Product Knowledge Guide: Mixers

With the increasing popularity of from-scratch menus in today’s foodservice operations, mixers have become more of a mainstay in the back of house.

iStock 000008197148XLargeWhile foodservice operators can choose from different types of commercial food mixers, planetary and spiral mixers remain the most common styles due to these units’ versatility and chefs’ and bakers’ familiarity with them.

Planetary mixers, also called vertical cutter mixers, come in countertop or floor models. The majority come with variable speeds to accommodate different mixing levels. Standard features of these units include a fixed bowl, agitators, controls, stir speed controls and a bowl guard. These units also offer stainless steel dough hook, whip and flat beater attachments. Operators can interchange these attachments to prepare a variety of products including pizza, bread, pastries, cookies, cakes and donut dough as well as icing, filling cream, dressings and more.

Named after the unit’s spiral-shaped dough agitator or hook, spiral mixers are primarily used to mix bread dough. Unlike planetary mixers, the bowl with this type revolves during mixing, while the agitator stays in place. When the bowl turns, its contents move so the dough is completely stretched. Standard features include dual electronic timer controls, a bowl job control and a reversible bowl drive.

This mixer type is considered a bread or bakery mixer, so it’s not as commonly used in the foodservice industry. Spiral mixers are heavy-duty units and designed to mix and knead bread, bagels, pizza and other types of dough. In terms of dough capacity, spiral mixers can handle a much larger volume compared to planetary mixers.

Mixer sizes vary, depending on type and manufacturer. For example, planetary units range in size from 5 to 140 quarts, with a number of different sizes in between. Countertop units generally offer 5- and 7-quart bowl sizes, making them suitable for smaller jobs. The most popular size is a 20-quart mixer, which operators can choose to place on a countertop or cart.

Floor mixer models often include swing-out mixing bowls and power lifts for added convenience as well as the capability to program multiple mixing schemes. This mixer type commonly utilizes 220 or 240 volts, with either one-phase or three-phase electricity. Touch pad controls and digital LED timers offer added convenience for operators as well as enhanced product reliability and mixing consistency.

The heavier the mixer’s base, the more stable it will be when used for high-volume production. Bases typically feature cast iron construction, while bowls are made of heavy-gauge stainless steel.

Most commercial mixers include safety features, such as guards or gates to protect users’ fingers during operation. On vertical cutter mixers, electromechanical interlocks prevent operation unless a bowl cover is closed and latched. Interlock mechanisms also prevent operation if the bowl is tilted beyond 20 degrees from the vertical position. A centrifugal brake on some models stops the motor when a staff member pushes a stop switch.

Mixers can be either gear or belt driven. While generally more durable, gear-driven models tend to cost more up front. Belt technology has come a long way, with more durable components that provide smooth operation and easy repair and maintenance.

Speed selection for these units depends on the model. While some offer settings for high, medium or low operation, other mixers may offer numerical speed choices. Horsepower typically ranges from ½ to 2, depending on the unit.

Commercial mixers have a #12 hub, which is a round, protruding part that accommodates a number of attachments. These include vegetable slicers for slicing, cutting and grating. This allows easy ingredient additions for salads, sandwiches and pizza. Meat choppers are another attachment that fits on the hub. This can be used to prepare ground meat for patties or to make from-scratch sausage.

Several options can help simplify production and save labor. Bowl truck adaptors allow operators to load different mixing bowl sizes into the mixer, while the bowl trucks offer easy transport of batter and dough. Bowl extension rings reduce splashing. This allows users to mix at higher speeds while keeping ingredients in the bowl. Easy-to-clean splash guards can be added to protect the mixer from ingredients and product splash. This also keeps cleanup and maintenance to a minimum.

Service Q&A with Brad Melancon, Co-service manager, Chandlers Parts and Service, Baton Rouge, La.

FE&S: What is the typical service life for commercial mixers?

BM: Most operators use them till they break. The construction and durability depends on the manufacturer, and there are different levels of quality. We’ve seen some units last more than 20 years, but the service life is typically between 10 and 15 years on average.

FE&S: What should operators avoid when cleaning and maintaining mixers?

BM: Operators should avoid cleaning when the mixer is on, although guards will keep their hands out of the mixing area. They also should never submerge the unit’s base in water, as this could cause electrical or mechanical problems that would require service or replacement of the unit.

FE&S: What are the cleaning and maintenance requirements for these units?

BM: Other than the normal daily cleaning of the food inside of the mixer bowl, which should be scrubbed with soap and water, it’s a matter of wiping down the exterior each day with a damp cloth. If there’s a guard, operators need to make sure this component stays clean. Some models include magnetic safety devices that need periodic cleaning. The gear box assembly should be checked periodically to make sure it has oil or lubricant and that this is at the proper level.

FE&S: What is a typical problem operators should be aware of with mixers?

BM: The biggest mechanical problem with these units is when they start leaking.

FE&S: What are the service requirements of commercial mixers?

BM: Typically, this equipment is only serviced when there’s a problem. The cleaning is done in house. Fortunately, most mixers don’t have many problems. Switches, electrical or mechanical problems typically require a service call.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Purchasing a Mixer

In many kitchens, mixers are considered the workhorses of the prep line. When properly specified, these units can decrease labor while increasing speed of service. John Marenic, principal at Charlotte, N.C.-based Marenic Food Service Consultants, provides his insight on what operators should consider when purchasing a mixer.

  • DO determine what tasks the mixer will be used for. Different types are suitable for heavy dough versus general use.
  • DO decide whether a gear-driven or belt-driven type is preferable. Mixers that use nothing but gears in the head of the motor provide the most direct power from the motor to the mixing apparatus. Operators that use dough mixers typically like gears, since belts can slip or burn out when used with heavy loads, although this is not a common occurrence. Gear-driven mixers also tend to have a longer service life, but belts are very reliable and more affordable.
  • DO consider mixers for tasks such as vegetable prep, meat grinding and pasta making. Operators don’t always consider how versatile these units are for many production tasks. This can save both labor and the cost of purchasing other pieces of equipment. For example, a mixer with an attachment to make pasta is much cheaper and more versatile than a pasta maker. These units also can help operators increase the number of fresh, from-scratch items on the menu.
  • DON’T purchase a mixer without a clear understanding of how it will be used and what options are needed to accomplish these tasks.
  • DO consider water proximity if the mixer will be used for dough. Also consider where the dough rolling will take place. It’s best to have the mixer situated as close to the prep table as possible.
  • DON’T neglect the care and maintenance of mixers. Operators should keep a close eye out for hairline cracks near the unit’s gear box or mechanisms. Small oil leaks may signify the gear box is broken, which means the mixer should be replaced. This can happen if the mixer is hit hard or dropped. The bowl also should be able to be moved up and down freely with the lift. If power is an issue, operators can inspect the mixer for electrical connection problems.
  • DON’T neglect to include necessary accessories, such as splash guards. These are beneficial with counter mixers to protect the area from cake mixes and icing that can splatter. Also, metal guards or cages are needed for dough mixing to ensure operator safety.
  • DO consider the construction of the mixer’s base when purchasing. Thick rubber feet will help decrease the noise caused by the unit’s vibration.
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