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Buying the Perfect Fryer

Fried food are as popular as ever. To keep pace with the demand, today's frying equipment offers features that save time and money and help you prepare consistent, quality products.

Commercial deep-fat fryers are complex pieces of equipment designed to turn out load after load of perfectly fried foods. Today's frying equipment is made to be safe, energy efficient, and easily cleanable. Energy efficiency is easy for electric fryers since the heating elements are immersed in the frying medium, giving the highest possible efficiency from the electric source.

Gas fryer manufacturers have made considerable inroads in making their products more energy efficient. Gas fryers heat the medium either with a burner under the fry pot or by injecting the gas flame in tubes running through the fry pot. Recently, manufacturers have introduced infrared burners and various types of baffles in the tubes to distribute heat more evenly, extract more heat energy from the fuel and reduce waste heat needing to be exhausted.

The fryer has been the subject of a great deal of on-going research funded by various manufacturers and gas and electric utility groups alike over the past few years. One manufacturer, in conjunction with a utility research institute, has just introduced a fryer with a number of features, including solid-state controls to modulate the amount of energy to the electric elements for more precise temperature control. The fryer also has insulation around the fry pot, which the manufacturer claims reduces energy consumption by 10%, and specially designed heating elements with a high heat transfer design. In addition to energy saving enhancements, solid-state diagnostic controls assist service personnel in troubleshooting key components to minimize downtime if the fryer breaks down.

Some fryers are designed with a cool zone away from the fryer's direct heat area. The cool zone allows food particles to collect at the bottom of the fryer where temperatures are cooler and will not cause much harm to the frying medium or taste transfer to the various products being cooked.

Keeping food particles out of the heated area will help extend shortening life. While cold zones are featured on some smaller models of gas and electric equipment, they are primarily available on larger floor-mounted models.

Gas and electric fryers are available in a variety of sizes and styles that will fit most any demand and product need.

Sizes and Styles.

The most prevalent countertop units are electric, although some gas models are available. Most countertop models have a frying medium capacity of 15 to 40 pounds of shortening. Larger capacity models can handle substantially more product with a faster temperature recovery. Many countertop fryers have a lift-out fry pot, which has the advantage of making a pot easy to clean but can be hard for some employees to handle when filtering.

Most high production frying, especially in fast-food applications, is done in floor-mounted models. These units hold from 35 to 80 pounds of shortening and have gas requirements of 50,000 to 150,000 BTU or electric requirements from 8 to 22 KW.

The high power and fuel requirements are necessary to ensure the needed production requirements while allowing minimal fluctuation in the temperature of the frying medium, even when fully loaded with frozen food product.

Pressure Fryers.

Pressure fryers have been popular for a number of years, especially in fried chicken operations. The pressure fryer has a fry pot similar to a basic fryer but with a lid that seals the vessel. When a product is cooking, steam is trapped inside the sealed chamber, raising the pressure to a point where steam vapor can no longer escape from food. Manufacturers claim that this pressure prevents further vaporization and creates a product moister than conventional frying.

Filtering the frying medium is essential. No longer are foods fried in vats of animal shortening that has a short fry life must be melted down before use. Today's frying mediums are specially formulated vegetable oil blends with additives to extend frying life and reduce oxidation (not to mention that they are cholesterol free).

Moisture and food particles are primary factors leading to fat breakdown. The taste and quality of fried foods are affected adversely once the fat begins to break down. Filtering the frying medium and adding fresh medium on a daily basis will substantially increase the life of the fat. Filtering for small countertop fryers can be as simple as pouring the contents of the fat through a filtering cone and into a clean fry pot.

Larger, sophisticated banks of fryers may have built-in systems that can filter the fat and return it to the fry pot without handling being necessary.

Some manufacturers have developed filtering systems that fit neatly within the underbody of the fryer and don’t require any additional floor space.

Caring for your frying medium is as important as any factor in making deep fried foods. Today's frying mediums are specially formulated for use in deep fat fryers and are often more expensive than the food products being cooked in the fryer. To get the greatest use from your frying medium, be sure to filter daily and skim out as much floating particles as possible throughout the day. Avoid salting foods over the fryer as salt will break down fats. Foods should be as dry as possible when fried as moisture also breaks down fat.

Excessive heat can also break down the fats in the frying medium. Experts recommend frying most foods at around 350°-360°F and turning down the fryer thermostat to about 200°F during off-peak periods and when the fryer is not in use. Change the fry medium on a regular basis as recommended by its manufacturer. Don't wait until foods begin to have an off flavor or fry medium foaming becomes a problem.

Dan Bendall is vice president of Cini-Little International, a Maryland-based consulting firm.

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