Foodservice Equipment Reports

SPECIAL REPORT: Fryer Facts

If somebody asked you what the most important equipment in your kitchen is, you’d be hard-pressed to pick one piece over another. It’s all important, or else you wouldn’t have it. But it’s safe to say that if you have fryers, they’re plenty important. For many, many operators, fryers produce a lot of product, and they produce a lot of profit.

So when they go down, they don’t just cost you a service call. They cripple your menu. They cost you sales, and they cost you reputation. Which means basic maintenance is important.

“People who pay attention to routine maintenance see a payback,” says one manufacturer we consulted for this story. It’s a basic case of “an ounce of prevention.” If you catch problems when they’re small, you can fix them yourself or schedule non-emergency service and head off a full failure. And really, if you stick to the basic routine, it’s not difficult and it’s not time consuming.

Begin At The Beginning

Managing maintenance begins before you buy the fryer, several manufacturers point out. Many new models have features that simplify or minimize maintenance these days, and it’s worth taking time to study your options. Features like electronic ignition and design details that make burners less likely to get dirty make a difference. Likewise, easy-to-use filtration systems all offer a payback one way or the other. So don’t just go straight to bottom-line price. Pull out your calculator and run some projections.

And before we leave the “before you buy” idea, a word on high-efficiency and other high-tech fryers: Contrary to oft-cited but outdated anecdotals, generally they do not require more preventive maintenance. In the early going, there was some reason for the concern. Finicky ignition sometimes was an issue. And infrared fryers in the early days had a reputation for brittle ceramics that were prone to cracking. But those days are largely gone.

As FER contributor Michael Romico wrote on this subject in 2008, modern auto ignition and solid-state controls tend to level the playing field. In addition, manufacturers say, diagnostics and design refinements in general have eliminated earlier quirks.

As Romico quoted John Schwindt, Hawkins Commercial Appliance in Englewood, Colo., “People think high-efficiency fryers have more parts and cost more to service, but it’s not true. I haven’t seen a difference in repair costs.”

One possible exception: High-intensity burners tend to draw larger volumes of air, and more air can pull more contaminants. So you might keep a closer eye on intake and burner gunk, and clean them carefully with a soft brush and a dry towel.

Operating Manuals

After you’ve chosen your model, and once your fryer’s on site, do two things. First, get it installed properly and get the full start-up. If you can’t be certain of proper gas pressure and proper connections, etc., on day one, you’re starting out in trouble.

And second, take the time to read the manufacturer’s literature. That sounds like a no-brainer, but every maker we speak with howls at how many manuals get buried, unopened, in a desk drawer somewhere. Every minute you spend reading that manual will pay off down the road in service calls you won’t need. If you can’t do it, assign someone to it.

Cleaning, Cleaning

So what of basic maintenance? From the “beat a dead horse” department: It starts with cleaning. If you’re going to take shortcuts on cleaning your fryers, you’re daring the spirits to come get you. Oil drips and seeps. It changes consistency as it changes temperature, and as the fryer itself heats and cools, tolerances change, and oil shows up where it never was before. It gets airborne. It traps dust and grit.

So cleaning is important. Among key items:

• Burners—Ideally, you should eyeball the burners daily. Soot and dust can partially block the burner area, disrupting gas/oxygen/ignition. You should routinely do a quick (but careful) cleaning with a soft brush and/or dry towel or however the operator manual recommends. Be attentive—rough handling can damage carefully calibrated components.

(And a word on dry cloths—Yes, you want them dry. Wet or damp cloths can introduce moisture where you don’t want it.)

• Heating elements—Don’t use abrasives to clean the heating elements, one maker notes. Abrasives can score the finish, allowing sediment to stick, greatly accelerating oil degradation and causing flavor problems.

And while you’re cleaning the elements, check them to be sure they aren’t working loose or getting damaged.

• Blower vents—Some fryers are designed to reduce or eliminate the need for cleaning blower vents, but generally, you need to clean the vents to make sure the air is moving unimpeded. A little bit of blockage is not ok because airborne hair or grease particles or dust stack up, and the blockage process accelerates. Beware of breading stations near the fryers, too. The breading will go airborne and complicate your fryer’s life.

• Flue vents—What goes in must come out, and the flue vent has to be every bit as clear as the intake side. Be careful, too, as this is an area that can attract trouble. Don’t mount things on the wall that could fall into or block the vent or disrupt the airflow out of the flue. And if grease cups in the overhead hood could potentially overflow and drip into the flue, you need to shift the fryer position or monitor it carefully.

• Wipe down the entire fryer every day with that dry cloth, not only for general sanitation, but also as maintenance, paying special attention to anywhere that shows evidence of oil accumulation, whether it’s mist or something more substantial. If you see a pattern emerging, you need to start looking for the cause.

Oil Filtration, Oil Quality

Everyone has opinions, but generally you should follow the manufacturer’s recommended schedule to preserve oil quality and reduce carbon buildup. Usually the schedule will say daily. Morning vs. night opinions vary, but Schwindt told Romico in ’08 that end of day makes sense. First, what’s the advantage of leaving the contaminants in the oil overnight? And second, hot oil filters more effectively.

In addition, one of the manufacturers we interviewed for this story says busy locations might want to consider filtering immediately after a rush. Again, the guiding idea is that contaminants should be in the oil as briefly as possible to prevent oil degradation.

To boil out or cold soak, or not to? Smart money still says do it. True, manufacturers keep working on designs to reduce maintenance, and frequent filtration reduces carbon buildup, so boiling out or cold soaking might not be necessary as often as in days gone by. But carbon does still build up, and you still need to get rid of it. The easiest, most sensible time to boil out or cold soak is whenever the oil is being disposed and the vat is empty.

One maker, which furnished us with a really handy, comprehensive checklist, says when you’re cleaning the filter pans, make sure the screens are completely dry before you replace them. It makes sense to clean the filters end of day and let them dry overnight.

And while we’re on the topic of filter pans, consider the filter medium too. Stick with the original type. Components are engineered as a system. If you decide a heavier filter medium will filter “better,” what impact might additional resistance have on your pump?

O-Rings, Thermostats, Other Bits

Those are the main things, according to everyone we checked with. There are smaller maintenance steps, too, of course. One manufacturer recommends a regular parts-replacement calendar program for normal wear-and-tear items like O-rings.

Another mentions that tank covers for down periods are good investments to help keep the oil and the fryer clean and to keep out contaminants. The covers also reduce the air flowing over the surface of the oil; that would reduce the effects of oxidation.

Check the thermostat once a week, says one of our factory advisers. “Make sure you’re at the temperature you think you’re at,” he says. “Take the measure immediately above the temp sensor in the fryer,” he emphasizes, noting you’re comparing your reading to the thermostat’s, so you need to be close to it to get apples-to-apples.

And finally, consider getting a qualified tech in at least once a year just to double-check your fryers, check the gas pressure, etc. It’s cheap insurance against what you’d lose if the fryer goes down during a rush.

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