The right kitchen equipment can minimize many laborintensive food prep tasks, especially in high-volume operations.
Any way you slice it, the right cutting, slicing and dicing equipment is a key ingredient to equipping your operation's kitchen. Almost without exception, most restaurant menu items require at least one of its ingredients to be diced, sliced or processed.
For most kitchen managers, getting a fast, consistent portion-controlled slice is of greatest importance. These slicers, for the most part, will slice just about any food item.
Most slicers are gravityfeed models that have an angled blade and a carriage. Semi-automatic and fully automatic machines are the two basic gravity-feed slicertypes available. The operator manually moves the carriage with food back and forth against a rotating blade in semi-automatic models. The fully automatic models are similar except the carriage moves back and forth automatically.
Most machines use either a 10-inch round blade on a compact machine or a full-size 12-inch blade suitable for most production work. Be sure to look at the motor horsepower when selecting a slicer. A larger horsepower motor may be more suitable, especially if you plan on slicing a lot of harder foods.
An automatic slicer is particularly useful for operations requiring a large volume of bulk sliced product. Some of the more expensive models can even automatically portion-slice meats. An important feature to look for, especially if you require a lot of thin sliced meats, is an automatic indexing carriage. The indexing carriage automatically pushes the product against the knife at each slice to assure a consistent thinly sliced meat.
Some slicers are made with special concave blades that allow for especially thin slicing, such as sandwich meat. There are also some high-end slicers with computerized controls that can slice meat or cheese in a variety of patterns, ready for use in a deli platter. The machines can stack sliced cold cuts or arrange them in vertical, horizontal or circular shingles for building party trays.
Most slicers are quite similar in both operation and appearance. One unseen difference common when comparing lower-priced units with more costly ones is the type of drive motor in the unit. Until recently, higher-priced heavy-duty slicers were gear-driven and lighterduty models were typically beltdriven.-While the type of drive is still a factor, some manufacturers claim the latest belt-drives equal the gear-drive performance. Historically, gear-drive units were better for heavy duty slicing of hard products like cheese, while belt-drive models had a tendency to slip and belts would wear out over time.
Slicer improvements have been few over the years, but those that were developed related to ease of cleaning or safety. When selecting a slicer, investigate how the machine is cleaned and maintained. Select a slicer that you find easy to disassemble for cleaning. Many machines have knife guards and carriages that are easily removed without tools for cleaning. Features like easy tilting carriages save time in getting to the blade for cleaning.
Other features to look for include an easy-to-use knife sharpener. Many slicers have sharpeners mounted in the equipment that can be easily used by turning the slicer on and positioning the sharpener.
Many times food preparation needs go beyond straight slicing. Suppose you alternately need diced potatoes, shoestring french fries, julienne carrots or all three. A food processor is the one piece of equipment needed. Most can perform many cutting actions with speed and consistency. Only the number of "plates" made for a particular processor model limits the number and sizes of the different cuts.
It's difficult to describe every available piece of slicing and dicing equipment as some are quite specialized and manufactured to prepare a specific product. Instead, we'll examine the major categories of equipment.
A simple, versatile and inexpensive cutter/dicer is often as acceptable as units with more frills. The most basic type of machine offers a variety of interchangeable slicing and dicing functions and operates with a hand crank. These units clamp onto a countertop and are easily moveable. The cost is only several hundred dollars. Alternatively, there are large, fast units with all the bells and whistles costing thousands of dollars for those who need the capacity.
Continuous feed and bowl type processors are the two main types. Where a consistent cut is important, typically a continuous feed machine is used. The typical unit consists of a motor base, a continuous feed and discharge chute and space for a selection of removable round cutting plates between the chutes. Continuous feed models eject the cut food through the discharge chute, which can be positioned above a pan or container. The food is cut only once and a uniform product results.
Each cutting plate is made to produce a very specific cut. Some manufacturers make as many as 35 attachment plates to meet the special preparation requirements of most any operation. You can usually get close to the exact cut needed with standard manufacture plates. For example, one manufacturer makes up to eight different sized julienne plates for one processor.
The bowl processor
The bowl processor has a cutter bowl that allows the food processor to work like a blender or vertical cutter/mixer. Food processed in a bowl can be chopped, blended or even pureed. The bowl attachment can also be used to mix ingredients or knead dough. The cut for vegetables, of course, will be less consistent, but it can still be a very fine chop. Most bowl-type food processors are quite fast, especially the larger models.
For the most flexibility, choose a processor with both a bowl and continuous-feed attachment and a variety of processing plates. These are hybrid combination models that are capable of doing both fine consistent vegetable processing and vertical cutting and mixing as well. They have a single motor base that can be used with a continuous-feed attachment or a bowl for cutting and mixing.
The sizes of the units and capacity for both styles range widely. The average unit needed for a small-to medium-sized operation has a one-half horsepower motor. For larger, noncommercial establishments, a onehorse-power model will usually suffice. Even a one horsepower unit takes up less than two square feet of counter space and can produce up to 50 servings of vegetables in under a minute.
Using the food processor for preparing vegetables can be a labor saver with medium capacity units able to dice nearly 100 pounds of potatoes or onions in a matter of minutes. Where consistent cut is important, use one of the continuous feed machines.
Machine durability, simplicity of operation and safety are the most important considerations when buying cutting, slicing, and dicing equipment. They must be powerful enough to work quickly and dependably, but simple enough to be user friendly. Safety features must be in place to help prevent accidents.
Lastly, don't "over-buy." Often, operators select an unnecessarily large unit that is more expensive. As always, select the right size for your particular operation.