Today's restaurant trends emphasizing light and healthful foods have made a dent in our fat intake by changing old eating habits. Nevertheless, we still love our fried foods, which explains why fryer manufacturers have kept sales up over the years. And to their credit, as energy consciousness has entered the scene, manufacturers are responding quickly with new redesigns and features.
Gas and electric fryers are available in a variety of sizes and styles. The most prevalent countertop units are electric, although some gas models are available. Most countertop models have a frying medium capacity of 15 to 40 pounds, with larger capacity models able to handle substantially more product with a faster temperature recovery. Many countertop fryers have a lift-out fry pot, which has the advantage of making a pot easy to clean, though it can be hard and even dangerous for some employees to handle when filtering.
Most high production frying, especially in high-volume applications, is done in floor-mounted models. These pieces of equipment hold from 35 to 80 pounds of frying medium and have gas requirements of 50,000 to 120,000 BTU or electric requirements from 8 to 22 KW. The high power and fuel requirements are necessary to ensure the needed production requirements while allowing as little fluctuation in oil temperature as possible, even when fully loaded with frozen food product.
Many fryers are designed with a cool zone, which allows food particles to collect at the bottom of the fryer where they will not cause much harm to the frying medium or taste transfer to the various products being cooked. Keeping food particles out of the heated area will help extend fry medium life. While cold zones are featured on some smaller models of gas and electric equipment, they are primarily available on larger floor-mounted models.
Recent improvements in fryers save energy, lengthen the life of the oil medium and reduce oil consumption. Today's frying mediums, in addition to being cholesterol -free, are specially formulated vegetable oil blends with additives to extend frying life and reduce oxidation.
Commercial deep-fat fryers are complex pieces of equipment designed to turn out load after load of perfectly fried foods. Energy efficiency is easy for electric fryers since the heating elements are immersed in the frying medium, giving the highest possible efficiency from the electric source. Gas fryers have traditionally been less than energy efficient until recently.
Gas fryers heat the medium either with a burner under the fry pot or by injecting the gas flame through tubes running through the fry pot. In recent years, manufacturers have introduced burners designed to transfer heat more effectively to the frying medium by using a variety of ceramic burners, various types of baffles in the burner tubes and other high-efficiency components. These improved burner designs distribute heat more evenly, extract more heat energy from the fuel and reduce heat waste.
Expect to pay a 15% premium or more for a high efficiency fryer. Are they worth the cost? If you expect to have your fryer five years or more and want to consider the energy savings over that period, an energy-efficient fryer is going to be a good value in most cases.
One development to take note of is the low-oil-volume fryer being introduced by several manufacturers. This fryer eliminates the traditional cold zone area and requires less oil to fill the frypot. The savings can be substantial. The other advantage is with less oil it can be heated more effectively with the same or a smaller- rated burner. The downside to the low volume fryer is that the oil must be filtered often to remove the sediment. Manufacturers are now working on continuous filtering fryers, which should be available by later this year.
Caring for your frying medium is as important as any factor in the making of deep fried foods. To get the greatest use from your frying medium, be sure to filter daily and skim out as much of the floating particles as possible throughout the day. Avoid salting foods over the fryer because salt will break down fats.
Foods should be as dry as possible before being fried because moisture breaks down fat. Excessive heat also will breakdown the fats in the frying medium. Experts recommend frying most foods at around 350-360°F and turning down the fryer thermostat to about 200°F during off-peak periods. Don't wait until foods begin to have an off flavor before changing the oil.
Filtering for countertop fryers can be as simple as pouring the contents of the frypot through a filtering cone and into a clean fry pot. Larger, sophisticated banks of fryers may have built-in systems that can filter the oil and return it to the fry pot without handling. Some manufacturers offer filtering systems that fit neatly within the underbody of the fryer, not requiring any additional floor space for the equipment.
There is a new world of fryers out there aimed at energy efficiency and productivity. Researching the options will help you get the longest life and best production out of your equipment and ultimately help you serve a consistently high quality product.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International. He can be reached at 240-314-0660.