-coated and polymer shelves are also standouts. Vented wire shelves provide air circulation, though solid shelving has its benefits, too (they’re easier to clean).
Food storage containers
Seek out clear microwave and freezer-safe containers so you don’t have to lift the lid to see what’s in them. The size and style will depend on what you’re storing. For instance, round containers are best for dry ingredients, as ingredients don’t get stuck in corners. Rectangular boxes – a popular choice for vegetables – can be easily stacked in the fridge.
Hand-drying dishes at a restaurant is off-limits, as towels are a vector of bacteria, even when brand new. You’ll want to add drying racks to your shopping list, likely a variety of wall-mounted, stand-alone, and stationery.
Food prep equipment
From basic food prep tasks to more specialized purposes such as beating egg whites to stiff peaks, these electric and handheld tools are the minimum you’ll need to get cooking, and worth splurging on.
For a more comprehensive list, check out our guide to commercial kitchen supplies.
A stationary motor-driven mixer easily combines large amounts of food and heavy batters, and you can extend its versatility with a variety of attachments to slice, shred, and grind. This is complemented by commercial handheld mixers, which are portable and can be used over any bowl or pan.
Slice quickly, safely, and easily with a commercial slicer that promises precise cuts and will save your staff a headache and precious time.
Powerful, efficient, and easy to operate, food processors perform a wide variety of tasks in the kitchen. The all-purpose S-shaped blade does most of the chopping, pureeing, and mixing in the center of the bowl, while other attachments make quick work of shredding, grating, and slicing.
That kitchen adage is true: you can never have too much counter space. Stainless steel is revered in restaurants as the most hygienic option. The non-porous metal provides fewer nooks and crannies for harmful bacteria to grow and is resistant to corrosion. Many prep tables have built-in cutting boards.
Pots and pans
Keep in mind your cooking style and tolerance for cleaning. Stainless steel is widely favored for its durability and the fact that it is dishwasher safe. Some chefs may prefer cast iron for searing meats but avoid anything non-stick, which quickly shows wear and tear with intense use.
High-quality everyday tools are worth splurging on in professional kitchens. These are the items your staff will reach for day in and day out, and poorly made equipment will quickly wear out and break.
While there are too many specialized gadgets to list, don’t hold back when it comes to the quantity and quality of mixing spoons, whisks, and spatulas – three essential categories that are the foundation of the cook’s tools. (Knives are equally fundamental, and we could write a book on the different types).
Cleaning and safety equipment
You’re probably aware of the specific safety requirements and licenses needed to run a commercial kitchen. When it comes to equipment, pay special attention to these three items.
Anyone who has worked at a restaurant knows it gets hot in the kitchen! Smoke, grease, and invisible airborne contaminants tend to float around. Not to set off alarm bells, but there’s also the risk of inhaling too much carbon monoxide and other harmful gases. Proper ventilation is key to healthy indoor air quality — and happy chefs. In short, don’t skimp on the exhaust fans or the vent hoods.
Stainless steel sinks typically range from one- to four-basin setups, with separate sections for washing dishes and rinsing. You’ll also need at least one dedicated prep sink for cleaning fresh ingredients to prevent cross-contamination and another separate sink for employee handwashing.
Since most kitchen fires originate with the cooking equipment, the National Fire Protection Association requires a Class K fire extinguisher (and not the ABC fire extinguishers most are familiar with). Class K is a wet chemical fire extinguishing liquid that handles tough grease and oil fires.
Commercial kitchen technology
Point of sale system (POS)
There are so many ways an efficient POS system optimizes kitchen operations, but the most impactful is the KDS, or kitchen display system. Line cooks are often portrayed as grabbing a paper ticket and then cooking up a storm, but the KDS screen eliminates the confusion that often arises. The system provides data on popular dishes and how long they take to cook, helping you to plan ahead and avoid 86’ing menu items.
Reporting and analytics
You can dive deeper into the data with a comprehensive reporting system, which tracks sales, menu, and fulfillment information in real time. Instead of laborious number-crunching that takes days or weeks, you’ll glean insights from the day’s data that you can act on immediately. Say you suddenly ran out of your signature crème brûlée. Do you experience an insane rush every Friday? Or did the mini blowtorch break, and there wasn’t a backup? Having this data means you can fix problems quickly, streamline your kitchen, and fill the holes in missing and broken equipment.
You’ve put so much effort into outfitting and organizing your commercial kitchen that the next natural step is an automated inventory management system to enhance ordering supplies and keeping everything in its place. The system is customizable to your unique kitchen setup.
Payroll and team management
You’ve hired talented staff, and your kitchen team is killing it. Make sure you reward them with thoughtful onboarding and timely payments. A payroll and team management system is there to help you and provide a solid roadmap to being the best boss.
Things to Consider Before Purchasing Kitchen Equipment
Aim for the highest-quality tools you can afford. Poorly constructed pans and cooking tools will warp and break with use. Large low-quality items may cost you more in maintenance, wiping out any savings. By contrast, quality stoves, freezers, ovens, and more can last decades.
Base your shopping choices on the things you absolutely need rather than what you think you ought to have. Some tools designed for seldom-performed tasks may clutter up your commercial kitchen (and you can always change the recipe). Let the layout and size of the kitchen guide your decisions when narrowing down your list.
Create a budget and stick to it. It's too easy for an experimental chef or aspiring restaurateur to go bananas in a kitchen supply warehouse (or even Sur La Table), scooping up that gleaming pasta machine or gorgeous baker’s peel you’ll never use.
Ease of use should be a top priority for whatever kitchen accouterments you choose. Staff will come and go, yet everyone will need to be thoroughly proficient with all the tools and in all aspects of the kitchen — for quick turnarounds but also for safety.
New vs. Old
Opinions diverge on whether brand-new equipment is always superior. In fact, large ticket items that are used can save you precious dollars and prevent perfectly fine ovens and freezers from going to the landfill. If you’re flexible when it comes to brand and size, buying used is a great option.
Buying vs. leasing
We won’t mince words: kitchen equipment is expensive. One way to mitigate the up-front investment is to lease your equipment, giving you more capital to invest in other areas at the critical startup stage. Lease agreements allow you to test-drive big items, and some include a lease-to-own option.
What happens when careful shopping meets incredible food? Hopefully, the food business of your dreams. While this list doesn’t cover every item you’ll need in your commercial kitchen, it’s a great place to start and will provide some food for thought.
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