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February 2004
By Jennifer Hicks
SPECIAL REPORT: Building A Better Braising Pan

Easier to use, just as versatile. Today’s sleek braising pans fit in tighter spaces, offer more ergonomic benefits, and give you all the cooking options you expect.

Then you think “braising pan,” you pretty much think “volume feeding.” Hospitals and prisons and such. After all, the typical braising pan is a cooking behemoth, able to griddle, fry, braise, steam, roast, hold and boil just about anything in large quantities.

But the last few years have ushered in design changes that make today’s braising pans a more accessible and useful piece of equipment for commercial operations. More chains than ever before—Bahama Breeze, Carrabba’s and Macaroni Grill, for example—are signing on the dotted line and hauling in midsize units.

The reasons boil down to smaller footprints and better ergonomics in a piece of equipment that can do almost anything. Plus, modern energy-efficient technology helps keep operating costs within the budget constraints facing all commercial operations.

Back To The Drawing Board
It’s a chicken-and-egg question: Did commercial demand for more streamlined braising pans come first, or has newer equipment triggered commercial sales? Hard to say. Suppliers insist the mighty braising pan remains mighty because it’s still a kingpin in institutional settings, but some of those same suppliers also report 25% to 45% of pan sales coming from full-service chains and casinos like our cover shoot site, Casino Rouge in Baton Rouge, La.

With this commercial interest creeping into a traditionally institutional equipment category, manufacturers have focused on several elements to make a braising pan the right choice for a chain operation.

Space efficiency. Snug spaces require sleeker designs.

Ergonomics. Pan tilting mechanisms, pouring rim heights and other features should ease the handling of large volumes of product.

High performance. Pans must adapt to ongoing menu changes, easily handle batch or a la carte production, and turn out quality food, fast.
Cost of ownership. Low maintenance, good durability and long product life top the list of “must-haves” for commercial kitchens.

Smaller Size, Great Capacity
Smaller footprints are a hallmark of the new-millennium braising pan. Our chart focuses on 30- and 40-gal. pans, as these mid-range models have seen the greatest design changes since 2001.

You’ll see on page 39 that among the six major suppliers—Cleveland Range/Enodis, Groen/DI Foodservice, Legion Industries, Market Forge Industries, Southbend/Middleby and Vulcan-Hart Co.—there are now 30-gal. models that come in at just 36” wide, and 40-gal. options at 39” and 40” wide. So if your restaurant chain cries out for the versatility of a midsize braising pan but you’re worried about squeezing it into your cooking equipment lineup, think again.

Of course, you’ll want to think first about your volume and your pan’s capacity. No sense in overwhelming your kitchens with equipment that won’t be fully utilized. If you’re batch cooking, a 30-gal. unit will turn out about 27 gals. of product, and a 40 will produce roughly 36 gals., say manufacturers. That’s accounting for pan room you’ll need to stir product, or allow it to boil.

Next, figure how many portions you can produce in a batch. Say you’re whipping up a stew and want to serve 2-oz. portions. You’ll likely get 1,700 portions per batch out of your 30-gal. unit, 2,300 portions from a 40-gal. model.

Let’s say you only need one batch a day. Fine. The braising pan is so versatile you can use it for many other products the rest of the day, including griddling eggs, frying burgers, and roasting and holding meats. The list of capabilities is virtually endless.
And remember, if these numbers look way too high for your operation but you still want a braising pan’s versatility, you can always choose a smaller 10-, 16- or 23-gal. pan.

Ergo, They’re Easier To Use
Next up: ergonomic evolution. In addition to narrower footprints, suppliers have also focused on pan rim heights and tilting mechanisms.

While pan rims traditionally have reached a height of 40” or more, a few suppliers have in recent years reduced that height. Cleveland’s PowerPan models come with a rim height of 35”; Groen’s new Eclipse models offer a height of 37”; and Legion’s Combi-Pan has a rim height of 36”. This emphasis on lower rim and working heights makes the handling of liquid product safer, eases the leaning required for griddling, and makes cleaning easier.

As for tilting mechanisms, every supplier in the group offers both manual and powered tilt capabilities. Manufacturers have worked to make tilting action smoother than in past models, and some units offer mechanisms that cannot be overcranked, which increases reliability. Most electric tilt units feature manual override.

Energy Efficiency Gets The Spotlight
Braising pans typically have thermostatic controls, so they don’t draw energy at a constant rate. Your pan may have a Btu rating of 80,000 to 145,000 or a kilowatt rating of 12 to 16, but in normal operation it probably uses about half that much energy as it cycles on and off to maintain constant temperature. Your energy cost to operate a braising pan will depend on the efficiency of the unit, its size and the way your operate it.

