The braising pan is perhaps the most versatile piece of commercial cooking equipment available.
The braising pan is also known as a tilting skillet, fry pan, and braiser (as well as many other names). It can braise, boil, simmer, griddle cook, fry, steam, thaw, poach, blanch, heat canned foods, act as a proof box or oven, and store hot bakery products. This flexibility is valuable in a commercial kitchen, where labor and floor space are limited and a menu item can be prepared entirely in this single pan. Cooking with a braising pan, a food operation can realize a 50% or greater labor savings over conventional top or stock pot methods (mostly because of reduced cleaning requirements). The value of a braising pan is even higher in new kitchens where it can substitute for numerous other pieces of kitchen cookware.
The pan can be tilted a few degrees to drain fat away from food as it cooks, such as in griddling or braising meats. Boiling about an inch of water in a covered braising pan can be used to steam food held in special perforated pans or racks. Proofing can be done similarly by using hot instead of boiling water.
Braising Pan Types
There are three types of braising pans: table models, floor models (mounted on a set of open legs or a cabinet base), and wall-mounted units. The cooking capacity of a braising pan is rated by its manufacturer. Table models range from 10 to 15 gallons. Floor models typically range from 19 to 40 gallons.
Comparing Electric vs. Gas Braising Pans
There are many factors to consider when selecting a braising pan: initial cost, food preparation productivity, ease of operation, heat generation in the kitchen, and whether electricity or gas is used as the energy source. However, consider that energy only accounts for 3 to 5 percent of a typical food service establishment's total costs. Therefore, while one fuel may be less expensive in a BTU to BTU comparison, the best choice in cooking equipment is the one that minimizes total operating costs, not just energy costs. Features that reduce labor costs or result in higher food product yield will nearly always outweigh any energy considerations. Make sure that you include all of these factors in any equipment evaluation.
Therefore, when comparing gas and electric models, compare equipment that is similar in all ways except the energy source.
Advantages of Electric Braising Pans
Electric and gas braising pans have virtually the same preheating capabilities, with both reaching a cooking temperature of 300°F in about 10 minutes. However, electric braising pans have several advantages over gas models:
An electric braising pan unit costs an average of 20 to 25% less than similar gas models.
Electric braising pans use less energy than their gas equivalents. The average efficiency of electric models is about 80%, while gas model efficiency is just over 50%. This higher efficiency translates into less heat into the kitchen, which lowers cooling requirements from the HVAC system.
Electric braising pans are much easier to clean and maintain than gas models.
Braising Pan Components
A braising pan looks like a large flat griddle with 7- to 9-inch side walls. It is typically made of stainless steel over aluminum block, or a steel griddle base. On gas heated units, aluminum baffles are added to the bottom to promote even heating.
All units are equipped with both a hinged lid and a tilting mechanism. The lid or cover holds heat in the pan. Tilting mechanisms for braising pans come in three types: manual, hand crank, and electric. The hand crank with a self-locking worm gear is the most popular. The tilting mechanism tilts past 90 degrees so an operator can pour foods out of the pan and clean the unit easily. The pouring side of the pan usually has a notched spout.
The cover should fit tightly and be counterbalanced with springs so it doesn't shut on an operator's hand. Lifting handles typically run the length of the pan front (but an operator should also be able to raise the cover from the side to avoid a blast of steam on their hand). Most covers are available with a condensate drip shield and a vent.
Controls for the braising pan include a power off switch and a 100° to 450°F thermostat. Some units include a 60 minute timer and buzzer.
With the exception of 15-gallon models, braising pan units are generally rectangular. One manufacturer produces a round, 15-gallon model. Also, some models contain infrared coils in the pan cover to accommodate special tasks such as baking and top browning.
Braising pans may offer useful accessories that add versatility and labor savings, including:
- Hot and cold water spray hoses.
- Food receptor pan supports, hinged to facilitate tilting. Casters for greater mobility.
- Pan racks that hold 12 by 20 inch steaming pans.
- An electronic ignition on gas units.
- Food strainers that slip on and off the pouring spout.
- Steamer racks, pasta baskets, and poaching pans.
- A drain valve and hose.
A skittle, sometimes called a combi-pan, performs the functions of seven pieces of kitchen equipment. A skittle can serve as a steamer, a skillet, a griddle, a fryer, a kettle, a roaster, and a holding cabinet.
The value of such a versatile unit is easy to see. Commercial kitchens are growing more and more complex. Kitchen space is expensive, and demands for more flexible menus and quicker preparation strains both staff and equipment. Manufacturers have responded by creating the skittle, which can completely replace serve as a backup for several pieces of cooking equipment. The skittle's flexibility makes it ideal for smaller food service establishments without room for multiple pieces of equipment. Skittles are available in gas, electric, and high performance electric.
Perhaps the skittle's greatest value is as a steamer. This is because the skittle is the only steamer not requiring a boiler, thus eliminating a major maintenance problem. This means lower maintenance costs and no descaling or deliming.
As a skillet, a skittle provides even heating, excellent heat retention, and quick recovery. As a griddle, it offers the advantage of tilting, which allows grease to be drained off even while cooking. The skittle is also excellent for shallow or deep-fat frying. Cooking oils can be drained safely off into a container for filtering or storage. As a kettle, the skittle can be used to prepare soups, sauces, rice, and other foods, with capacity ranging from 7 to 40 gallons. As a roaster, the skittle prepares food in dry heat or in combination with steam, making it ideal for roasting meats, baking potatoes, or reheating prepared foods in 14 cubic feet of oven space. Skittles can also be used as holding cabinets because they have capsule lids that preserve the moisture content of food during holding.