Spec Check: Slicers

S licing food fresh and on demand has become more prevalent in today's foodservice operations. In a number of restaurants, staff most commonly use slicers to prepare deli meats and cheeses for sandwiches, but this equipment can also provide uniform slices of vegetables for grilling or garnishing.

Slicers also help guarantee uniform portion sizes, making this equipment useful in controlling food costs. In addition, slicers present the dual benefit of cutting both faster and potentially more safely than knives.

Commercial slicers typically fall into one of three classifications: manual, semi-automatic or automatic. These units feature a rotating blade on a movable carriage in either a gravity-fed angled or spring-loaded upright configuration.

Manual slicers for front of house use also are available and geared for on-demand slicing or lighter volume. This type requires staff to move the carriage, while automatic models employ a motor to drive that component. With semi-automatic units, a secondary motor moves the product carriage back and forth.

Higher volume operations, such as schools, hospitals or sandwich shops, typically use automatic slicers. End-users can adjust automatic slicer activity from 20 to 60 strokes per minute.

Tabletop units represent the largest slicer category. Also known as gravity-feed or plug-and-play units, these low-voltage, low-amp, motor-driven slicers have a small footprint. Angled models drop slices directly onto a receiving table, while upright slicers commonly use a lever arm to stack products in various patterns.

Vegetable cutters feature slower RPMs and razor-sharp blades to retain the cell structure of the product, which extends shelf life and guarantees an end-product with a high-quality look, taste and aroma. End-users can choose from a variety of discs to replicate virtually any hand-cutting style.

When specifying a slicer, operators should first estimate how many hours it will function daily. This will help determine whether a light-, medium- or heavy-duty type is necessary. Operators slicing one to two hours a day won't generally require an automatic unit.

For foodservice operations that will utilize the slicer for one to four hours a day, a medium-duty unit will suffice. These slicers typically slice without manually feeding product onto the carriage. Restaurants slicing cheese on site will require at least a medium-duty model.

All-day or production slicing tasks, such as in a high-volume sandwich shop or retail setting, require heavy-duty slicers. These types have a larger blade, carriage tray and platter, which help increase the amount of product sliced in a certain amount of time. Providing stacking and shingling capabilities in a larger footprint, these units are generally more complex to operate. Heavy- duty, high-volume slicers cut in varying thicknesses and offer oversized 13-inch chrome-plated blades for busy operations.

For minimal slicing that will occur between 30 minutes and an hour a day, a light-duty slicer should be sufficient. These economy slicers typically offer slice thickness adjustment knobs for different tasks. This is the only slicer type that is not recommended for cheese.

Horsepower is another consideration when purchasing a slicer. Slicers include a belt- or gear-driven knife motor that ranges from ¼ to ½ hp. Automatic slicers feature a separate DC motor driven by a chain and sprocket system, and end-users can disengage it for manual operation.

The volume and size of product being cut and product size are major considerations when selecting a blade size. The width and height of the product being sliced will determine the appropriate knife diameter. The larger the product being sliced, the bigger the knife required. Available sizes are 9, 10, 12, 13 and 14 inches.

The most common knife sizes are 12 inches and 13 inches. Smaller operations can make do with 9- or 10-inch cutting blades. Medium-duty slicers typically include 12-inch blades, while heavy-duty models have blades between 12 and 14 inches in size. The bigger the knife, the higher the motor's torque will be.

There are specific slicers available for cutting frozen products that have a serrated knife and gear drive bathed in an oil bath.

Most slicers can yield portions ranging from paper-thin to 1¼-inch thick. Larger units can hold food pieces up to 7½-inches in diameter and up to 12 inches long. Compact slicers have footprints as small as 18 by 15 inches, while larger units may require 3 feet on each side to accommodate carriage movement.

Other considerations include the type of service available for the unit, the cost of replacement parts and the expected life cycle of the unit.

Although most slicers feature either anodized or burnished aluminum construction, some units combine aluminum with stainless steel for increased durability. When slicing foods with a high acid content, such as tomatoes, stainless steel models will hold up better than aluminum, which is softer and more porous.

Slicers are now available with NSF-approved polymer bodies. Manufacturers are looking to add larger components that can be molded, rather than cast. These parts are more affordable, easier to clean and eliminate gaps that can harbor food debris. Knife blades typically feature hollow-ground, high-carbon steel construction, though some units feature chrome-plated steel or hardened steel alloys.