Cooking with gas rather than electricity generally provides more heat and is also less expensive.
But commercial cooking equipment that runs on gas functions by using varying amounts of BTUs. This guide will explain what BTUs are and how their usage varies by appliance. It will also cover a variety of other topics related to gas cooking appliances and BTUs.
What is a BTU?
A BTU—formally known as a British thermal unit—is the amount heat necessary to increase the temperature of one pound of water by one degree. BTUs pertain to gas burners specifically, and a higher BTU rating means appliances will heat up faster. Since opening ovens allows heat to escape, BTU ratings are especially important for ovens that are constantly being opened and closed.
Overall, the BTU-requirements of commercial kitchen equipment vary significantly. Whether you’re looking to purchase a range, oven, fryer, grill, griddle, or something else, this guide will give you an idea of how many BTUs each product uses.
BTU Usage by Equipment Type
BTU usage depends on the size and brand of your cooking equipment. The following are generalizations, and it’s important to always read the details of a product before making a purchase.
Usually using 30,000 BTUs per burner, commercial gas ranges can be used to boil, saute, simmer, poach, or sear your food. Here is a detailed chart that illustrates the BTU requirements for a wide range of gas ranges:
|Number of Range Burners||Total BTUs|
Typically using 40,000-50,000 BTUs per hour, commercial convection ovens are great for baking brownies or roasting vegetables. Double deck convection ovens will predictably use twice as many as many BTUs. Commercial griddles are great for cooking eggs, bacon, and pancakes. They generally use 25,000-30,000 BTUs per linear foot of cooking area.
The BTU-usage of a commercial pizza oven varies greatly, with the one constant being pizza ovens always use more BTUs than convection ovens. This is because pizza ovens must maintain much higher interior temperatures.
Commercial fryers excel at cooking mouth-watering French fries, mozzarella sticks, and onion rings. Depending on its size and fat capacity, a floor model commercial fryer will use anywhere from 90,000-150,000 BTUs per hour:
|Fryer Fat Capacity||Total BTUs|
Perfect for giving steak, fish, or chicken a delicious smoky flavor, commercial charbroilers usually use 20-000-40,000 BTUs per burner.
Mongolian BBQ Ranges use approximately 41,000 BTUs of natural gas or 47,000 BTUs of propane per burner.
Commercial broilers use about 42,000 BTUs per burner.
Propane vs. Natural Gas
Natural gas is more affordable than propane and consequently is the standard choice for foodservices. Although it’s a non-renewable fossil fuel, natural gas isn't expected to run out any time soon. Almost every city in the United States is set up to utilize natural gas for plumbing, making it an even more obvious choice for restaurant owners.
Propane differs from natural gas in that it’s more mobile, volatile, efficient, and highly concentrated. This means that to generate an equal amount of BTUs, less propane is needed compared to natural gas. More commonly found outside major cities, propane must go through more refinement processes than natural gas and is stored in containers that are painted white to reflect light and heat. The white tanks help ensure propane won’t expand and possibly explode—so it’s absolutely essential that you never paint over a white propane tank! If you’re using a smaller tank of propane, it can usually be easily refilled at local gas stations and convenience stores.
What about Electric Kitchen Equipment?
Electric heating power is usually measured in watts rather than BTUs. One watt is equal to about 3.41 BTUs per hour.
What Else to Know
Commercial kitchen equipment with more BTUs will enable food to be cooked more quickly than if it was being cooked with lower-BTU equipment. This means you can produce more food for your customers per day and bring in more profit. However, the models with higher BTUs also use more fuel and lead to pricier utility bills.
BTUs are most important when it comes to cooking equipment like ovens, broilers, fryers, griddles, and Mongolian grills—all of which require extremely quick turnaround after use.
Pizza ovens especially benefit from being a high-BTU units since these ovens need to reach exceptionally high temperatures to cook the delicious crispy crusts that customers crave.
If you’re planning to expand your foodservice or bring in more business, invest in a piece of cooking equipment that has a slightly higher BTU than what you currently need. This allows you to keep up with the pace of your business without needing to purchase another unit in the not-too-distant future.
Vent hoods are designed to handle certain amounts of BTUs. Make sure to take this into consideration when choosing your hoods and cooking equipment.
Making The Right Choice
By educating yourself about BTUs, you will be better prepared to design and build the commercial kitchen of your dreams. You'll know the cumulative BTU usage of all your cooking equipment, and this will allow you to pick the perfect appliances for your particular kitchen.