Sizzling News & Views On New & Improved Broiler, Cheesemelter, and Salamander Technology
by Russell L. Bean, CFSP
Commercial foodservice broilers are designed to replicate the great flavor and appearance of outdoor “grilled” products, including the distinctive branding or marking imparted by the grates found on outdoor grills.
Today, the broiler category has evolved into a diverse family of equipment. They are available with natural gas, propane, wood, charcoal and electric heat sources; underfired or overfired; with radiant heat or infrared heat; with pullout grates or stationary grates; and in countertop, floor, range-match, wall or riser mounted, conveyor and mobile models. They also are known by a variety of descriptive, sometimes colorful names such as: charbroilers, salamanders, open hearth broilers, plus restaurant, hotel, steakhouse and banquet broilers.
In spite of all these variations, broilers are fairly basic technology; afterall, the broiling process is little more than placing food on an open metal grate then exposing it to high heat or open flame from below or directly above. So while radical change may happen rather slowly, gas broiler manufacturers have made changes designed to improve broiler performance and efficiency. Let’s review what may be new to you, if you haven’t shopped this category in the last few years.
Combining A Griddle & A Broiler
Working with a major multi-unit steakhouse, Hayward, California-based Montague was first to combine a griddle with a broiler and call it a steakhouse broiler. This new hybrid positions a traditional griddle plate above a drawer-mounted hotel broiler. The griddle is used to rapidly surface-sear meats and other proteins before they are moved to the broiler for marking and a final cook-to-order. Infrared gas burners direct energy down to the broiler rack and rising hot air heats the topside griddle plate.
Steakhouse operators claim surface searing seals in juices, resulting in a tender, juicier product. It must work. Other major broiler manufacturers including Imperial (Crossfire Broilers) and Vulcan (Chop House Broilers) have introduced their own versions. Jade Range has introduced a variant with European flair, mounting a plancha above their hotel broiler in a lower work height range base model.
Rankin-Delux delivers the same solid surface sear capability by positioning a griddle plate and an underfired broiler section side-by-side in a countertop model. A 36 inch unit can incorporate a 12 inch searing plate with two sections of their infrared Turbo Broiler. Their broiler/griddle combinations are available in widths up to 72 inches.
What’s Hot In Infrared Heating?
To increase the amount of true infrared heating, EmberGlo Hearth Broilers have the only completely ceramic hearth under their cooking grates. They are made from long ceramic bars which quickly sear the meat, while vaporizing juices into smoke and flare that flavors the meat. Thermal Engineering’s (TEC) infrared Searmaster II broilers use solid metal radiant panels below the cooking grate. That full surface radiant heat source delivers uniform heating and more usable cooking surface, vaporizes drippings and makes cleanup easy. Both of these systems reduce some of the convected heat that can dry out product.
S.o.m.e. Tips When Specifying Broilers:
- If broiled foods are a small part of your menu, consider a wall- or range-mounted Salamander.
- If your primary need is to reheat kick-back meals, warm plates and melt or brown cheese on French onion soup, specify a cheesemelter.
- If you need to broil a high volume of uniform (thickness) product such as frozen hamburgers, without a skilled broiler cook, specify a conveyor broiler.
- If char-, chop- or steak-house is part of your name, you probably need a charbroiler. Evaluate your menu by uncooked portion size and meat cuts, seats and table turns. Then ask your equipment supplier for guidelines on the size and number of broilers needed to handle the Saturday night rush.
- If you plan to broil lots of seafood, consider ordering optional fish top-grates. (They have closer bar spacing, typically come in 3- to 8-inch wide sections and can be combined with regular grates.)
- When possible, position a charbroiler in the center of an equipment lineup, in the middle of the exhaust hood, to better isolate effluents and heat.
- See the 31st Foodservice Gas Equipment Catalog for one-stop source information on manufacturers, models and sizes available.
A High(er) Efficiency Broiler
Garland has recently introduced a new line of high-efficiency gas charbroilers. Available in 24, 36, 48 and 58 inch wide models, their HEEE Series broilers have energy-efficient cast iron burners, cast iron radiants, an energy-saving power switch for continuous spark ignition and a protective stainless steel cover for individual burner high/low controls. They also added three handy 1/3-size pan cutouts in the 8-1/2 inch deep front rail, perfect for basting sauce or burger condiments. Performance tests conducted by the Food Service Technology Center in San Ramon, CA show this unit is more energy efficient than typical charbroilers.
