There are 5 different types of broilers available to the foodservice operator:
Broilers provide an alternative means of cooking flavorful, nourishing and healthful foods. Broilers are used to cook a wide variety of foods, by a process that usually takes from 3 to 6 minutes. Steak, poultry, seafood, hamburgers, pizza, and ethnic dishes are among the primary products normally prepared with broilers.
Some types of broilers are used specifically to "finish off" items like toasted breads, cheese sauces, and hot sandwiches. Depending on the type of broiler, these food items may be cooked in metal pans, glass casseroles, or directly on the surface of broiler grates or conveyor belts.
In the 1950s, only about 10% of the nation's food service establishments featured a broiler. Today, one third are equipped with broilers.
Broiler Cooking Process
Broilers use radiant energy to cook food. This is the kind of energy used by the sun as it heats the earth. Commercial broilers use electric or gas heat sources located either above or below the broiler cooking surface. These heat sources cook the food directly or indirectly by way of a radiant heating element. Some common materials used as radiants include pumice, ceramic, and metal bars.
The delicious smoky flavor characteristic of broiled foods is a result of juices dripping down onto the radiant or open flame of the broiler and either igniting and/or evaporating.
Different control methods are used with different broiler types to regulate cooking times and temperatures. Conveyor broilers have belt speed and temperature controls, while "over fired" broilers and "charbroilers" use high-medium-low temperature settings or adjustable grids.
Cooking with a broiler is a relatively imprecise cooking process when compared to other types of cooking. Food quality and consistency depend the distance between the food product and the radiant heat elements. Cooking will occur more rapidly when the grids containing the food product are raised closer to the heat elements.
Periodic cleaning is very important to food quality. Charred meat that sticks to the grids or grills can burn, transferring a bitter taste to the next food product placed in the broiler. Also, radiant heat elements may become coated with charred food and burnt grease. This insulates the elements and inhibits the radiant heat transfer to the food. When this occurs, the chef must either increase the temperature or leave the food in the broiler longer -- both of which will change the consistency of the food preparation.
Broilers: Electric vs. Gas
There are many factors to consider when selecting a broiler: 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 only accounts for less than 3 percent of a food service establishment's total costs. So, while one fuel may be less expensive in 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 broilers are generally considered to be more efficient, so they add less heat to the kitchen which ultimately must be removed by the cooling system.
In addition, electric units require less maintenance and less ventilation. Gas or propane broilers are generally considered to have the advantage of using a less expensive fuel.
A broiler is a relatively simple piece of equipment. The cabinet or housing can vary in size from a small shelf mounted or counter-top unit to a large freestanding arrangement. Some counter-top and freestanding units are stackable or can be mounted below or above a cabinet or oven base.
The inside cooking compartment has one or more grids, sometimes called grills. Food is placed directly on the grids or in a pan sitting on the grid. Grids have adjustable height settings and many can slide out to make it easy to load and unload food items. Many models have grids specially designed to drain grease away from the heating elements and into a collection pan. These are V-shaped grids installed at a slight downward angle.
Radiant heat elements, also known as radiants, can be powered by electricity, gas, wood or charcoal. They heat up to a temperature high enough to induce heat transfer by radiation. Some radiants are made of ceramic material that holds up well under high temperature and is particularly suited to the extreme high temperature application of infrared units.
Manufacturers of broilers continuously strive to improve food preparation efficiency, shorten preheat times, and reduce excess heat into the kitchen. Roller broilers are just one example of the newer technologies becoming available. Also, new infrared broilers have made significant improvements in these areas as well.
The efficiency of broilers varies according to type of broiler used, the method of temperature control, and the type of energy used. Electric broilers are generally the most efficient, requiring less energy to preheat, less energy to maintain idling temperatures, and less energy input during full-load cooking conditions than comparable gas units.
Broilers are among the largest heat producers in today's commercial kitchens. Gas broilers radiate more heat than electric models due to their relative inefficiency. This adds to ventilation requirements as well as kitchen cooling costs.
Broiler energy consumptions may be optimized by following a few simple rules:
- Follow the manufacturer's recommended preheat instructions. Preheating a broiler at an excessively high temperature wastes energy and could alter the quality and taste of the product. Also, preheating for an extended period of time wastes energy.
- Load the broiler to maximum capacity to gain maximum efficiency. In addition, grates should be kept free of carbonized grease that hinders heat transfer, lowers cooking efficiency, and mars food quality.
- Do not increase temperature during "rush hours" to increase production. Energy consumption will increase and the excessive temperature could destroy the quality of the product.
While operating all broiler sections may make sense during peak cooking times, turn off all unneeded sections when less cooking capacity is required. In addition, it is not necessary to have the entire broiler on at full power even during peak periods. For example, turn one section to full heat for rare meats, and another section to a lower setting for well-done meats. This saves energy and money while also improving cooking consistency.
Use infrared broilers whenever possible. Infrared broilers may be turned off when not in use and then quickly reheated when needed.
If the broiler is gas-fired, keep burner parts clean and flames properly adjusted. A poorly adjusted flame will waste gas and may also deposit soot and carbon on food products. Preventative maintenance should be completed according to a routine schedule.