Pizza operators producing from-scratch dough will want to employ a mixer designed for this task. These feature lower revolutions per minute than standard mixers, utilize gears instead of belts, provide a dough hook attachment for proper mixing and feature more heavy-duty construction that can handle dense product.

Mixers Geared for Pizza 

istock 627447828Mixers consist of a mixing bowl and dough hook that kneads the dough around the bowl. Because the consistency of pizza dough can vary by operation and menu, the mixer should be able to accommodate the dough type, amounts and weight.

Like with all equipment, pizza operators will need to first consider the application before choosing the type of mixer that is best suited for the task. While spiral mixers are designed for dough only, planetary types offer other attachments that make them more versatile.

With the planetary type of mixer, just the agitator moves around the bowl in a circular motion to combine ingredients. This provides a vigorous kneading action. 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.

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, gentler process that results in an airy product that works well with wetter dough. Spiral mixers tend to include drive mechanisms that may allow these units to produce more dough in less space than planetary units. Pizza designated as Neapolitan must use dough prepared with a spiral mixer.

“Operators should determine what products they need to produce and how much,” says Juan Martinez, principal at Profitality, a consulting firm based in Miami. “The needs of the business should be taken into account to right size the equipment.”

The amount of product the unit can hold helps determine the size of the mixer. For example, some planetary mixers can accommodate 130, 180, 220, 330 and 400 pounds of dough, depending on the model. Smaller pizza operations may be able to make do with a 20-quart countertop mixer.

Spiral mixers 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.

Consider larger mixers with hydraulic lifts for big batches. Multiple mixers may be a better option than a larger model when looking at ergonomics and safety.

Proper mixer capacity depends on whether the operation makes dough ahead of time and stores it in a refrigerator or freezer or if staff prepare batches of dough as necessary. “Pizza operators need to think about how they’re going to use the mixer,” says Martinez. “If they’re preparing 50 pounds of dough and only mixing it once a day, a bigger mixer will be needed than if they’re dividing the 50 pounds up to mix four times a day.”

RPMs differentiate dough mixers, with standard speeds at 150 RPMs, slower than other types of mixers to accommodate the stiffness of the pizza dough. All units operate on 208/240 three- or single-phase electricity. 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. “The dough consistency, mixing attachments and bowl size must be in sync,” says Martinez. “The more dough, the higher horsepower needed.”

Planetary mixers generally offer three mixing speeds, with the lowest, most suitable for heavier pizza dough batches and higher speeds 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, mushrooms, etc.

Mixer Maintenance

istock 526638425Proper use is imperative with dough mixers, as overloading these machines can cause excessive wear and tear on gears and motors, leading to premature breakdowns.

Dough mixers have changed quite a bit in the past 10 years, according to John Schwindt, vice president of operations/general manager at Hawkins Commercial Appliance Service Co. in Englewood, Colo. They used to have big gear boxes that would act like a transmission for changing gears in a car. Operators would have to turn some mixers off to change gears from slow to medium or medium to high during the mixing procedure.

In addition, these mixers would need extensive periodic maintenance to keep them functioning properly. Gearbox lube would have to be changed every few years and wear adjustments made to make sure all speeds were obtainable. Some mixers had to be running to change speeds but would always have to be started in slow speed to make sure that there was enough power to begin the mixing process. Seals would have to be replaced to keep the gear lube from contaminating the product. There would be big motor start/stop switches with water tight seals around them and the operator could or would hose the entire mixer down at the end of the day to clean it, he says.

“Today’s mixers have bigger drive motors, VFDs (variable frequency drive) controllers and electronic programmable timers to change speeds and times all during different intervals of the program to maintain consistency in the finished product,” says Schwindt. “There is a lot less heavy maintenance needed, but these units are more susceptible to environmental issues, like water damage and voltage spikes.”

Fortunately, today’s mixers are designed for not only ease of use but easy cleaning. “Removable parts, like bowl safety cages and shields, are designed to be removed and run through dishwashers,” Schwindt says. “A damp cloth with a detergent mix is all that is needed to clean the main part of the machine. If done after every use or at the end of every day, the mixer will give years of service with minimal downtime for repair issues.”

Manufacturers’ guidelines detail weights and measures that operators should follow when preparing amounts of product. For example, a 50-pound bag of flour and 2 gallons of water would overload a 60-quart mixer based on weight.

When mixing, the machine’s operator needs to be engaged with the process at all times. 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, it can be repaired, but this will be pricey and involve draining the oil to gain access to the transmission. Because most parts are internal, a service agent will need to completely disassemble a mixer to properly diagnose and repair the problem.

Another common operator error is attempting to shift gears when the unit is running in an attempt to speed up the process. Some models have safety switches that shut the motor off, which prevents gear damage. However, the units that don’t have this feature can break if gears are shifted during operation.

Flour can migrate during mixing and wind up in the motor or control area and, although this won’t necessarily harm the mixer, it can inadvertently insulate electrical components. This prevents them from cooling and could produce overheating. To prevent problems, operators can conduct visual checks when the unit is not in use.

Dough hooks, beaters and whips move during use, so it’s recommended that, during assembly, operators add lubricant such as food-grade machine oil, on the attachment shaft. A lack of lubrication can cause excessive wear on attachments and run the risk of agitator shaft breakage. If this occurs, the unit will need replacing.

The dough mixer’s transmission system also may require regular oil changes every six months or annually, depending on use, by service agents. Technicians also will lubricate bowl lift components with food-grade machine oil. Cooking spray should never be used as a lubricant, as it eventually coagulates and gets sticky.

An annual or biannual check by a service tech can help prevent breakdowns during critical production runs. Like all electric equipment, dough mixers should never be submerged in water during cleaning.