Today’s fryer market offers many options to the operators. With so many choices now available, how do you make the right decision for your operation? The key elements to consider are cost of operation, menu items, size of operation, longevity of the equipment, and most important – ability to offer consistent food quality. The focus of this article will be on the freestanding commercial fryers, with and without built-in filtration.
Fryers come in many different sizes and pot designs. Gas fryers, both Natural and propane, are available either in a tube type design, open pot design, or flat bottom design. Electric fryers are available with either fixed elements or tilting elements. Each of these fryers are available in many different sizes and oil capacity. Fryers are measured in pounds of oil capacity, their BTU rating, the size of the cooking area, and energy efficiency. All of these will equate to the amount of food the fryer can prepare in a given time.
The standard fryer is usually about 16 inches wide, holds between 40 and 50 pounds of oil, and has about a 14 x 14 inch cooking area. The depth of cooking can vary from 3 ½ to 4 ½ inches. Generally speaking, the 16-inch wide fryer is designed for cooking foods that have short cook times. French fries, onion rings, poppers, and other appetizer foods cook best in a standard fryer. This type of fryer requires a high BTU to oil capacity ratio to recover quickly.
Larger fryers are usually used to cook foods with longer cook times, or that require a larger surface area to “float” the foods. These fryers generally have an 18 x 18 inch cooking area, 60 to 80 pounds of oil, and have a reduced BTU to oil capacity level. The larger fryers typically have a slower (proportional) recovery than the smaller fryers by design. When cooking bone-in chicken, it is desirable to have the temperature reduced for a period to allow the inside of the chicken to cook before the outside crisps. This slower cooking is intentionally designed in to give the best cooking results. Fish, on the other hand, has a relatively short cook time but does well in the larger fryers. Fish, chips, and other floaters cook best when they are allowed to float on top of the oil in a single layer. Therefore, the large surface area of the larger fryer is desirable.
BTU ratings can be somewhat confusing. There are many methods for determining efficiency today; looking for the Energy Star rated fryers is a good start on fryers that offer good efficiencies and lower operational costs. The higher efficient fryers can cook as much food with less energy, however some manufacturers have reduced long term performance in order to gain better efficiencies. More is not always better. You may want to further investigate the fryers that are off the charts in efficiency to make sure they hold up long term. Overall, Energy Star rated fryers will save $400 to $600 per fry pot in an operation as compared to standard fryers.
Gas fryers are available in two basic designs – tube and open pot. Tube type fryers have tubes running through the lower section of the pot where the gas is blown through baffles to transfer the heat into the pot. The baffles of a tube fryer will burn out over time reducing efficiency and recovery time, and are replaceable on some models. An open pot fryer has burners on the outside of the pot. Open pot fryers are known for their easy cleaning, and excellent temperature control. Tube fryers are typically known for their high capacity cold zone. A cold zone is the area below the heat source where sediment is allowed to collect to keep from burning in the oil. Fries and other pre-packaged frozen foods work well in an open pot fryer. High sediment foods such as fresh breaded fish work well in the tube type fryer. There is a third type of specialty fryer called a flat bottom fryer. Flat bottom fryers are used for wet battered floating foods, and do not have a cold zone.
The fryer must be able to hold the amount of sediment produced during cooking until the fryer can be cleaned. Built-in filtration can allow the operator to easily clean the pot of sediment. The amount of sediment produced, and the discipline or ability to clean the pot will help determine the correct design for you. If you don’t have a built-in filter and you cook fresh breaded foods, you should go with either a tube fryer or electric fryer.
Electric fryers generally come with either fixed elements or lift out elements. Fryers with lift out elements are easier to clean. Lower cost electric fryers come with mechanical contactors to control the elements. These have a reduced service life as compared to the higher-end fryers that use solid-state controls. Wide flat elements also have a better service life than the round elements used on less expensive fryers. Electric fryers can easily match and exceed the production capacity of gas fryers. The advantage of electric fryers is that they produce much less heat build-up in the kitchen as compared to gas, and the pot on an electric fryer will generally last a lifetime. The up front fuel cost to operate an electric fryers can be higher as compared to gas, but the energy savings from less heat in the kitchen and lower long term maintenance cost can make up for the difference.
Filtration and proper oil management, using a pump and motor system, will at least double the life of the oil. This results in a cost savings to the operator ranging from $2000 – $4000 per year, per pot. The justification for filtering is simply in the cost savings, the reason to filter is so that you can produce the same quality of food from day to day. Portable filters cost less than built-ins, and can be used for many different fryers. However, they require more time, and usually have a higher maintenance cost. Built-in filtration systems are easy to use throughout the day, and generally promote better oil management resulting in better food and reduced costs.
Producing consistent quality fried foods can be made easy by choosing the right fryer. Economy fryers use a simple snap action type thermostat with temperatures ranging as much as 10 to 15 degrees from set point, and do not react to temperature change quickly. Mid to upper range fryers use solid state controls and have much better temperature control. High end fryers with computers have excellent temperature control, and will monitor the cooking curve to give the best and repeatable results. You generally get what you pay for here.
As you can see, price is not always the best answer to solving your frying needs. Ease of operation, menu mix, producing consistent quality foods, and cost of operation should be considered on your next fryer purchase. Generally speaking, low end fryers end up costing you three to four times as much to operate long term, but can get the job done under a budget. The high returns on fried foods combined with the cost savings associated with a quality fryer will allow you to choose the best fryer to meet your operational needs.
Written by: Dennis Elliott