Blast chillers are a wonderful tool for kitchens of all sorts. Designed to accelerate the process of food chilling, blast chillers and freezers are the fastest way to get food to the proper temperature for storage. Blast chillers are not necessarily as well known in back-of-the-house operations as other forms of refrigeration, and shopping for the right one can be a bit tricky for those uninitiated. Here are some introductory things to look at when on the hunt for a blast chiller for your operation.
Size & Capacity
Blast chillers come in a wide variety of sizes to suit varying volumes of chilling. It is important to gauge how much food is going to be chilled at once because it takes on average 90 minutes – 2 hours for food at 160°F to reach safe refrigerating temperatures (around 38°F), and around another 2 hours for it to reach 0°F (in the case of blast / shock freezers). Though this is a significantly reduced cooling time, it means that when at full capacity there will not be room for other items to cool for several hours. Operations that intend on using their blast chiller frequently would do well to purchase a blast chiller with extra space to prevent a chilling queue. Often times, higher volume prep operations such as catering or banquet facilities will invest in roll-in blast chillers. These roll-in blast chillers can accommodate hotel or sheet pan racks (occasionally included with the purchase) and are the best choice for any operation that has large amounts of prepared foods to chill. Many restaurants don’t have the need to chill speed racks of prepared foods, so for smaller operations there are undercounter chillers that have capacities starting around 3 standard 12”x20” hotel pans.
To some it may seem like common sense, but it should be noted that all blast chillers need to be indoors. Obviously undercounter or worktop units will be located inside, but even roll-in blast chillers need to be placed indoors. Roll-in blast chillers are not built to rest outside like many walk-ins can be, and aside from the actual physical damage it could do to the chiller itself, it is a food safety issue as well. Food resting in a blast chiller will most likely be resting uncovered, and it is not safe to roll uncovered food outside (especially when it resides in the “danger zone”). It is best to place blast chillers in or adjacent to prep areas since prep cooks will be the ones primarily using them.
Blast Chillers vs. Blast Freezers
There is a distinction to be made between blast chillers and blast freezers. Both can be used to lower food temperatures to 38°F in around 90 minutes, however blast chillers cannot lower temperatures past that. Blast freezers are essential when food needs to be lowered beyond freezing, however are still suitable for lowering hot food into a safe, above freezing temperature range. It should be noted, however, that blast freezers use a significantly larger amount of electricity to lower food to the proper temperatures, and if prepared foods need not be frozen a standard blast chiller will suffice.
Many blast chillers and freezers have additional accessories that can be incredibly helpful. Things like worktop models, timers, temperature probes, and roll-in racks can be included with some models of blast chillers / freezers. These additional features vary per model, but they can help conserve space, or can allow cooks to focus on more important tasks than constantly checking food temperatures.