Central kitchen-based cook-chill preparation allows better control over raw ingredients' quality and easier monitoring of proper ingredient handling procedures.

Types: Cook-chill equipment includes cook tanks, standalone refrigeration units, blast chillers and large-batch production systems that utilize jacketed kettles, bagging and pumping stations, and tumble chillers. Tanks and kettles cook products, which staff transfer into plastic bags through mobile pumping stations. Then, staff place filled bags into tumble chillers that rapidly cool products to safe holding temperatures by immersing them in cold water. Another method of rapidly bringing cooked products to safe holding temperatures is by loading them into shallow pans and placing them in a blast chiller.

Capacities/Footprints: Compact-model blast chiller/freezers improve efficiency and food safety in smaller foodservice operations. Features include enclosed, air-cooled condensers and removable, adjustable shelving that accepts standard steam table pans and grids. Small stand-alone quick-chill units are available starting with a three-tray (12” x 20”) capacity configuration, while large batch-cooking kettles can produce up to 400 gals. of product.

Energy Source(s): Electro-mechanical equipment generally requires at least 230 volts. Kettles may be gas-heated.

Standard Features: Touch-pads controls generally come with easy-to-understand digital displays, automatic holding modes, and list temperature displays in  °F. or  °C. Self-contained evaporation eliminates the need for drains or attachments. De-icing features remove ice from evaporators quickly, while self-diagnostic systems identify service requirements. Self-closing doors with magnetic seals open beyond 90 ° for more convenient loading and unloading. Blast chillers with two independent cooling compartments give staff more flexibility when preparing cook-chill menus and they provide greater energy efficiency, as smaller amounts of food can be chilled in a single compartment without cooling an entire unit. Other standard features include microprocessor cycle controls and continuous digital readouts of internal equipment temperatures and/or probes providing internal temperatures of food products being processed.

New Features/Technology/Options: Advances in cook-chill technology offer cost-savings while delivering the fresh taste and quality of just-cooked food. One maker produces a kettle with a retractable agitator to allow for a pinned shaft. The design improves the flavor and texture of cooked foods by providing better agitation of foods. The redesigned agitator also helps facilitate cleaning of the kettle. Additionally, a lightweight, air-operated drop-down valve is now on the market and promises greater ease of use. Replacement parts are said to be a fraction of the cost of traditional designs. A multi-capacity tumbler chiller, available in 100-, 200- and 300-gal. capacities, allows operators to upgrade production as menus change without having to purchase another unit.

Key Kitchen Applications: Cook-chill equipment rapidly cools cooked food for safe holding in cold storage over extended time periods. The equipment prepares, packages and safely chills hundreds of meals for cold storage vs. cook-serve systems, which reduce labor costs and production times. Central kitchen-based cook-chill preparation allows better control over raw ingredients' quality and easier monitoring of proper ingredient handling procedures. Large-batch kettle cooking helps to ensure consistency.

Purchasing Guidelines: Since cook-chill systems allow for longer storage of foods in contrast to cooking menu items and holding pre-portioned amounts in a standard refrigerator or freezer, items can be produced in larger batches for multiple service points or customer groups. This reduces the number of batches that need to be prepared during any given period, which, in turn, saves labor.

Maintenance Requirements: Staff must thoroughly clean and sanitize kettles after every production cycle. Operators should look for stainless-steel construction and high-quality equipment designed with as few seams, tight corners and crevasses as possible, as these units will facilitate easy cleaning and thorough sanitation. Pumps and compressors require professional maintenance.

Food Safety & Sanitation Essentials: Using cook-chill equipment, the key to safe, extended storage of foods is very rapid cooling, which takes cooked products through the bacterial growth danger zone, typically 140 °F. to 41 °F. Chilling and holding equipment can cool food products from production temperatures down to 40 °F. and below, typically in 90 minutes to two hours, which is essential for food safety following HACCP guidelines.