Vulcan is another manufacturer who is building a better broiler in their aptly named Achiever Series of heavy-duty gas charbroilers. The Achiever VACB Models reduce the heat plume and even out surface temperatures with cast iron radiants with bottom fins that capture and radiate more heat. 18,000 BTU/hr. burners are mounted above heat deflectors and isolated by a baffling system they call superchargers. The net result is 100 percent of the cooking area is between 550° and 700°F, which greatly increases the usable cooking area. The VACB Series is available in six widths, ranging from a 20-1/8 inch wide model up to one just over 72 inches.
s.O.m.e. Tips When Operating a Broiler:
- Clean charbroiler top grate sections regularly to ensure crisp grill-marks and reduce the chance of flare-ups.
- Wear heat and flame-resistant oven mitts and use long-handle tongs to avoid burns.
- The broiler station in a busy restaurant is no place for beginners. Broiler cooks should be well trained and experienced at grilling those expensive proteins to order.
- On adjustable top grate models, angle the top grates back–to-front. The rear of the broiler will tend to be hotter.
- Use high heat to quickly seal-in juices, then lower heat to cook-to-order. • Broiler cooking requires constant attention. You can’t walk away from a loaded broiler.
- Turn a single section of a multiburner charbroiler to full-on to rapidly cook steaks (and other proteins) ordered rare. Turn another section to lower heat, for cooking product ordered well-done.
Air quality is an environmental concern in virtually all urban areas. Broilers are often singled out for special attention because of the amount of effluent (smoke, grease-laden vapors and combustion byproducts) produced by the broiling process, the flare-ups possible with high fat content foods and the high level of heat produced by their atmospheric or infrared burners.
Self-standing charbroiler units, range-match models and their countertop cousins are probably most culpable, but all broilers must be positioned under a Type I ventilation hood and provided with fire suppression protection, per local building and national fire codes.
When possible, broilers should be located in the middle of an equipment battery to maximize capture of effluents. If a kitchen layout requires the broiler to be located at the end of a cooking battery, a full (hood) side panel can help contain effluents. As with all ventilation issues, it is best to check with hood manufacturers or a foodservice design consultant for best-practice recommendations.
s.o.M.e. Tips for Maintaining a Broiler:
- Conveyor broilers should be thoroughly cleaned each day.
- If a broiler has a catch pan or water pan for catching grease, empty it frequently to avoid flare-ups and unnec- essary smoke.
- Inspect and clean burners/ports periodically to ensure efficient “blue flame” heat transfer. (Infrared burners get so hot they are virtually self-cleaning.)
- Take care when you do clean ceramic infrared burners; they can be broken if abused.
- Radiants (bars above burners) can be removed on some charbroiler models for cleaning in a pot sink or dish machine.
- Broilers require little maintenance beyond regular cleaning after heavy use.
Salamanders vs. Cheesemelters
Salamanders and cheesemelters look similar at first glance, sharing some physical traits and quite a few cooking and heating applications. They are both rectangular stainless steel insulated boxes, often wall- or back riser-mounted above a range battery. Both have a single open shelf or cooking grate in the broiling compartment and don’t have a door. Both are overfired, with burners arrayed just above the cooking shelf or grate; and both use very high temperatures (1400° to near 1700° F) to heat or cook. Their controls are minimal. These units are basically either ON or OFF.
Cheesemelters can be countertop and even shelf-mounted for pass-through use, in addition to standard wall or range mounting. Pass-through models don’t have a back panel which allows access from two sides. Countertop models are typically provided with 4 inch legs.
Cheesemelters offer more size options, ranging from compact 24 inch wide units up to 96 inch wide models in one-foot increments. They typically have lower BTU/hr. power input per burner or per foot of width when compared to salamanders. They have a stationary wire shelf for holding plates, bowls, or crocks. The shelf may be height adjustable, similar to wire shelves in an oven.
