Finding Equipment That’s High Performance and Efficient

Want to know whether a piece of foodservice equipment can back up the manufacturer’s claims of being both energy efficient and high performance? Make one simple request: show me the data.

 In the past, operators might have had to pick between energy-efficient or high-performance foodservice equipment. With the right research and analysis, though, more options exist today.

“We encourage people to look up both efficiency and performance information or get it from the manufacturers,” says David Zabrowski, director of engineering at the PG&E Food Service Technology Center, who recommends operators look at Fishnick.com’s rebate list, Energy Star lists or Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) lists, which offer American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) performance data and more insight into production capacity and efficiency for better comparisons. ASTM data is more complete, according to Zabrowski. For example, when it comes to cooking equipment, the ASTM data measures energy use as the unit heats up, stands by during an idle period and is used for cooking. ASTM also measures energy efficiency, production capacity and uniformity.

“If manufacturers are claiming high production, where are the numbers to back it up? You need to see the data — Btus on a spec sheet are not good enough,” he adds, noting that some manufacturers will offer this performance and efficiency data when requested.

When it comes to the efficiency and performance levels for different types of equipment, think about cars. A Tesla is both fast and highly efficient — but it comes with a cost, and it’s not for everyone. A Prius is more affordable as an energy-efficient model, but it might take a little longer to get you places. Muscle cars like Mustangs get you there in a hurry, but with larger engines they’ll blow through your gas budget. Hummers are powerful, durable and high end, but costly and less efficient overall. Hybrid SUVs combine efficiency and workhorse durability, but they may not be the leaders on either end.

Foodservice equipment can be grouped into similar categories when it comes to performance and efficiency, Zabrowski explains. Picture four levels: less-efficient economy, which is affordable but doesn’t always have the highest throughput; energy-efficient economy, with more cost savings over time; high production/performance that is not energy efficient; and high production and energy efficient that is most costly up front.

Many foodservice professionals feel that, if they simply specify Energy Star-rated equipment, they’ve done their part to be more energy efficient. But that’s not always the case, either. For example, if you specify an Energy Star-rated steamer but need two to keep up with demand, is that really energy efficient? Probably not.

Sometimes it’s not as easy as simply choosing an energy-efficient model. It can be more important to determine volume needs in order to make the right choice for an operation that maximizes production capacity, efficiency or both. Different types of equipment meet different needs when it comes to either side. Zabrowski walks us through the list.

Fryers

Many entry-level fryers have faster cook times, but other models outperform them in production capacity.

Some new Energy Star-rated fryers can compete with economy fryers on cook times, yet they’re more energy efficient. Still, they can’t compete with the high-production models, so they might be more appropriate for smaller operators who don’t have high volumes but are concerned about energy efficiency. Think: Prius.

Some top-level fryers are high production and also energy efficient (Teslas). Some of the larger chains that have more concerns about energy costs over time and have money to spend up front tend to specify these units, says Zabrowski.

Steamers

With steamers, Zabrowski says, a bit of a trade-off exists between efficiency and performance, but that could soon change with innovation.

The high performance versus energy efficient trade-off pits convection steamers against connectionless (or boilerless) steamers, Zabrowski notes. Convection steamers are like those muscle cars or even a Hummer — plenty of horsepower, but they eat up a ton of fuel.

“You have a boiler that creates steam and injects it into the cooking cavity where it circulates at very high velocity and then goes down the drain,” Zabrowski says. “Problem, is, they operate in the continuous steam mode, meaning they are running full tilt all day long whether they are cooking or not.” That can eat up 250,000 Btus per hour (at 2.5 cents per Btu) and 100 gallons of water per hour.

“Some of these convection steamers are very high-end and expensive, but really they are inefficient,” Zabrowski says. “They’re built to last for 40 years, but they’re inefficient because they cook just as well with the door opened as closed. To me that’s not really a selling point.”

The good thing about these steamers, though, is their extremely fast recovery times. They’re ready to go when the food is, which is important to high-volume operations.

