Broilers and Grills

Broilers and Grills

SMOKEOUT. Above, a campus dining manager experiments with wood charcoal cooking during a NACUFS Production Managers’ Culinary Workshop at the CIA-Greystone.

If it is true sizzle sells, then there is no better way to sell than with a broiler positioned where your customers can see the action. The allure of delicious aromas, the sizzle, and dancing flames are enough to whet anyone’s appetite. A feature broiler or grill can add a delicious drama to most operations. There are a number of broiler types, one of which may fit the needs of your operation.

Chefs often say the pure true flavor of food comes through best when a steak, chicken or fish is broiled. Good broiling is an art requiring the close attention of a skilled, experienced chef. To achieve the best results, a broiler meeting the needs of the menu and skill of the staff must be selected. There are several types of broilers and a wide variety of sizes on the market and different heat types that can be used for each.

Charbroilers use one of three different heat sources. Wood, gas, or electricity can all be used in broiling. If you want the “flame broiling” effect that will have the most impact on the guest in an open kitchen scenario, wood or gas is the best selection. Many electric broilers do a great job, but without the open flame. The finished food product is much like it would be from a wood or gas unit.

Wood or sometimes charcoal is used to get the true wood flavor in meats that is currently very popular and can be so appealing. Wood broiling takes a bit more skill than gas or electric to maintain consistent temperatures.

 You will need to experiment some with the fire to keep it from getting too hot or not hot enough. It is easy to get a wood fire too hot to control properly. Some chefs like mesquite wood, others like oak, and still others prefer apple or cherry wood. Various woods will burn differently and impart different but unique flavors to enhance foods. A good dense hardwood is desirable for a hot fire and a slow, even burn. Some of the more exotic woods can get expensive in some areas.

Wood broilers also take some extra consideration when installing. Most areas now require wood burning cooking equipment to be on separate exhaust systems from other equipment and have spark arrestors in the hood or duct to help prevent fire. The additional ductwork and fire protection can be costly.

Some areas have additional requirements, such as requiring that air be cleaned of smoke before it is exhausted from a restaurant. Filter systems or electronic precipitators used to eliminate smoke and odor can also be costly and require regular maintenance.

Gas charbroilers come in two varieties, those with radiant burners and those with ceramic briquettes. The briquette type is made to imitate charcoal and does a good job delivering the charbroiled taste only without the woody flavor. However, the briquettes must be replaced periodically as debris tends to build up. Radiant broilers use metal fins to distribute heat and are easier to clean than the ceramic type broiler. Some argue the ceramic briquettes are a more authentic broiling method while others argue there is no difference in finished products.

A variety of charbroiler sizes are available to fit the needs of any operation. 12” wide units may meet the needs of a small restaurant while 72” models may be appropriate for a large steakhouse. Compare the BTU rating of the burners to get a feeling for the relative power and cooking speed of particular units. If you plan to do fish on the broiler you may want to consider a broiling grate made especially for delicate flaky seafood. Some broilers have various options for the cooking grate while others have a fine mesh cover that can be put over the broiler for fish.

The other type of broiler is the upright broiler, which is available in either gas or electric models. The upright broiler is generally five to six feet high and has an overfired pull-out grate shelf for broiling. There are two types of burners, ceramic or radiant and infrared.

DOUBLE-DUTY. Round and Mongolian grills are becoming more common in onsite kitchens and display cooking locations.

Infrared broilers are the type preferred by many steakhouses because their ultra high temperature can give steaks a crust that can’t be duplicated at home. Infrared units have a fast heat-up time and are also comparatively energy efficient. Both infrared and radiant units are available with one or two broiler decks and some models can have ovens under and a finishing oven above. Most units are about 34-36 inches square and will need an exhaust hood drawing a lot of air above to take care of smoke and heat.

Keeping your broiler clean is important. The cooking grate itself must be scraped clean after each use or else carbon and grease build up may give food a bitter taste. Grease build-up can also be a problem if drip pans are not drained regularly. A lot of the grease is burned creating the charbroiled effect but some drains into the grease trough included on most units. If not cleaned, excess grease can be a fire hazard.

The term “grill” usually refers to a charbroiler but sometimes the term is used for a flat plate griddle. Griddles are used for cooking product directly on the range top surface. The griddle’s heat is not meant to be as intense as the broiler.

Griddles are usually operated at hot enough temperature settings to provide good searing of meats, however. Unit sizes vary and are available in similar configurations as charbroilers. The thickness of the steel top and the burner configuration determine the production capacity and how evenly product will cook. Typical griddle tops are ¾” or 1” thick.

A 1” thick top is preferred if you are cooking a lot of frozen product. The thicker top will recover temperature quicker and retain more heat than the thinner top but will take longer to heat up initially. Most griddles have a separate temperature control for at least every two feet of length. You may want to ensure there are several temperature zones along the length of the griddle if there is a need to grill different products at different temperatures at the same time.

Good ventilation and surface fire protection may be the last things you think about when purchasing a broiler, but they shouldn’t be. They are very important when selecting a broiler or grill. Good ventilation is essential with whatever type of unit you use. Be sure there is more exhaust capacity in your hood than for most cooking equipment because you will need it with all the smoke and grease produced by broiling.

Display broiling in or near the dining room is of special concern and it is important to keep smoke and excess odors from interfering with the guest experience. A surface fire suppression system is required by law for all broilers. Although fires that spread through the kitchen are rare, you will want the system for safety.