Salamander broilers are all wall- or range back riser-mounted, and most are 36 inches wide to match up with 36 inch wide modular heavy-duty gas ranges. They have a bit higher power input per foot than cheesemelters to handle heavy broiling operations, typically 32,000 to 35,000 BTU/hr.
Gas salamanders have a heavy stainless steel or cast iron cooking grate that is drawer-mounted to pull out for loading, turning and removing grilled product. The grate is spring counterbalanced and can be height adjusted with product in place to provide some temperature control during cooking.
Quick, easy access, simplicity and high heat make salamanders and cheesemelters popular supporting players in the kitchen.
s.o.m.E. Energy Saving Broiler Tips:
- Follow the manufacturers preheat instructions. In general, only preheat a charbroiler for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the top grates are hot enough to mark proteins. Infrared burners, require less time to preheat.
- Turn off unused broiler sections on charbroilers when order volume permits.
- Don’t try to “burn off” built-up grease and carbon by cranking up the heat; it won’t work and it is dangerous.
- Turn off broilers between day-parts or when not needed.
- When doing a few orders, only heat one or two charbroiler sections of a multiburner/section underfired broil-
- Consider using a weight-of-plate gas cheesemelter, which only heats when a plate or bowl is placed on the rack.
Energy Matters…Why Gas Rules
Gas is the natural choice for broilers for most foodservice operators. While wood or charcoal can impart a nice smoky flavor, solid fuels are bulky, dirty, difficult to handle and store, and vary in heat content and burn rate. Unlike gas, it is difficult to control the temperature of wood or charcoal fires. Gas broiler radiants, lava rock or ceramic bricks, catch juices from meats and produce that same great smoky aroma and grilled flavor without the byproducts of wood combustion.
The fact that there are only a few commercial-grade electric broilers is testament to the popularity and performance of gas models. While smaller electric models have their place in electric-only kitchens, gas-heated models are preferred in most foodservice applications. They deliver the desirable attributes of broiling, can be used effectively to merchandise product, and offer a potential Demand Side Management (DSM) alternative for both operators and their local electric utility.
Did You Know…
- American Range, Connerton, Rankin-Delux and Therma-Tek offer compact 12 inch wide natural gas charbroilers for those tight spots.
- American Range and Rankin-Delux offer the largest standard charbroilers at 84″wide.
- To fill the size gap, Bakers Pride, EmberGlo and Rankin-Delux offer models in odd widths including: 26-1/2″, 31″ and 21″.
- Most gas broilers have manual gas valves and standing pilots. Thermal Engineering broilers have push button battery ignition and Garland’s High-Efficiency Char-Broilers have electronic spark ignition.
- Most cheesemelters max-out at 72 inches wide, however, American Range has 84 and 96 inch models.
- Most salamander broilers are 34 to 36 inches wide, but American offers a 24 inch model and Southbend offers 32 and 48 inch wide models.
Russ’s Top 10 Broiler Specification Tips
- If broiled foods are just a small part of your menu, consider a wall- or range-mounted Salamander.
9. If your primary need is to reheat kick-back meals, warm plates and melt cheese, specify a gas-fired cheesemelter.
8. If you need to broil a high volume of uniform (thickness) product such as frozen hamburgers without a skilled boiler cook, specify a conveyor broiler.
7. If char-, chop- or steak-house is part of your name, you probably need a charbroiler. Evaluate your menu, portion size and meat cuts, seats and table turns, then ask your gas equipment supplier for the best broiler to meet your needs.
6. If you plan to broil lots of seafood, consider ordering (optional) fish top-grates. They have closer bar spacing, (typically available in 3 to 8 inch wide sections) and can be combined with standard grates.
5. When possible, position a charbroiler in the center of an equipment lineup, in the middle of the exhaust hood, to better isolate effluents and heat.
4. If preheat time is critical to your operation, consider broilers with infrared burners. They require less time to reachtemperature.
3. The broiler station is no place for beginners. Cooks should be well trained or experienced at grilling those expensive proteins-to-order.
2. Check out the Food Service Technology Center’s Broiler Performance Reports for guidance on the operating efficiencies and production rates of various broiler models. [www.fishnick.com]
1. See the Foodservice Gas Equipment Catalog for one-stop source information on the leading broiler manufacturers, models and sizes available.