The biggest differences between standard and pizza dough mixers are that the latter has lower RPM (revolutions per minute), utilizes gears instead of belts, has a dough hook attachment and features heavy-duty construction. This makes pizza dough mixers, often called spiral mixers, better suited for dense dough. Mixer designs have generally remained unchanged in the last 50 years.
The design of spiral mixers makes them suitable for only working with dough. In contrast, planetary mixers offer other attachments that make them more versatile for creating dough, batter, cupcakes, frosting, whipped cream and other items.
Mixers designated for pizza dough include a mixing bowl and dough hook attachment. This large hook kneads dough around the bowl.
Planetary units also offer whips for creating icing, toppings, salad dressing and other lighter mixtures as well as flat beaters for mixing thicker concoctions like cookie dough batter. These accessories can be either
stainless steel or aluminum.
All pizza dough is not created equal. For this reason, it’s important to choose the appropriate mixer that can handle the dough type, weight and quantity.
Operators can choose between two types of mixers to make pizza dough. Each utilizes different actions to incorporate ingredients. With the planetary type, just the agitator moves around in the bowl to combine ingredients. This provides a rigorous, vigorous kneading action.
Spiral mixers have dough hooks that spin in the back of the bowl but not within the entire bowl, and the bowl itself spins as well. This is a softer, more gentle process that results in an airy product. These units work well with wetter dough. This type tends to include drive mechanisms, which differ from planetary mixers, as they can produce more dough at one time. These mixers tend to produce more dough in less space than planetary units.
Pizza designated as Neapolitan must use dough prepared with a spiral mixer.
Mixer size designates how much dough a unit can accommodate. Amounts include 130, 180, 220, 330 and 400 pounds, depending on the model. Smaller pizza operations may be able to get by with a 20-quart countertop mixer.
Spiral mixers can produce more dough in less space. For example, this type can mix 110 pounds of dough per batch, while a planetary mixer producing the same dough can mix between 50 and 60 pounds at one time.
RPMs differentiate dough mixers, with standard spiral mixer speeds at 150 RPMs, slower than other types. This is due to the product’s stiffness. All units are 208/240 three or single phase.
In addition to RPMs, horsepower ratings, which can range from ½ to 4, depending on the mixer type, are another consideration. The dough hook design also impacts mixing time.
Features and Options
Operators can choose from a variety of features and options with dough mixers.
Planetary mixers generally offer three mixing speeds, with the lowest most suitable for heavier dough batches and highest for whipped toppings. The speed options also operate the hub on the front or side of the machine for additional accessories like graters/shredders and vegetable slicers. Attachments have spinning blades to slice pizza toppings like pepperoni, cheese, tomatoes and mushrooms.
Some spiral mixers offer reversible bowls or counterclockwise bowl movement for creating smaller batches. With this type, a 180-pound mixer can prepare 18 pounds of dough.
Overloading the unit is the most common mistake operators make with dough mixers. Manufacturers provide guides and mixer capacity charts that detail weights and measurements for amounts of product prepared at one time. For example, a 50-pound bag of flour and 2 gallons of water would overload a 60-quart mixer based on weight.
“Most people overload these machines, which causes excessive wear on planetary gears, early breakdown of oil, the inability to lubricate gears, and bent or broken shafts,” says Tim Lochel, service manager at Philadelphia-based Elmer Schultz Services, Inc. “Mixers also can experience motor failure if operators fail to stay within the manufacturer’s capacity recommendations.”
Failure to set a timer and walking away from a unit in use can also lead to a dough mixer failure. The dough gets hard from overmixing, and water gets absorbed into the dough and then evaporates. Consequently, operators run the risk of destroying the unit’s transmission from overloading the machine. “When mixing, the machine’s operator needs to be engaged with the process at all times,” says Lochel. “Although many newer models have timers, older mixers don’t. If dough gets stale, it can cause harm to the unit.”
If the transmission and/or motor fails, an operator can opt to have the unit repaired, but this will be pricey and involves draining the oil to gain access to the transmission. “Most parts are internal, so mixers need to be completely disassembled when there’s a mechanical issue to properly diagnose the problem,” says Lochel.
Shifting gears while the unit is running represents another common operator error. “People mixing dough want to speed up the process,” says Lochel. “Some models have safety switches that shut the motor off, which prevents gear damage. The units that don’t have this feature can break if gears are shifted during operation.”
Belt-driven mixers, which operators tend not to use when making pizza dough, can shift during use.
Operators can take a few measures to prevent problems and lengthen a mixer’s service life. Perform visual checks when the unit sits idle as flour can migrate during mixing and wind up in the motor or control area. This won’t necessarily harm the mixer but can impact electrical components, preventing them from cooling and causing overheating.
“Also, before assembling the machine for use, it’s recommended operators add lubricant, such as food-grade machine oil on the attachment shaft,” says Lochel. “Dough hooks, beaters and whips move during use, and if there’s no lubrication, this can cause excessive wear for attachments. Worst case scenario, agitator shafts will wear out and break since cast aluminum attachments are softer than the agitator shaft.” If this occurs, the operator will need to replace the unit.
Depending on the transmission system, manufacturers also recommend regular oil changes every six months or annually, depending on use. During service calls, technicians will lubricate bowl lift components with food-grade machine oil.
“If customers conduct user-level maintenance, cooking spray should never be used as a lubricant,” says Lochel. “This will work temporarily but eventually coagulate and get sticky. It’s best to read the manufacturer’s manual specific to the mixer and observe safety precautions that come with it.”
When It’s Time to Buy
Choosing a mixer capacity also depends on whether the operator makes the dough ahead of time. “For operations making dough ahead of time, storage space is a consideration,” says Kris Morphis, vice president of Foodesign Associates, based in Charlotte, N.C.
Consider larger mixers with hydraulic lifts for big batches of dough. Operators can choose from many mixer attachment options. “Much depends on the type of dough, density and recipe in terms of accessories,” says Morphis. “However, dough hooks are standard for these units.”
Different mixer models offer a range of options, but operators should take into consideration the skill set of employees. “Everyone has a different dough recipe in terms of how much water is used and what specific ingredients are added,” says Morphis. “The speed and length of the mixing time are key factors to keep in mind.”
Multiple mixers may be a better option than a larger model when looking at ergonomics and safety. “Most importantly, the mixer needs to be appropriately sized for the operation’s capacity and volume as well as the products being prepared,” says Morphis.