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In most commercial kitchens, at least some ingredients are not pre-prepared, and therefore have to be prepared on-site – onions have to be chopped, peppers have to be diced, and cream has to be blended or whipped. Manual food preparation can be time-consuming, costly, and inefficient, however, especially if your business employs untrained or unskilled workers.
If manual preparation is bogging your kitchen down and you’d like to automate the process, there are excellent cutting, chopping, and mixing machines available on the market. Between these options, there are numerous factors to take into consideration: cost, ease of maintenance, ease of use, safety, and production efficiency.
Many suppliers have product offerings that can be customized to your liking (at extra cost, of course), so if you have any specific needs, be sure to communicate these needs with your suppliers so that they can determine whether they have a customized product that is right for you.
Meat & Cheese Slicers
Meat slicers and cheese slicers are available in three main varieties – light, medium, and heavy duty – in order of increasing capacity. Light slicers are meant for smaller delis and cafes that intend to run the slicer for only a few hours per day, while medium slicers are for those who intend to run the slicer for several more hours per day. Heavy-duty slicers, on the other hand, are for those who intend to run the slicer for the entire workday. You should choose your slicer -- automatic or manual -- depending on your production needs. Keep in mind, however, that while meat and cheese slicing does save a great deal of prep time, care should be taken when maintaining the machine. Meat and cheese slicing exposes the machine to bacteria, so cleanup must be thorough to prevent potential health issues.
With regard to the specific cut of your meat and cheese, many suppliers offer different cutting discs to give you full control over the style of cutting. With a full set of cutting discs, you can expand the feature set of some automated slicers so that you can slice, dice, grate, grind, and more.
While you can purchase separate vegetable cutting and vegetable chopping machines, it is more and more common for machines to come with different cutting discs to allow for full customizability (slicing, dicing, julienne, grate, etc.). A vegetable cutting/chopping machine can save a lot of time and effort when it comes to prepping ingredients for sandwich making, but its primary advantage is to safety. Employees with only basic training may injure themselves when cutting/chopping vegetables throughout the day, especially during busier periods. Vegetable cutting/chopping machines automate the process somewhat and largely minimize safety risks. Be sure not to use your vegetable machine to cut meat or cheese, however. Not only will most machines struggle to cut (and may possibly become damaged) with meat and cheese, crossover use creates a risk of bacterial contamination.
Vegetable cutters and choppers are most commonly manual-powered, but there are automated processing units that come at increased expense. Automated machines allow you to process a great deal more vegetables per kitchen-hour than manual machines, and allow your employees to handle more kitchen tasks simultaneously and with more focus. If yours is a particularly busy kitchen, or even if the kitchen swells with excessive activity only a few times a day, it is worth considering an automated machine.
Multipurpose Vegetable Food Processors
Multipurpose vegetable food processors are segmented into automated and manual versions, as the differences are quite substantial.
Automated processors are pricier than their more focused counterparts. The production efficiency of some of these machines are a sight to behold – continuous feed machines can produce up to 600 to 800 lbs of prepared vegetables per hour, and some come equipped with minimal self-cleaning mechanisms so that the machine doesn’t have to be turned off and cleaned/maintained during the workday. And though most vegetable cutters/choppers (even high production, automated versions) should not be used to prepare cheese or other items, many multipurpose vegetable food processors are made specifically to handle these other ingredients – bread, cheese, fruits, nuts, etc. – if your food processing needs extend past vegetables and meats, you may want to consider investing in a multipurpose processor. Suppliers do create various low-end models if cost is a concern (and if the high production efficiency is not necessary), but be aware that automated multipurpose machines will almost always be costlier than more specialized or manual units.
Manual processors are a great choice if you operate a small kitchen that has a limited food prep need (or if you already have specialized equipment and need an additional tool for fruits and cheese, for example). Manual vegetable processors are commonly five to six times cheaper than their automated counterparts, so the savings may be worth the increased labor requirement and lower production capability. As with automated processors, manual processors can accomplish a variety of cutting tasks: julienne, slice, shred, string, grate, dice, etc, but not all manual processors can do all of these various cutting styles. Speak with your supplier to ensure that the processor you purchase is capable of cutting in the styles that you need. If not, your supplier may have a food processor with a different blade or set of blades that can cut the way you need it to.
There are primarily two types of commercial mixers, spiral and planetary. Each has its pros and cons. There are also handheld mixers that are commonly found in higher end restaurants.
Planetary mixers are known for their versatility. There are many attachment varieties beyond the default mixer attachment, including but not limited to beater attachments, whipping attachments, stirring attachments, and more. This versatility means that the mixer can be used to mix more than just dough. Planetary mixers can be used to create mashed potatoes, pastry fillings, creams, dressings, cake batter, and numerous other ingredients. Unfortunately, this versatility also comes with disadvantages. Planetary mixers are not only slower than equivalent spiral mixers, but they also have more limited bowl capacity, which means that for dough creation, a spiral mixer is a more efficient and higher volume mixer. Granted, if you need a mixer for anything more than dough, and you’re not interested in going handheld, then a planetary mixer is really the only choice.
The basic difference between spiral mixers and planetary mixers is that spiral mixers can only mix dough. In that sense, they are extremely specialized, but they do the job of mixing and kneading dough much more efficiently (and with higher dough capacities) than equivalent planetary mixers. For a kitchen serving dough-based dishes, whether a bakery or a pizzeria, a spiral mixer is a necessity.
In higher end full-service restaurants with constantly changing menus, higher quality standards, and relatively limited seating, hand/stick mixers and blenders are especially common for semi-automated mixing of ingredients. Sometimes chefs want more control over how their mixes turn out, and stick mixers give an extra level of precision over mixing that automated planetary mixers simply do not. It’s also important to take into account your what your kitchen employees are familiar with and what they like working with. Changing kitchen process – even for a mechanical advantage – may not turn out positive results in the end. Besides, quality stick mixers do a fine job. Of course, they cannot be used to mix dough, but work for sauces, potatoes, fillings, whipped creams, and the like. Just be sure to find a mixer with the right attachments. Some stick mixers are made to fit a variety of attachments, while others may be specialized for one attachment type. Speak with your supplier to find the stick mixer with the attachments that fit your needs best.