Tilting skillets, also known as braising pans, are among the most versatile pieces of equipment in commercial kitchens. Here is a brief introduction to this flexible piece of cooking equipment.

Tilting Skillets: An Overview

It would be difficult to oversell the functionality of a tilting skillet, as this item can replace just about any piece of cooking equipment in a commercial kitchen. This versatility continues to make tilting skillets quite popular.

“From an investment perspective, tilting skillets are like having three pieces of equipment in one,” says John Marenic, principal at Charlotte, N.C.-based Marenic Food Service Consulting. “Operators can save a lot of money by specifying these units and, from a design perspective, this equipment saves space.”

Tilting skillets work much like stoves, allowing operators to cook at set and consistent temperatures using precise controls. The orifices on gas units and heating elements on electric models cover the entire underside of the pan, providing an evenly heated cooking service without cold spots.

This equipment comes in various capacities, with 30- and 40-gallon sizes the most popular. Countertop skillets are available in 12- and 16-gallon sizes. The 12-gallon size is available in electric only, but the 16-, 30- and 40-gallon capacities come in either electric or gas. There also are 15-gallon floor models available for operations with limited ventilation hood space. Most units are 10 inches deep.

Tilting skillets typically feature stainless steel construction although cabinet components may be made of other materials. Operators can choose from various finishes. For example, a bead blast finish has a rougher, dimpled surface to help prevent food from sticking to the surface, while a hand-ground finish is smoother and easier to clean.

Tabletop models typically feature only manual tilting, while floor units provide either electric or crank tilting mechanisms. Most power tilt models now offer a manual override feature. Pans tilt either from the front or center, which provide different pour paths for dispensing.

Operators can choose from a number of options and accessories. For example, tilt skillets may come with a 2-inch tangent draw valve like in steam kettles. This provides another dispensing option along with tilting to remove liquid contents. Most tilt skillets offer spring assist covers and gallon markings for easy measuring.

How to Know When to Replace a Tilting Skillet

Depending on use, the service life of tilting skillets can range from 6 to 25 years. Here are four signs it might be time to replace a tilting skillet.

Worn Cooking Surface: Heavily worn or damaged cooking surfaces can slow down operations and compromise food quality in some cases. Retire these tilting skillets sooner rather than later.

Heating Issues:If the tilting skillet no longer keeps up with production due to inefficient or inconsistent heating, consider purchasing a new unit.

Broken Tilting Mechanism: Gear replacement can be pricey. If the tilting mechanism fails on a unit that’s nearing the end of its service life, it is most likely time for a new tilting skillet.

High Repair Costs:  When repairs become more frequent and costly, especially if the unit is older and/or heavily used, replacement may be necessary.

Tilting Skillet Applications

Tilting skillets are generally workhorses of the kitchen and can be used for almost any task. Here are some common ways foodservice operators from all industry segments use this versatile piece of equipment.

Foodservice operators of all sizes use tilting skillets to reduce preparation time, save energy and increase batch consistency. These units can even replace range tops in many applications. In addition, high-volume, institutional operators use tilting skillets since a single 30-gallon pan can produce as many as 350 meals per hour.

This equipment can serve as a kettle for cooking soups, stews, chili, rice, pasta and sauces. Operators can use tilt skillets to pan fry such menu items as donuts, fried chicken, fish fillets and French fries. As a braiser, operators can use tilting skillets to quickly brown food and simmer products. When used as an oven, tilting skillets can bake or roast all types of meat and poultry.

Tilting skillets can serve as a griddle for preparing bacon, burgers, grilled sandwiches, pancakes, French toast, eggs and sausage as well as stir fry dishes. When used in conjunction with a steam pan insert, these units can steam vegetables, seafood and other items.

This equipment also can serve as both a warmer to thaw frozen items or as a chilling station in conjunction with ice to cool steamed product.

“Most people don’t realize that, with the right attachments, tilting skillets can be used in a production line for creating bottled sauces that can be sold for extra income,” says Marenic.

Maintaining a Tilting Skillet

Although maintaining tilting skillets is pretty basic, here are seven tips for extending the service life of this versatile piece of cooking equipment.

  • Never turn a tilting skillet to high heat when there is no liquid inside. Doing so repeatedly will eventually cause the pan to warp, compromising the heating surface.
  • Season new tilting skillet pans by covering the bottom with oil and heating every few minutes. This helps prevent sticking and makes cleanup easier. Repeat the seasoning process after heavy cleaning.
  • Use residual heat to warm up water in the skillet, which will make it easier to remove food debris from the bottom of the pan.
  • Warm, soapy water and a nylon brush are all that’s needed for pan cleanup.
  • Avoid the use of abrasive cleaning pads and harsh cleaners, as they may cause damage to the pan.
  • Refrain from spraying water under the pan or on the unit’s mechanical components during cleaning.
  • Because certain utensils, like square-edge turners, can cause pitting on the pan surface, only use rounded edge utensils with this equipment.

Spec Check: Tilting Skillet

Here are six factors to consider when specifying tilting skillets.

Menu: “When specifying these units, the menu is the number one thing to take into consideration,” Marenic says. “A floor grate should be installed as well as a drain to handle spills, and a pot filler with hot and cold water should be nearby.”

Capacity: Operators need to assess the needs of the operation to determine the necessary capacity in gallons or pan surface. Also consider the pan depth to ensure the tilting skillet can accommodate larger food items.

Sizing: It’s important to assess the unit’s size to make sure it fits in the designated kitchen space and that the ventilation hood length is sufficient. Operators also need to confirm that the unit will fit through the kitchen’s hallways and doors for delivery and installation purposes.

Power: Operators should make sure the appropriate power source, either gas or electric, is available in the installation space. Prior to purchasing, it should be determined if the gas skillet requires natural or propane gas and whether the correct voltage and power is accessible for electric units’ amp draw.

Drain Access: When specifying a tilting skillet, it’s always a good idea to know where the drain access will be. In cases where there is no drain by the pour path, a sink drain or hose attachment will work.

Serviceability: Operators should assess how easy the equipment is to clean and service, also taking into account the warranties available.