It's difficult to find a high-volume kitchen that does not include tilting kettles or skillets. These pieces of equipment cannot only prepare food in major quantities, they are also highly versatile and, therefore, a 'must' for all economy-minded larger operations.
Though steam-jacketed kettles and tilting skillets are ubiquitous throughout high-volume operations, operators may not give adequate thought when it comes to purchasing them because of their simple design and controls. Selection of these workhorses should not be glossed over, however, as chefs tend to develop distinct preferences concerning these vital equipment pieces.
The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago, relies on its steam-jacketed kettles and skillets to prepare a wide variety of menu items and their components for the 435-room hotel
At The Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago, Executive Chef George Bumbaris relies on four steam-jacketed kettles to prepare menu selections or their components in the main kitchen, which services the hotel's three restaurants and its room-service program. The kettle battery consists of two stationary 200-gal. kettles and two tilting 75-gal. kettles, all of which are gas-fired.
None of the kettles at The Ritz are mobile, but Bumbaris doesn't see this as a problem. "Portable kettles would be nice, but we don't need them because all our kitchens are on the same floor," he said. "However, portability does make it easier to clean and repair equipment."
In the hotel's main kitchen, the kettles are lined up along a center kitchen wall under a central hood, and a center drain trough is available to catch spills that occur when staff empty or wash equipment. Across from the kettles is a long worktable and a sink, as well as a small tilting kettle used for sauces. Bumbaris said the arrangement of kettles works well because of their central location in the kitchen and close proximity to fixed work islands. He noted that the hotel's banquet department operates a separate kitchen, which includes a 75-gal. kettle and a 55-gal. tilting skillet.
Also aiding in meal production, for tasks such as sautéing, melting blocks of butter, cooking soups and keeping stews at an appropriate temperature (in the manner of a bain marie) are two tilting braising pans. These pieces have 30-gal. and 40-gal. capacities, and are on the line with the kettles. Bumbaris said tilting skillets are so versatile that staff use them in every area in the kitchen, including the garde manger and bakery.
Bumbaris noted that his two 200-gal. kettles originated with the opening of this kitchen. He added that he prefers the simplicity of the controls on these older pieces. "When you are cleaning equipment with a power washer, the electrical parts can get wet, which, with the equipment we have, only requires changing some couplings, but higher-tech equipment is more likely to be damaged during such cleaning and requires more maintenance."
One recent innovation in kettles is the development of low-height models. Although the rim height of the kettle has been reduced three inches, from 41 in. on standard 40-gal. kettles to 38 in. for 40-gal. low-height models, there is no reduction in capacity. According to one manufacturer, the company took the base of a 60-gal. kettle and lowered the rim height to create a shorter 40-gal. kettle. This lowered height responds to changing dynamics of staff in kitchens, which includes more female cooks and a variety of ethnicities, all of whom have smaller statures than American-born males, who made up the typical kitchen staff for many years.
John Pelton, foodservice director at Methodist Rehabilitation Center, Jackson, Miss., has been beta testing an electric low-height kettle for about four months. When Pelton came to the center, he realized that he needed a steam-jacketed kettle for cooking bulk products. The kitchen was equipped with a tilting skillet, but this equipment did not have the capacity that was necessary to serve the 124-bed hospital.
"I'm not a tall person," Pelton said, "and the lower height makes it easier for me to reach in and out of the kettles. Other than the lower height, it is just like any other kettle."
At the new Belterra Casino Resort in Greendale, Ind., Executive Chef Skip McCarthy has three standard 40-gal. self-generating steam-jacketed kettles and two small 10-gal. tilting kettles. Larger pieces are used to cook stocks, soups, sauces and stews for the buffet kitchen. Smaller kettles are used to cook small batches of au jus or augment chili production if serving stock is running low.
Currently, the three kettles have sufficient capacity to support service to Belterra's 2,000 daily buffet customers, as well as its fledgling catering business, though McCarthy attributes this in part to his increased use of pre-made products.
Further aiding chefs at Belterra are tilting braising pans. Here, two 40-gal. tilting skillets are used for a variety of cooking, such as scrambling eggs, heating crab and making stews, soups and sauces.
"There are times that you almost have to stand in line to use the tilting skillets," McCarthy noted. "I've worked in places that had a schedule posted that you have to write yourself in on, indicate what you're going to prepare and then prioritize who could use the skillet. Similarly, because of the wide variety of tasks they can perform, there are times when you have to tap someone on the shoulder and ask to get on the skillet when they are done."
Two 200-gal. kettles and two tilting 75-gal. kettles make up a cooking battery at the Ritz. Some operators prefer attached lids because they will not get lost, and cooks will be encouraged to use them more often.