Who knows about efficiency? Besides asking suppliers to cough up energy usage details, you can turn to the Food Service Technology Center in San Ramon, Calif., for answers. The FSTC techs have developed an ASTM standard test method for braising pans that reports several parameters of performance, including maximum input rate, production capacity, cooking-energy efficiency, and rate of energy use while simmering.

So the lab guys can certainly give you some guidance when you’re looking at pans. They’ve also tested several suppliers’ models in recent years and have hard performance data. You can reach the FSTC via its Web site, www.fishnick.com.

The FSTC says that among gas braising pans, heat exchange technology goes a long way toward boosting energy efficiency, and that technology can take a simple form. Groen and Market Forge, for example, each offer a type of fins welded to the bottom of pans, to aid heat transfer.

Some examples of efficient burners include Cleveland’s “Power Burner” forced-air gas combustion system, which the company says is 90% efficient and offers a heat-to-product efficiency of 70%. Groen provides a gas burner designed with an insulated combustion chamber to increase cooking efficiency. And Legion offers what it calls a high-efficiency infrared burner with electronic ignition.

Braising pans spend much of their time holding, proofing and simmering. If the lid is open and food is losing moisture, as much as half the energy going into the appliance is working to evaporate water. Thus, the FSTC says closing the lid can reduce energy use by a whopping 40% to 60%.

With the lid down, the major energy loss is just radiant heat lost to the room, and insulation can help here. Legion in particular is known for insulating its Combi-Pan’s sides and underbody. This means the Combi-Pan remains cool to the touch with most applications.

Here are a few other details to look for that will please any staffer assigned to braising pan duty:

Sealed controls. This is a big one. Naturally much of the product churned out by braising pans comes in a liquid base, and you’ll find it’s vital to have controls that are entirely water-resistant.

One operator told us that when water got into one of his braising pan control boxes, the unit went down for weeks while he waited for a replacement control box and installation. So go for units that seal off those controls.

Coved corners and bead-blasted pan interiors. When it comes time to clean your pan, staffers will thank you for choosing a unit that doesn’t let food hide in corners, and one that helps keep food from sticking.

Clear gallon markings. Once you’re loaded up, you’ll need to know how much product is in the pan. Most suppliers offer clear markings, but some operators have complained that over time markings can wear off, leaving them clueless as to capacity.

One supplier in particular, Vulcan-Hart, has responded by embossing its markings so they never wear off.

Fill faucets. Most suppliers offer mounted faucets as an option to help you get water into your pan for cooking and cleaning.

If the alternative is dragging a hose across the kitchen to fill up your pan, go for the faucet. It’ll make life easier.

Draw-off valves. Here’s another option you might not think about until the braising pan’s installed. A draw-off valve will help drain the last vestiges of grease and product before you start cleaning.

PRODUCT SIDEBARS

Cleveland Range/Enodis, a long-time leader in large-scale steam cooking equipment, introduced its PowerPan Series of 30- and 40-gal. gas and electric braising pans in 2001. The series joined a vast array of braising pans and kettles offered by the company.

Cleveland relied heavily on previously successful technology when designing PowerPan. For example, the gas model uses a forced-air gas combustion system, or what the company calls its “Power Burner” design.

The burner is 90% efficient and offers a heat-to-product efficiency of 70%, says Cleveland. You also get two power settings with the Power Burner, normal and high. The company says the high setting is a boon to high-volume operations looking for fast recovery and cooking.

On both gas and electric models, PowerPan offers a 10
º; feature that allows you to tilt the unit that far without having it shut off. Manual tilt comes standard; power tilt with manual override is an option.

Controls are splash proof, says Cleveland, and the pouring rim height comes to 35”. Inside the pan, a bead-blasted surface prevents food from sticking. And the spring-assisted cover comes with a vent.

For more information on the PowerPan, contact Cleveland Range at www.clevelandrange.com or call 800/338-2204.


In 2003, engineers at Groen/DI Foodservice gathered ’round the drawing board determined to catapult the design of Groen braising pans to the next level. The effort paid off in the form of the new Eclipse Ergonomic Braising Pan, a sleeker, smaller, open-leg unit that comes in gas and electric 30- and 40-gal. models.

The new-think design starts from the ground up. First, both models shave nearly 10” off their widths to make them more suitable for tight spaces. The 30-gal. model comes in at just 39” wide, and the 40 stretches to 48” wide. And Eclipse’s center-tilt design maximizes floor and aisle space while optimizing the path for pouring, says Groen.

Second, keen attention was paid to the cover. Eclipse’s improved, counter-balanced cover design ensures ease of assembly and easier cleaning to NSF standards. Plus, the counter-balanced cover allows you to control steam venting more easily during cooking, and adjustable cooking vents control condensate formed during cooking.

