Spec Check: Tilting Skillets

In terms of design, foodservice professionals often compare tilting skillets to griddles, but with 10-inch-high sides.

One of the most versatile pieces of commercial kitchen equipment, tilting skillets provide precise heating capabilities for a variety of production-related tasks. Operators use their tilting skillets as a griddle, kettle, oven, fryer, steamer, braiser or warming unit to handle almost any task needed.

"From an investment perspective, a tilting skillet is like having three pieces of equipment in one," says John Marenic, principal at Charlotte, N.C.-based Marenic Food Service Consulting. "What many people don't realize is that, with the right attachments, these units can be put to work for things like creating retail sauces, which can generate extra income. Anything that can be done in a kettle can be accomplished in these units. From a design perspective, [due to their versatility], these units can help save space."

High-volume, institutional feeders commonly use tilting skillets, also referred to as braising pans, since a single 30-gallon pan can produce between 251 and 350 meals per hour. But a variety of other foodservice operators, including smaller chains, also use this type of cooking equipment.

Tilting skillets' broad appeal stretches beyond the equipment's flexibility: These units can reduce preparation time, save energy and improve batch consistency. These pans provide a gentle tilting action that allows for safe and smooth pouring of large quantities of hot food, while a counterbalanced cover assists in steam venting and controlling condensate drip. Thermostat-controlled models provide temperatures of between 100 degrees F and 450 degrees F.

Foodservice operators can choose from a variety of tilting skillet types and sizes. These include smaller 10- and 12-gallon countertop models and larger 30- and 40-gallon floor units. A wok-style 16-gallon round skillet also is available for countertop use.

When specifying tilting skillets, operators need to be aware that the 10- and 12-gallon sizes are generally only available with electric heating elements. The 16-, 30- and 40-gallon capacities typically come in electric and gas models. Electric units are available in 12 kW or 18 kW, while gas offers 30,000, 93,000 or 126,000 Btus. The gas units' numerous orifices and electric models' many heating elements cover the entire underside of the pan, providing an even heat source without cold spots.

In addition to gas-fired and electric models, these units can be stand based, cabinet based, pedestal based, wall mounted or countertop mounted.

Due to the depth of these units, operators often use tilting skillets for the same tasks as steam-jacketed kettles or stock pots. When used in conjunction with basket inserts or perforated steam table pans, these units also can serve as steamers. Tilting skillets also are commonly used as griddles for preparing items like hamburgers, pancakes, bacon and grilled cheese.

Tilting skillet pans typically feature stainless steel construction, although aluminum versions are available. Structural supports are generally made of low-carbon steel. Open-leg and closed-base models are available.

Specifying Considerations

  • Like most equipment, the menu and volume are the main considerations when specifying a tilting skillet. This will provide better insight into the size, type and options a foodservice operation requires. "Tilting skillets can be used as a steamer and as a flat grill," Marenic says. "Menu is the number one thing to consider when specifying a tilting skillet. These units are specified by size, with 36 inches standard."
  • When sizing the tilting skillet, including its pan, operators need to determine the capacity in gallons or the pan surface area required to best accommodate the food items culinary staff will cook in the unit.
  • Specify an adjustable cover if staff will use the unit for steaming.
  • The tilting skillet's footprint represents a key factor to ensure the unit fits into the allocated kitchen area and there is enough ventilation hood space available.
  • Available hood space is an important consideration when sizing units. "In some cases, operators forget that tilting skillets require ventilation hoods," Marenic says.
  • For kitchens with limited floor and/or hood space, a smaller 15-gallon floor-standing tilting skillet might be a more suitable option.
  • Operators need to look at the utilities available when choosing between gas or electric units. This includes assessing whether the gas skillet requires natural or propane fuel and the voltage and amp draw for electric units. "It's best to have a water supply near the unit as well as a drain on the floor," Marenic adds. "A floor grate also should be installed to handle spills."
  • Assess operating temperature range and heating accuracy prior to making a purchase. Operators also should determine the unit's temperature distribution or even heating capabilities with regard to the menu items that staff will prepare in the tilting skillet.
  • Consider the available options and accessories for cooking and removing product from a tilting skillet. For example, if the culinary staff will prepare large batches of liquids, consider adding a tangent draw-off valve for easier dispensing. This feature also is recommended for operations that will need to regularly drain grease from the pan.
  • Different tilting skillet configurations provide varying pour paths. The pour path is narrower when the unit's hinge is in the front. Operators need to determine where the liquid will drain from, taking floor troughs and/or drains into consideration.
  • For easier cleaning, filling and accessibility, operators will want to consider specifying a water hookup, faucets and/or sprayers for these units.
  • Transportability is another factor. If staff will move the tilting skillet, specify a unit with casters. Operators also can purchase units with tangent feet that they can then bolt to the floor.
  • If nonstick properties are desirable, operators should consider a bead-blast pan finish, which helps reduce sticking.
  • For high-volume use, stainless steel-covered consoles help provide protection to the unit's controls and facilitate easy cleaning.
  • Some models offer interlock switches, which turn the unit off when it is tilted to a certain degree.
  • Serviceability is another consideration, in terms of the amount of labor required and accessibility of the unit for cleaning and maintenance. If labor is an issue, operators can specify pans with coved corners and smooth cooking surfaces, which are easier to clean.
  • European tilting skillets are available that offer preset temperatures and faster cooking times; however finding a service agent in the United States for these units can be a challenge.

Common Specifying Mistakes

  • Not reading a specification sheet for the required spatial area within the kitchen can result in purchasing a tilting skillet that is too large for the designated space. Operators should adhere to the installation clearances of the skillet and surrounding equipment.
  • Compare the unit's dimensions to the delivery path space to ensure the equipment will easily fit through the kitchen's doors and hallways.
  • When specifying a skillet, it is important to know where the drain access is. In cases where there isn't a drain in front of the skillet pour path, options such as a sink drain or hose attachment will work.
  • For kitchens tight on space, skillets with a center-tilt
  • design have a shorter pour path, which consumes less aisle space.
  • "The biggest mistake with specifying any piece of equipment is that operators are averse to changing
  • the operational technique," Marenic says. "They have to decide if the investment is worth saving production time. More often than not, it's worth changing the operational point of view for the additional flexibility these units provide."
  • "Operators tend to forget the water accessibility when specifying these units," Marenic says. "It's best to have access to a pot filler with hot and cold water. The difference between a pot filler and faucet is that a pot filler has a flexible hose that can be placed anywhere in the pan." 

Considering Features & Options

With tilting skillets, it's important to distinguish between accessories and options. While options are built into a unit at the time of manufacturing and can't be added after the equipment is operating in the field, operators can purchase accessories later as needed.

One of the most popular options with tilting skillets is a two-inch tangent draw valve. Similar to those used in kettles, these valves can be placed in the front of the skillet, providing another draining or dispensing option in addition to tilting.

Operators also can choose between manual hand-tilt or power-tilt mechanisms. While power tilting offers one speed, hand tilting lets the user control dispensing speeds. A manual override feature is provided on the majority of power-tilt models.

Most models offer spring-assist covers, and some tilting skillets include interior gallon markings as standard for easier measuring.

Gas-fired skillets with aluminum-core heating surfaces are available for consistent heat distribution. Electric models with aluminum cast-in elements also are offered.

Solid-state temperature controls on some models help ensure control during the cooking processes.

Available accessories include pan carrier and steam pan inserts, which are necessary for steaming tasks.

Other options and accessories include pour strainers, marine locks, stands with sliding drain pans, lift-off covers, ergonomic handles, casters and flanged feet.

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