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Buying Broilers: A One Sided Contest

Posted: Aug 06, 2012

One of the staples of Western cooking has become the broiler; and to be more specific, the charbroiler.  Broilers cook food on one side at extremely high temperatures, and though the charbroiler is the primary broiler featured in many kitchens, it is not the only broiler on the market, nor is it the only broiler that may make an appearance in any given kitchen.  Here’s a list of the primary types of broilers, and what to look at when shopping around.

Charbroilers:  We might as well start with the most popular and most common broiler in a commercial kitchen.  The charbroiler is the indoor version of an outdoor grill, and the evolution of grilling.  Charbroilers cook at high heats (most cooks usually heat them in excess of 450°F) on steel or cast iron grates with raised edges; these grates get hotter than the air around them and etch black char marks on foods prepared on them.  They are one of the most common way to prepare meats, especially steaks, however can be used to roast item including peppers, tomatoes, corn, or other vegetables.  There are four varieties of charbroilers:

  • Radiant Gas Broiler – Radiant gas charbroilers have what are known as “radiants” underneath their heavy grates.  These radiants extend from front to back, and there is usually a radiant per every 12” of grill.  They vent gas along their length which is then lit by a pilot and diverted to cover a wider area.  Just like grates, these charbroilers come with either cast iron or stainless steel radiants.
  • Lava Rock Broiler – Lava rock charbroilers heat a layer of stones directly through a gas flame.  These broilers either feature a layer of lava pumice stones, ceramic briquettes, or other specific grills stones that absorb the heat and evenly distribute it over the surface of the grill.  They don’t get as hot as radiant broilers, but they add a distinct flavor to foods prepared on them; grease drips onto the rocks, and the resulting smoke flavors the food.  It should be noted, however, that grills stones should be changed around every six months and cleaned more frequently than that.  They can be a bit tougher to clean than randiant charbroilers; a reason that many restaurants choose radiants.
  • Wood Fired Broilers – There are some charbroilers that cook over an open wood fire.  They usually have insulated metal or ceramic fire pits under their grates to built / stoke a fire, and can be made the centerpiece of an open kitchen.  They have the ability to burn hotter than both radiant and lava rock broilers, and infuse the taste of wooden smoke into the food they cook.  Since they are not connected to any sort of fuel line, they can be moved around a kitchen easier (although they must remain sufficiently vented).  They require a steady supply of wood for fuel, and require frequent cleaning of there fire pits.
  • Electric Charbroilers – There are a few companies that produce models of electric charbroilers.  Traditionally these charbroilers feature electric radiants, and have a water pan underneath to reduce flare ups or grease fires.  These water pans also can act in a similar fashion to lava rocks as the drippings that fall into the pan will begin to cook off and flavor the food.  These broilers are not nearly as common as gas or wood broilers, but are comparable in cooking ability.  Their water pans should be changed frequently, even daily.

 

When selecting a charbroiler, size is the most important issue to look at; not only because of the physical space a charbroiler will take up, but also because of the available cooking area.  Many of the items that are placed on a charbroiler, such as grilled pizzas or steaks, ribs, or other cuts of meat, can take up a significant portion of the grills surface area.  Medium volume restaurants that have a tremendous portion of their menu coming off a charbroiler should still consider a larger broiler.  Sections of a large charbroiler can always be turned off to conserve fuel / cut down on energy expenses, but during a rush the extra grill space may be needed.

Salamanders & Cheesemelters:  A salamander is a top-down variety of broiler.  They feature high temperature direct heat coming from the top of their baking chamber, and are just as usable as a finishing oven.  Since they cook from the top, salamanders are a perfect way to drain the fat off of cooking meats.  Salamanders are often affixed with branding grills to give meats cooked in them grill marks, or rotisseries for chicken or gyros.  They are typically around half the size of a conventional oven, and most can be wall mounted or mounted on top of a range.  A cheesemelter is similar to a salamander, however they differ in five main ways:

  1. Cheesemelters have an open front.
  2. Cheesemelters are usually not as hot as a traditional salamander.
  3. Most cheesemelters have weight activated sensors on their racks to turn them on high.
  4. Cheesemelters are traditionally used only as a finishing oven, not to cook.
  5. Cheesemelters can be gas or electric.

 

Traditionally salamanders and cheesemelters will not exceed 48” in length; however there are several manufacturers that produce double stack salamanders for operations that heavily use their broiler and may otherwise run out of room.

Vertical / Gyro Broilers:  A vertical broiler is commonly called a gyro broiler because they feature a rotating spit, and are the most common tool used to prepare gyro or shawarma.  This slow roasting broiler cooks with an open high heat element, which covers around 180° of the meat’s rotation.  These broilers stand upright, and though most models are small enough to fit on a countertop, many operations that cook large amounts of gyro or shawarma will have custom units fabricated.  These broilers come in both gas and electric.

Outdoor Grills / Broilers:  Outdoor grills are the old standard for broiling.  Outdoor grills come in charcoal, natural gas, liquid propane, or wood burning models.  Again in this instance, though propane and natural gas grill will heat up faster (and propane is the preferred as it is easier to obtain fuel for), charcoal and wood fired grills cook hotter and with more flavor.  Commercial outdoor broilers are nearly always portable, and range in size from small portable camp grills that can be carried, to incredibly large grills that are towable and capable of roasting an entire pig.  Although they are traditionally meant to grill / broil, many outdoor grills have add-on features as well.  Depending on what kind of outdoor catering is necessary, a larger grill may be needed to facilitate items such as portable hotplates, griddle or steamer attachments.  Aside from bearing in mind extra grill accessories, outdoor grill space should be examined in a similar way as it would when picking out an indoor charbroiler.


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