Typically, pizza prep tables feature a raised condiment rail that keeps the topping pans higher than the surface on which staff make the pizza. Some units use a flat surface and wider openings for topping storage. Made-to-order pizza concepts, including those in the fast-casual space where customers can view pie ingredients, tend to favor these pizza prep tables.
This equipment is also quite versatile as operators often use it for sandwich and salad prep as well as sushi applications.
Operators can choose between two methods for cooling the top or raised rail. While forced air systems exchange air from the base, a cold wall system conducts cooling right on the rail, transferring refrigerated temperatures above the product. Forced air models connect the rail and base and mount the evaporator coil either in the rear or on the side.
Cold wall wrapped rail systems have separate upper rails with refrigerant running through the evaporator coil for consistent temperatures left to right. Because the base and rail operate independently, the unit has two temperature zones.
Pizza prep tables run from single-door units that measure 48 inches wide up to 4-door models between 110 and 120 inches wide. Other sizes include 60, 68, 93 and 118 inches, but these tables also come in widths of 42 and 44 inches.
Two-tier drawers can accommodate two 6-inch deep 12-inch-by-20-inch pans per drawer. Three-tier drawers can fit one to two 4-inch-deep 12-inch-by-20-inch pans per section. Traditional pizza operators require storage space for screens and/or pans as well.
Pizza prep table construction materials vary, depending on the manufacturer. A majority offer stainless-steel fronts, doors, ends and tops on the exterior and aluminum interiors. The inside may also include a combination of metal and plastic. Stainless interiors are available. Two-inch foam insulation is typically standard.
Standard and Optional Features
Operators can choose from a variety of standard pizza prep table features, depending on the model and manufacturer.
Some types use spring-loaded self-closing doors, snap-in removable door gaskets and epoxy-coated steel shelves. Units utilize different ways to remove condensation on the exterior, including hot gas, automatic non-electric condensate evaporators and electric condensate vaporizers. Some models offer slide-out condensing units to make cleaning easier. Units may offer standard 19-inch-deep nylon cutting boards with composite types as an option. Electronic controls with LED displays are available with some models.
Refrigerator systems can have capillary tubes or expansion valves for quick temperature recovery. Automatic cycle defrost timers help defrost evaporator coils with some pizza prep table types.
Using a catch pan or garnish rack system keeps pizza pans off the prep work area so cheese and pizza toppings don’t stick to the bottom and get burnt onto the pies or pans during the cooking process. This also helps prevent a mess in the oven.
In terms of options, most pizza prep tables come with doors, but some factories do offer drawers with two or three tiers. Drawers represent a good option for pizza operators looking to place covers over pans when storing ingredients. Operators can also include slide-in/pull-out shelf assemblies with door models. Operators can also specify locks for drawers and doors. Prep tables with tray racks can store dough trays or bulk cheeses.
Dual-rail models have a standard rail on the surface and a second elevated rail that holds another row of pans. The elevated row has separate temperature controls and a dedicated drain.
Pizza prep tables come with casters, but operators can specify legs instead. Operators may choose single or double overshelves for additional storage options.
See-through lids, rather than stainless steel, provide easier viewing of pan ingredients.
Pizza prep tables by nature tend to get messy. With debris, including flour, sauce and ingredients, compressor coils can get gummy and dirty. “This is even more problematic because fins on these units are deeper,” says Jim Mucher, service manager at Commercial Appliance Service, Inc., in Sacramento, Calif. “Cleaning the surfaces is not difficult, but coils can be 3 to 4 inches thick. Chemicals are required for removing grease and caked flour from this area.”
On the interior, top rails with various toppings stored inside, like tomatoes and sauce, can get into the air and cause corrosion. “This can cause evaporators to spring a leak and need replacement,” Mucher says.
For this reason, keeping up with cleaning and maintenance is key. In particular, operators should watch for evidence of corrosion. “It can be difficult to cover everything all the time, but it’s needed to cut back the acid in the air from sauce and tomatoes,” says Mucher.
Service technicians typically work on these units quarterly, but operators should conduct bimonthly cleaning. This entails checking gaskets, ensuring drain lines remain clear, cleaning coils with a clean brush and CO2 or a shop vacuum, making sure motors are clean, and verifying there are no refrigeration leaks. “Operators need to take temperature readings and log these to make sure there are not increases or fluctuations; otherwise, a service call is needed,” says Mucher. “Thermostats should not be tampered with or you run the risk of getting temperatures out of whack.”
Prep Table Positioning
Pizza prep tables, or topping tables, hold the ingredients in a refrigerated cabinet base. The top acts as a work surface and allows the pizza crusts to lay flat while being assembled.
“The size of the pizzas dictates the size of the work surface,” says Tracy Taraski, manager of design services at The Bigelow Cos. Inc., Kansas City, Mo. “These are available from 8 or 10 inches deep for smaller personal-sized pizzas all the way up to 24 or 30 inches deep for extra-large pies.”
These work surfaces also come in various materials, including plain stainless steel, polyethylene cutting board style or even a granite finish for higher-end operations where the table is visible to customers.
Ingredient rails, available with most pizza prep tables, help speed up the topping process since staff won’t need to bend down to access the base for ingredients. Rails represent an opening in the work surface that allows access into the refrigerated cabinet below. Staff place pans of toppings into this opening, which keeps the ingredients cold while providing easy access during the pizza-making process. Ingredient rails can come flush with the work surface or elevated and slightly canted, known as a raised rail, to make viewing the toppings and scooping them out easier for workers. Rails also come with lids that staff can close during non-production times, which helps to keep the toppings cold.
How big of a pizza prep table an operation needs depends on the volume of product sold during peak periods, along with the number of toppings offered. “The prep table’s rail portion is meant to hold just a few hours’ worth of toppings for peak production, while the refrigerated base holds replacement stock for the rails and for overnight or for more extended periods of storage,” says Taraski. “Additional product could be held in a nearby reach-in refrigerator or walk-in cooler.”