Connectionless steamers (again, Priuses) stop producing steam in between uses, so they have much slower recovery times. But, this powering down saves much energy just like a hybrid car saves gas with low idle rates. And, because they’re boilerless, connectionless steamers use very little water. As a result, connectionless steamers are great for operators who want to batch cook and don’t need the steamer for repeated à la carte cooking throughout the day.

“I believe it’s possible to design an energy-efficient steamer that also has great recovery times,” Zabrowski says. “It’s a matter of controlling the steam production.”

If there were a way to preserve the steam that’s lost when connectionless steamer doors are opened, performance could increase for these units. On the flip side, making convection steamers more efficient would tackle two needs at once. Controls and sensors that power down the steamer when it’s not cooking food could help save on energy — and costs.

Convection and Combi Ovens

More than 60 percent of convection ovens are efficient and have very high throughput, but selecting the appropriate model requires some due diligence, says Zabrowski.

Here’s the case where getting the best, most accurate data and understanding volume needs really comes into play. Some highly efficient units cannot handle higher volumes. Smaller operators might not need that higher production capacity, though. They might be more interested in a smaller footprint and long-term energy savings.

Among the high-production models, regardless of their energy efficiency, the problem is “most commercial kitchens turn on these ovens and leave them on all day,” Zabrowski says. “This is unlike in schools and other institutions that have more set mealtimes and can turn off the equipment in between use.”

The bulk of convection ovens’ energy use actually occurs during these standby periods. “A great strategy to improve the efficiency of high-performing units is to add smart controls so the units only use the bulk of their energy when they are actually cooking food,” Zabrowski adds.

Combi ovens have incredible efficiency and production capabilities because they shut off after each recipe and the insulation allows the oven cavity to stay hot, leading to fast recovery times, cooking speeds and throughput. All this, but for a cost. Now, that’s a Tesla for sure.

Griddles and Broilers

Thanks to innovation, griddles have become very efficient, and many are still high production, according to Zabrowski. Double-sided griddles have the most production capacity.

When it comes to broilers, “new-generation, energy-efficient models have different ways of meeting production demands, but they use less energy because manufacturers have found ways to get heat to cooking grates in less time or with less effort,” Zabrowski says. Think: hybrid SUV.

Improved burner design, lids with thermostats and the introduction of conveyor broilers have opened up the playing field for highly efficient and high-production units.

“Broilers are a great example of energy-intensive appliances being redesigned to use energy more efficiently while still providing the same characteristic product,” says Zabrowski. “A 3-foot broiler can have operating costs of $3,000 to $4,000 a year, but some of these new technologies can save anywhere from $800 to $1,500.”

Steam Kettles and Braising Pans

When it comes to this high-volume equipment, look for units that have better insulation, Zabrowski says. “They will hold the heat better and use less energy. At the same time, this won’t have an impact on the throughput. A well-insulated, 100-gallon kettle will still cook 100 gallons of food.”

Ice Machines

Zabrowski reminds us that ice machines are anomalies in the industry — the larger the unit, the more efficient it becomes. “Larger units tend to be more efficient because ice machines only use energy when they are making ice, then they shut off,” he says, “so you’re actually better off upsizing if you have the space and need for the extra ice.”

Ice machines can also be set to produce ice overnight, during nonpeak energy times, to save costs. This is becoming increasingly important as more states switch to “time of use” energy-consumption rates. Larger units will be able to produce batches big enough to last the entire next day, but the operator has to rightsize the equipment. If they don’t use all the ice produced, it will go stale, thus wasting water.

Finding the right equipment to meet both efficiency and performance needs can be done ‚Äî it just takes some due diligence through information gathering and a little comparison shopping. The options are there. 

The More You Know: Tips for Researching High-Performance and Efficient Equipment

  • To achieve performance and efficiency goals, move past the check-box mentality to really study the features and benefits a piece of equipment offers and how it relates to a specific foodservice operation.
  • Understand the scope of the equipment‚Äôs use and how it will impact the unit‚Äôs energy efficiency.
  • Equipment often offers lots of energy-saving and labor-
    saving potential, but if staff does not use these tools properly, an equipment item can never deliver the savings it promises.
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