While tilting skillets are in demand at Belterra, Jeanne Fry, operations manager for Athens-based University of Georgia's foodservice department, said her cooks do not use skillets as often as they could. Fry attested to the versatility of tilting skillets, adding that she has made everything from fried rice to Rice Krispy treats in them.
"We make a squash casserole and the cooks like to fry squash in the skillets, but they don't use tilting skillets as much as they could," Fry said. "I had the same experience at a previous university where I worked. I think it might be because square corners can be difficult to clean. But cleaning is easy if you add water after you've drained the skillet and cook off food soilage."
Two of the three cafeterias at this university have tilting skillets that aid cooks in preparing the facilities' extensive menus. Fry noted that one skillet is gas-fired, while the other is electric; both have a 40-gal. capacity.
An important consideration for tilting skillets is location. Not only must they be able to tilt without obstruction, but they also should be located over a floor drain or center trough. "In one of our facilities we don't have a central utility drain down the center of the floor in front of the line of kettles and the skillet," noted Fry. "Since there is not an easily accessible drain, nobody uses the tilting skillet because it is difficult to empty products neatly; therefore, we are installing a floor trough in that unit."
Also along these floor drains, and under a central hood system at the University of Georgia are steam-jacketed kettles. According to Fry, each kitchen has three large kettles and a few 5-gal. kettles. However, she noted, she sees reliance on steam kettles diminishing because her program is increasingly being prepared via batch cooking.
"Now, we are so into batch cooking that we're using other pieces of equipment like combis and steamers to prepare menu items," Fry explained. "However, kettles are still relied upon when we prepare large quantities of foods such as chili and casseroles.
"Personally, in a new kitchen, I would not spec as many large kettles as are installed now in our kitchens," Fry added. "That's because so many other types of equipment have come along that can replace kettles. But I would like to add some small kettles in our bake and salad shops. The concept is still there, but I think people are looking for smaller capacities."
Fry said she prefers direct steam to gas- or electric-powered kettles, but this energy source is not as common as it used to be. In fact, the new cafeteria that is being built at the University of Georgia will not have direct steam. Fry sees this as a loss, because direct steam heats up more quickly than water-filled units. Also, she believes that kettles that use direct steam have fewer problems as the equipment ages.
McCarthy agreed that direct steam can be advantageous, but admitted that each heat source has pros and cons. For example, house steam provides more firepower, more quickly; however, controls on house steam are very touchy - a quarter turn of the temperature control knob will bring products to a full rolling boil, he said. Conversely, gas and electric-fired kettles are slower to come to temperature, but the heat doesn't fall off instantly when the unit is turned off.
As overgrown "cousins" to sauté pans and soup kettles, tilting braisers and steam-jacketed kettles require the use of large utensils to make most efficient use of their large production capacity. In many cases, unit staff use the same oversized utensils for both steam kettles and tilting skillets.
For example, long paddles and whips with extended handles allow cooks to stir products evenly and increase their reach into the far corners of the equipment. In the kitchen of Chicago's Ritz-Carlton Hotel, said Executive Chef George Bumbaris, "All the utensils we use with the tilting skillets are large-scale items. The whips and paddles are stock, but we've modified some of the paddles to support the production of particular products."
Large paddles with rounded edges can reach all the way into kettles' corners, Bumbaris noted. However, tilting skillets' bottoms are flat, and being able to scrape that surface during cooking is sometimes necessary when preparing foods that are more viscous, he explained. As a result, Bumbaris had some of the paddle edges ground flat and squared off, turning them into scrapers with extended handles to perform this function.
Jeanne Fry, foodservice operations manager at the University of Georgia in Athens, looks for hollow handles when purchasing long-handled whips and paddles. "Hollow handles don't get hot," she said, "which allows cooks to use them safely during a cooking period of any length." Paddles are less tiring when staff stir products with a heavier consistency, said Chef Ed Cantin, Belterra Casino Resort, Greendale, Ind. "We use paddles for stews and heavy cream sauces," he said, "but we also use them when we sauté vegetables. In addition, we have paddles with flat edges that can be used as scrapers when necessary."
Fry noted that long-handled, high-heat rubber spatulas could also come in handy. "I'd have to research a source for them," she said, "but they certainly would be practical for use with a tilting skillet."
Because large quantities of soups, sauces and stews can be made in tilting kettles, transferring contents sometimes requires staff to strain liquids while pouring. "A china cap works well for sauces," said Fry, "and we use colanders for other items. Because we use banquet pans for many of our food lines, we often use a handled pot as a dipper to transfer the contents into the pans. Other products that won't be used immediately go into buckets."
Cantin noted that tilting kettles can be fitted with a useful accessory that allows hotel pans to be hooked on. "There is a square bar that we attach to the kettle itself," he explained. "It's a safety feature that allows staff to control the pan more easily while tilting a kettle to empty its contents." -CK