The braising pan has almost as many names as it does uses. It is perhaps the most versatile piece of commercial cooking equipment available today.
The braising pan is also known as a tilting skillet, fry pan, and braiser. 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 a great asset in the commercial kitchen, where labor and floor space are usually a primary concern and where a menu item can be prepared entirely in this pan. Food operations can realize a 50% or greater labor savings over conventional top or stock pot methods of cooking with the braising pan. This is largely due to reduced cleaning requirements. The value of a braising pan is higher in new kitchens where its flexibility allows it to substitute for a multitude of other 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 the bottom of a covered braising pan can be used to steam food held on special perforated pans or racks. Proofing is performed in a similar manner by using hot water instead of steam.
Electric vs. Gas
There are many factors to consider when selecting a braising pan: first cost, food preparation productivity, ease of operation and heat generation in the kitchen, as well as the energy source used, electricity or gas. Keep in mind that energy accounts for only 3 to 5 percent of a food service establishment's total costs. So, while one fuel may be less expensive on a BTU to BTU comparison, the best choice in cooking equipment is the one which 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.
Let's take a closer look at the energy-use issues remembering that comparisons should be made on the basis of similar equipment where only the energy input is being changed.
Electric braising pans have several advantages over their gas counterparts. For one, an electric braising pan unit costs an average of 20 to 25% less than similar gas models. Also, 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 also much easier to clean and maintain than gas models. Electric and gas braising pans have virtually the same preheating capabilities, both types reach a cooking temperature of 300°F in about 10 minutes.
Braising pans look like large flat griddles with 7 to 9-inch side walls. They are made of stainless steel over aluminum block, or a steel griddle base. Aluminum baffles are added to the bottom on gas heated units to promote even heating. All units are equipped with both a hinged lid and a tilting mechanism. The lid or cover is used to contain heat within the pan. The tilting mechanism tilts to beyond 90 degrees, which allows the operator to easily pour foods out of the pan and facilitates cleaning. The pouring side of the pan usually has a notched spout.
Covers should fit tightly and be counterbalanced with springs so they don't swing shut on an operator's hand. Lifting handles often run the length of the pan front, but allowance should be made for the operator to raise the cover from the side, thereby avoiding a blast of steam on their hand. Most lids are available with a condensate drip shield and a vent.
There are three types of braising pans: table models, floor models (mounted on a set of open legs or a cabinet style 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.
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. Tilting mechanisms for braising pans come in one of three types: manual, hand crank, and electric. The hand crank with a self-locking worm gear is the most popular.
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 include a number of extra features that contribute to versatility and labor savings. Some of these include:
- 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.
- Electronic ignition for gas units.
- Food strainers that slip on and off the pouring spout.
- Steamer racks, pasta baskets, and poaching pans.
- A drain valve and hose.
The skittle, sometimes referred to as the combi-pan, performs the functions of seven pieces of kitchen equipment in one. It's a steamer, a skillet, a griddle, a fryer, a kettle, a roaster and a holding cabinet.
The need for such a versatile unit is easy to understand. Commercial kitchens are growing more and more complex. Kitchen space is expensive and the demands for greater menu flexibility and quicker preparation times put a strain on both staff and equipment. Manufacturers have responded to this need by creating the skittle that can completely replace several pieces of cooking equipment or serve as a backup for any of them. The skittles flexibility makes them perfect for smaller food service establishments that don't have room for multiple pieces of equipment. Skittles are available in gas, electric and high performance electric.
Perhaps the skittles greatest value is as a steamer because it's the only steamer that does not require a boiler thereby eliminating one of the biggest maintenance problems in kitchens today. This means lower maintenance costs and no descaling or deliming.
As a skillet the skittle provides even heating, excellent heat retention and quick recovery. As a griddle it offers the advantage of tilting. This feature allows grease to be drained off even while cooking. The skittle is perfect 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. Its capacity ranges from 7 to 40 gallons. As a roaster, the skittle prepares food in dry heat or in combination with steam. This makes it ideal for roasting meats, baking potatoes or rethermalizing prepared foods in 14 cubic feet of oven space. Skittles can be used as holding cabinets because they have capsule lids that preserve the moisture content of food during holding without deterioration of food quality.