The ability of braising pans to provide precise heating capabilities for various production-related tasks makes them one of the most versatile pieces of commercial kitchen equipment available. These units can function as a griddle, kettle, oven, fryer, steamer, braiser or warming unit to handle almost any task. This includes braising or roasting meats; preparing soup stock; cooking stew; cooking breakfast items like eggs, sausage, bacon and pancakes; sauteing fish; and steaming vegetables.
Because braising pans can cook faster than a griddle, foodservice operators most commonly use them in in high-volume, institutional settings, such as hospitals, schools and prisons. A single 30-gallon pan can produce between 251 and 350 meals per hour. Still, a variety of other foodservice operators, including smaller chains, also use this type of cooking equipment.
The biggest benefits braising pans offer are reduced preparation time, energy savings and improved batch consistency. Thermostat-controlled models provide temperatures between 100 degrees F and 450 degrees F.
Foodservice operators can choose from various braising pan types and sizes. These include smaller 10-, 12-, 14- and 16-gallon countertop models and larger 20-, 30- and 40-gallon floor units.
Gas-fired skillets with aluminum-core heating surfaces provide consistent heat distribution. Operators can also choose to purchase electric models with aluminum cast-in elements.
Electric heating elements are generally only available with 10- and 12-gallon sizes, while larger capacities typically come in electric and gas models. Electric units come in 12 kW or 18 kW, while gas offers 30,000, 93,000 or 126,000 Btus. The gas units’ numerous orifices and the electric models’ many heating elements cover the entire underside of the pan, providing an even heat source without cold spots. Solid-state temperature controls on some models help ensure control during the cooking process.
Due to the depth of these units, which varies from 8 to 10 inches, operators often use braising pans 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.
Braising pans typically feature stainless steel and carbon steel construction, although aluminum versions are available. The thickness of the cooking surface varies depending on the manufacturer, but most have a flat griddle bottom and griddle plate with splash shield on the side. Structural supports generally feature low-carbon steel construction. Operators can choose between open-leg and closed-base models.
Operators can also choose between hinged or spring-assisted lids for easier opening and closing. Manual hand-tilt or power-tilt mechanisms represent other lid options. While power tilting offers one speed, hand tilting lets the user control dispensing speeds. A majority of power-tilt models also features a manual override.
Most models offer spring-assist covers, and some tilting skillets include interior gallon markings for easier measuring. Other standard features include pan support holders, coved corners, a pouring lip, satin finish and anti-jam lift mechanisms. Braising pans may have a standing pilot feature for applications where electricity isn’t available.
When specifying a braising pan, 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.
Foodservice operators can choose from a number of options. For example, if the operator will use the unit to steam food, consider adding an adjustable cover. Also, draw-off valves provide easier dispensing for operations that need to regularly drain grease from the pan. For easier cleaning, filling and accessibility, a water hookup, faucets and/or sprayers are available for these units. For high-volume use, stainless steel-covered consoles help protect the unit’s controls and facilitate easy cleaning. If an operator prefers nonstick properties, consider a bead-blast pan finish, which helps reduce sticking. Pans with coved corners and smooth cooking surfaces tend to be easier to clean, which can boost labor efficiency.
Other options include casters for easy transport and motorized pan lifts to reduce labor. Accessories, such as lip strainers, cool-touch handles, steamer insert kits, pan carriers and drain carts for use when drains aren’t available, can be added. Over the last several years, water-resistant controls have been added to these units as well.