So you think you know about... snack equipment

Thursday 10th November 2005 00:00

Snacks can be high revenue earners, and the equipment that produces it needs to be high performance.

The first rule for buying snack-making equipment is not to think that domestic equipment will ever compete with that built for the commercial kitchen in terms of strength, speed of production and quality of food delivered. These are some of the more popular items.

Toasters
This is one of the most heavily used items of equipment. For this reason alone, buying anything other than commercial specification is pointless. Commercial toasters are built to withstand prolonged heavy use with heavy-duty elements, unlike domestic toasters, which often toast unevenly, will have no spare parts available and are unlikely to have the versatility to cook toasted sandwiches.

The peak demand time for toast is around breakfast. For hotels this will usually be focused into a tight window around 7.30am to 8.30am, and for staff restaurants and cafés, 8.30am to 9.30am. The size and type of toaster needs to be able to cope with that peak demand.

The fastest production comes from conveyor toasters, which deliver toast quickly and hot. They're available as single-slice belts, double, treble or even wider for really high toast production. Output can be up to 400 slices an hour from a single conveyor belt.
Features to look for include adjustable belt speed and heat setting, the facility to toast buns or muffins, and a toast rack on top of the unit.

Pop-up toasters are available with up to 12 slots, which in output per hour is not far behind a single-belt conveyor toaster.

If muffins or toasted sandwiches are on the menu, toasters with an extra-wide slot and a sandwich clamp are available. A useful variation for hotels where breakfast is self-service is to have a four-slot toaster where two slots are independently controlled, allowing two customers to use it at the same time.

Potato ovens
Baked potatoes are a British institution and while they can be cooked back of house and held in a warming cupboard, the popular way is to have a counter-top potato oven which acts as a cooker, a holding cabinet and a merchandiser. Most are made with enamelled cast iron to give a traditional appearance.

The cooking is done on racks using gas or electric convection. The holding drawer or cabinet should be matched to the cooking capacity, so an oven that can cook 30 potatoes in an hour has a holding drawer that can also take 30 potatoes to ensure an even cooking and delivery cycle.

The usual way to operate them is for the first batch to go into the cooker one hour before service, then stored for sale in the holding drawer and a fresh batch loaded into the oven to cook. If demand is sudden and high, as in a workplace restaurant, extra potatoes can be cooked in another oven and loaded into the holding drawer.

An additional feature available is a built-on bain-marie to hold toppings such as baked beans or curry sauce, or a refrigerated one for grated cheese and coleslaw. A flat surface around the bain-marie makes a cutting and topping work station. Merchandising material such as menu boards are available for displaying prices and toppings.

Hotdogs
Hotdogs are ready-cooked and come in ambient tins or tubs but need heating. There are three ways of heating the sausages: on a roller grill, in a hotdog steamer or in a bain-marie.

A bain-marie is the simplest way to heat sausages with the steam produced helping to keep them moist. Holding sausages in hot water in a bain-marie is not recommended as it leaches out the flavour and seasoning. The temperature of the bain-marie water shouldn't rise above 75°C to avoid the risk of the skins splitting. An adjoining bain-marie can hold buns to keep them warm and moist. The downside is that there's no merchandising effect to encourage impulse sales.

Hotdog steamers are heated cabinets which usually have a water bath in the base to keep the sausages moist. There's often a shelf above the sausage rack for the buns. The unit will be counter-top and will have a fascia which acts as an attractive merchandiser.

The best cooking theatre and merchandising comes from dog rollers, where the customer can see the hotdogs rolling around. The heat comes from an element running through the rollers, which can be powered by gas or electricity. Buying one with non-stick rollers prevents sticking which can occur if the sausages get too hot. A useful accessory is a bun warmer underneath the roller to hold ready-split finger rolls. Also very useful is a sneeze guard to maintain high standards of food hygiene.

For smaller operations such as pubs or cafs, an alternative theatre-style production is combined bread and dog warmers in a table-top, plug-in unit. The sausages are heated in a vertical heated glass container surrounded by four heated spikes. The operator cuts off one end of a small baguette, spikes it for a short while to heat, then slides a hot sausage into the cavity made by the spike. For use with traditional finger rolls, an alternative bread warmer is a heated clamp. Both sausage warmers and bread warmers are available as separate units.

Panini grills
These achieve the distinctive Italian-style toasted sandwich results. Panini grills differ from contact grills only in the style of the cooking surface. While contact grills generally have flat plates, panini grills usually have at least one ribbed plate. This ribbing gives the cooked panini their characteristic striped appearance. A panini grill can be used for toasting British-style toasted sandwiches, though for a busy sandwich operation a dedicated sandwich toaster is better as there will be moulds in the grilling plates to allow for deep-fill toasted sandwiches.

Another variation on the contact grill is a waffle maker, which has moulds set into the griddle plates to form the traditional chequered waffle shape or speciality shapes.

Hot pie cabinets
These are not just warming cabinets but merchandisers, so the food being held must appear attractive. If the cabinet is fitted with a humidifier, the food will stay fresh and moist for longer than in a dry-heat-only cabinet.

Humidifiers can be as simple as a built-in water trough, which causes water vapour to be released into the cabinet, but the more expensive models will have atmospheric as well as temperature control. Check to see if there's a feature on the unit which prevents misting up of the glass. Doors on two sides can be useful in self-service situations, with food being loaded from the back and the customer taking from the front.


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