Almost all restaurants depend on preparation equipment to get ready for meal service. Some styles are better than others. Here are several types of food preparation equipment that you should consider.  

The basics of food prep equipment are the slicer and food processor. Let’s start with the basic slicer. There are a variety of slicers with many options, but for most, getting a fast, consistent, portion-controlled slice is important. You can buy either an electric manual or automatic machine. With manual models, you push the carriage with food back and forth against a rotating blade. The fully automatic models are similar except the carriage moves back and forth automatically, increasing productivity since the operator is free to do other tasks while the product is being sliced.  

Slicers. An automatic slicer is most useful for operations requiring a large volume of bulk sliced product. Some of the more expensive models can even automatically portion sliced 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 high-end slicers come with computerized controls that can slice meat or cheese in a variety of patterns for a deli platter. The machines can stack sliced product or arrange it in vertical, horizontal or circular shingles for building party trays of cold cuts.  

Most manufacturers’ slicers are quite similar in both operation and appearance, but the differences are in the details. Most machines use either a 10” or 12” hollow-ground blade, which is suitable for most production work. A larger blade diameter and higher amperage rating usually mean a more powerful unit. Useful extra features to look for are built-in knife sharpeners and anti microbial protection built into components of the unit.

When it comes to safety, look at how the machine is cleaned. New models are typically very easy to clean with few parts to be removed in the process.  Select a slicer that you find easy to disassemble. Many machines can have the knife guards and carriages easily removable without tools for cleaning. Features like easy tilting carriages save a lot of time in getting to the blade for cleaning. The best slicers have features that protect the operator from the blade edge while cleaning to reduce accidents.  

Features as simple as rubber feet on the slicer base to keep the unit from moving easily are helpful. Some have electrical interlocks that prevent the slicer from running while certain parts are not properly in place. Another feature is a carriage that won’t start moving unless it is in proper position to avoid getting bumped. Some automatic units do not start again without resetting after a power outage.

A third type of slicer—the full manual machine—is popular for creating charcuterie. Typically this machine is used as a showpiece. You’ll see some painted bright red to distinguish them. They’re generally expensive, often $7-8,000 or more, but they are precision-built machines. Charcuterie lovers insist you have one of these machines to cut paper-thin slices of cured meats. The hand crank that rotates the blade makes the difference, some experts say, because it does not generate the heat of automatic models.