Other Eclipse features include power or manual tilt; and one centrally located, water-resistant control box. Pouring rim height reaches 37”.

For information on the Eclipse pan, contact Groen/DI Foodservice at www.unifiedbrands.net or call 800/676-9040.

Along with its collection of classic braising pan models, Legion Industries offers the Combi-Pan Tilting Skillet, a kind of super braising pan.

In addition to traditional braising pan functions—griddling, roasting, warming, steaming, proofing, holding, etc.—Combi-Pan is rated to ANSI standards as a deep-fat fryer.

In addition to gas and electric options, Combi-Pan comes in a direct-steam version, which means you can roast with or without steam, depending on your model. You get quite a choice of pan options, too: Combi-Pan capacities range from 15 to 62 gals.

As for functionality, Combi-Pan offers a pan rim height of 36”. There’s also a 10
º tilt and a standard pan rack, which all work together to make product and grease handling manageable.

Legion also says its patented heating system heats 100% of the pan’s cooking surface right up to the sidewalls, and full insulation means the exterior of the unit stays cool to the touch.

Combi-Pan offers welded and polished seams throughout, so there are no screws or fasteners anywhere to trap food or bacteria. Each unit is completely serviceable from the front, and a 180
º pan body rotation makes all cleaning or servicing tasks easier.

For more information on the Combi-Pan, contact Legion Industries at www.legionindustries.com or call 800/833-9803.

Market Forge Industries steps up with its UniVerse Tilting Skillet in 30- and 40-gal. capacities, gas and electric. Units come in open-leg and closed-base models, and with manual or power-tilt capabilities.

Heat exchange gets a boost with designs that apply heat directly to the bottoms of pans. Gas models feature finned aluminum extrusions bolted to pan bottoms, and gas flames are applied directly to the extrusions. Electric models have tubular heating elements applied directly to the undersides of pans.

All models offer a feature that cuts gas or power to the electric elements when a pan is tilted more than 10
º; from normal horizontal cooking position.

The counterbalanced cover is pivoted from the frame using gas shocks, and the cover comes with a condensate valve.

The company says its control housing is water-resistant, and the controls come with a one-hour mechanical timer. The temperature controller is solid-state. Options include a 1 1/2” tangent draw-off valve and 12” pan holder insert.

Market Forge also offers countertop skillets in 10- and 16-gal. sizes.

For more information on UniVerse, contact Market Forge at www.marketforge.com or call 617/387-4100.

Southbend/Middleby’s line of SteamMaster braising pans offers you a variety of capacities—from 12 gals. to 40 gals.—plus the choice of gas or electric and manual, electric or hydraulic-tilt mechanisms.

SteamMaster manual-tilt models come with an open-leg design, while the hydraulic-tilt models sit on modular cabinets. All feature a one-piece, coved-corner, 10-gauge stainless steel pan with satin finish exterior and polished interior.

Cabinet models provide a 5/8”-thick stainless steel clad bottom for each pan, and this bottom efficiently conducts heat throughout the whole pan. Gas models get bar burner treatment, while electric units have tube-style elements clamped to the pan bottom. The cabinet design itself conforms to other Southbend cooking equipment and is equipped with 6” stainless legs.

The open-leg, electric model features heating elements that are embedded into 1 1/2”-thick aluminum castings, which themselves are clamped to the underside of the pan. Heating is thermostatically controlled and distributed uniformly across the pan surface.

SteamMaster also offers a spring-assisted stainless cover and a tilt safety switch. For more information on the SteamMaster line, contact Southbend at www.southbendnc.com or call 800/348-2558.

The V Series hit the market in September 2002 with a downsized footprint and added features to make the pan more user friendly.

Vulcan-Hart’s V Series offers 12-, 30- and 40-gal. models, with gas, electric, manual tilt and power tilt options. Sizing of the floor models is key for those with tight kitchens: The 30-gal. unit runs 36” wide, and the 40 is 46” wide.

Cleaning gets a boost with a coved-corner interior that sports a bead-blasted finish. And inside, embossed gallon markings mean that for the life of the unit, you’ll always know what capacity you’re dealing with just by looking; markings won’t wear off. Also, Vulcan’s water-tight controls are designed to NEMA 4X standards.

User-friendly features include a 4”-wide return flange with a pouring lip, in a design that keeps product from spilling out over the lip. That means higher yield for you, says Vulcan. Plus, a standard receiving pan support mounts under the lip, and when you don’t need the support, it drops away.

Other standards include a spring-assisted, warp-resisting cover that stays open in any position.

For information on the V Series, contact Vulcan-Hart Co. at www.vulcanhart.com or call 800/814-2028.
 

 

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