Braising pans, also called tilting skillets, are one of the most versatile pieces of equipment on the cook line and, as such, very utilitarian. Although commonly lumped into the steamer category, these units do not cook with steam. Their format consists of a griddle on the bottom and sides raised 8 to 11 inches.
Operators use braising pans in a variety of applications across various segments to reduce preparation time, save energy and increase batch consistency. Braising pans tend to be popular in high-volume institutional applications, since a single 30-gallon pan can produce as many as 350 meals per hour.
Braising pans can serve as a kettle for cooking soups, stews, chili, rice, pasta and sauces. Operators can also use these units for pan frying of donuts, fried chicken, fish fillets and fries. As a braiser, these units quickly brown food and simmer food products. When used as an oven, the pans can bake or roast all types of meat and poultry. In addition, braising pans can serve as a griddle for preparing bacon, burgers, grilled sandwiches, pancakes, French toast, eggs and sausage as well as stir fry dishes.
When working in conjunction with a steam pan insert, braising pan units can steam vegetables, seafood and other items. These pans also can serve as both a warmer to thaw frozen items or as a chilling station in conjunction with ice to cool steamed product.
Operators can choose from several types of braising pans. Some are bolted to the ground, while others have casters to make it easier to relocate the units.
Once available only in 30- and 40-gallon sizes, today operators can purchase countertop braising pans that come in 12- and 16-gallon sizes. The 12-gallon size only offers electric power, but the 16-, 30- and 40-gallon capacities come in either electric or gas. Operators can also select 15-gallon floor models available for operations with limited ventilation hood space.
Braising pans typically feature stainless steel construction, although cabinet components may be made of other materials. Operators can choose from various finishes, which provide different performances. For example, a bead blast finish has a rougher, dimpled surface to help prevent food from sticking, while a hand-ground finish may be smoother and easier to clean. Most braising pans are square or rectangular, but round units are available, as well.
Tabletop models typically only offer manual tilting, while floor units provide either electric or crank tilting mechanisms. Most power-tilt models now offer a manual override feature. Pans are designed to tilt either from the front or center, which provide different pour paths for dispensing.
Gas units can utilize propane or natural gas, while electric braising pans require 280 or 480 volts. Braising pans have various heat delivery options, yet the orifices on gas units and heating elements on electric models cover the entire underside of the pan, providing an even heat source without cold spots.
Pressure braising pans may be an option, too. “Pressurized braising pans are becoming more popular in restaurants because these reduce cook times considerably and produce higher quality food,” says Teri Kidwell, principal, ATK Design Studios, LLC, Sewickley, Pa. The downside of these units is they may overcook product. Also, if the lid is not locked down correctly, it can be forced up by the pressure and damage equipment or injure users.
Standard braising pan features include a spring-assisted lid, gallon markings, tilting mechanism, strainer for the pour spout at the center of the kettle, legs and either analog or digital controls. Accessories or add-ons include faucets, draw offs, steam insert pans and pan carriers.
Over the years, innovations have included programmability for specific recipes, technologically advanced controls for greater precision, tighter bandwidth for more efficient heating and temperature holding capabilities. Self-greasing sealed braising pans cut down on maintenance.
To ensure the braising pan meets volume requirements and space limitations, operators need to assess their menus to determine the required capacity in gallons or pan surface area. Also consider the pan depth to ensure the unit can accommodate larger food items.
Review the size of the unit to determine whether it can fit in the designated kitchen space and that there’s enough space beneath the hood. Operators also need to confirm that the unit will fit through the kitchen’s hallways and doors for delivery and installation purposes.
In terms of usage, accessibility to the braising pan contents represents a critical factor. “Operators should consider adding a 2-inch tangent draw to allow for items, such as soup, to be drained into appropriately-sized vessels versus being scooped out,” says Kidwell, who recommends adding on a pan carrier, which holds the pan when transferring product.
Stability of the braising pan is another consideration for safe use. “Operators make the mistake of specifying units without flanged feet or having flanged feet that are not secured at the rear,” says Kidwell. “When the pan tilts, the unit can lift forward due to weight. Operators should always secure at a minimum the rear flanged feet to avoid tipping.”
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 braising pan requires natural or propane gas and whether the correct voltage and power is accessible for electric units’ amp draw.
When specifying a braising pan, know the location of the drain access. In cases where there is no drain by the pour path, a sink drain or hose attachment will work to facilitate easier filling and cleaning. “A double pantry faucet with hose that provides hot and cold water for varying products and is equipped with a spray hose for easy cleaning, is recommended,” says Kidwell.
When building conditions allow, floor troughs should be installed. “This eliminates laying water, broth and other products on the floor and helps prevent slipping hazards,” says Kidwell.
Cleaning & Maintenance Requirements
Unlike boilers or steamers, braising pans do not require descaling. Regular care includes wiping down and cleaning with soap and water after each use. Service life is typically at least 10 years.
“These are simple pieces of equipment with pans running at one temperature, not like griddles that have different temperature zones,” says Kevin McCaw, field supervisor, Hawkins Commercial Appliance Service, Englewood, Colo. “When something is wrong, the braising pan will just quit heating up.”
Fortunately, these units are generally repairable. “If something goes wrong on an electric unit, it’s the contactor, whereas on a gas unit, it’s most likely the thermostat,” he says. “The manual tilt models are easier to fix than the automatic.”
When it comes to common problems, gas braising pans can get lint pulled in from the environment that impacts the burners’ output. “We recommend not using chlorine-based cleaners for this equipment, since it can cause pitting on stainless steel pretty quickly,”
Operators should refrain from turning braising pans on high heat when there is no liquid inside. Doing so repeatedly will eventually cause the pan to warp, compromising the heating surface.
Like other cooking equipment, season a new tilting braising pan 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.
Residual heat can be used at the end of the day to warm up water in the pan, which will make it easier to remove food debris from the bottom of the pan.
Refrain from spraying water under the pan or on its mechanical components during cleaning.
Because certain utensils, like square-edge turners, can cause pitting on the pan surface, only rounded edge utensils should be used with this equipment.
There are a number of signs that indicate a braising pan needs replacing. Units with heavily worn or damaged cooking surfaces can slow down operations and compromise food quality in some cases. Also, if the braising pan is no longer keeping up with production due to inefficient or inconsistent heating, a new unit should be considered.
Gear replacement can be pricey, so 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 unit.