THE KEY TO BUYING the right food processing equipment is to match the cost of the equipment to the capacity of your tasks. Consider your options below.
Semi-automatic and fully automatic are the two basic slicer types available. Most machines use either a 10" round blade on a compact machine or a full-size 12" blade suitable for most production work. Check the motor horsepower when selecting a slicer. A larger horsepower motor is more suitable if you plan on slicing a lot of harder foods such as cheeses.
The fully automatic slicer has the addition of a motorized carriage, which automatically moves the food over the blade repeatedly. Some more expensive models can even automatically portion sliced meats. If you require a lot of thinly sliced meats, consider an automatic indexing carriage. There are also some high-end slicers with computerized controls that can slice meat or cheese in a variety of patterns, ready for use in an attractive deli platter.
Select a slicer that's easy to disassemble for cleaning. An easy-to-use knife sharpener, often mounted in the equipment, is also advantageous. Many machines now have permanently mounted ring guards around the blade to reduce accidents.
Most slicers are gravity feed models. These allow the operator to manually move the food-mounted carriage against a motorized rotating blade in semi-automatic models. One of the trendiest machines is a manual, hand-crank slicer, often painted fire engine red, just like those used generations ago. Many chefs say manually turning the wheel and controlling the blade speed are the only way to slice the ideal prosciutto. These machines are very expensive.
Suppose you need diced potatoes, shoestring French fries, julienne carrots or all three. The food processor can handle all three. Most can perform many cutting actions with speed and consistency. The number and sizes of the different cuts are only limited by the number of cutting plates available.
Where consistent cut is important, typically a continuous feed machine is used. Although the unit is capable of doing many other products, vegetables are the most processed food type. The continuous feed of product ejects the cut food through the discharge chute, which can be positioned above a pan or container. Some manufacturers make as many as 35 cutting plates.
Bowl processors have a cutter bowl, which allows the food processor to work like a blender or vertical cutter/mixer. Food processed in a bowl can be chopped, blended or even pureed. The bowl attachment can be used to mix ingredients or even to knead dough. The cut for vegetables, of course, will be less consistent, but can be a very fine chop. Most bowl-type food processors are quite fast. Where a consistent cut is important, typically the continuous feed machine is the unit to use.
For the most flexibility, choose a processor with a bowl, a continuous feed attachment and a variety of processing plates. These hybrid combination models are capable of doing fine, consistent vegetable processing and vertical cutting and mixing as well.
The average unit needed for most restaurants has a ⅓ to ½ horsepower motor. For large establishments, a one-horsepower model will usually suffice.
Buy the smallest unit that meets your needs. Also, don't buy more processing attachments than necessary. With some plates costing $200 plus, too many blades is costly. Most need three to five cutting/dicing plates.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.