Catering Insight’s Emma Calder investigated which types of grills are in demand the most and what the key considerations are for dealers specifying them.
The ever-evolving minefield that is a commercial kitchen is a space that experiences great change on a regular basis. From new equipment to new power sources, from materials to layout, the commercial kitchen landscape is a chameleon, especially with regards to the evolution of grills and salamanders over the past few years.
With such a rapid pace of change it is more important than ever to be aware of what is available and what different solutions have to offer as well as looking at how the industry has changed, in order to predict where it may end up next.
For example, Grande Cuisine’s director Steve Hobbs said: “There has been a steady move away from traditional style gas units to more efficient electric units which do not need to be left on for long periods before use. Amongst the developments we’ve seen in our own portfolio of products are Capic salamander grills using quick-therm heating elements which come to temperature in a matter of seconds.”
Another substantial change that has caused ripples among the industry is what caterers are using them for. While it used to be the case that it was simply a main cooking platform for grilling meat and fish, it is now just as likely to be used for gratination, glazing or holding food at perfect temperature, prior to service.
With a growing menu being cooked on grills the equipment has been forced to evolve in order to accommodate the varying requirements.
This steak grilling tendency has meant Blue Seal has seen a shift in heating time demand. “Steak-specific restaurants dropped in popularity a number of years back and are now coming back in trend,” said key accounts manager David Chesshire.
He continued: “However the development of rapid heat up rise and fall grills in conjunction with other protein cooking appliances continues to limit the sale on traditional gas/electric salamander grills in larger concepts and chain restaurants.”
Chesshire concluded: “There will probably always be a requirement for the traditional salamander units, especially in the smaller independent restaurants and cafés, and Blue Seal will always accommodate this within its product range.”
With every different product comes a new cooking requirement, which requires, of course, versatility. In a mission to provide seamless versatility Pantheon has rolled out grill that it claims can be put to a plethora of uses.
Pantheon’s sales director, David Barton, told Catering Insight: “The new generation of ceramic contact grills doesn’t absorb or transfer flavours and can be wiped down easily between uses. The glass surfaces also eliminate the smoke and smells associated with cast iron grills which means they can be used front of house, even when space is limited.”
As highlighted by Pantheon, while menus and cooking techniques are circular changes, caterers also have to contend with changing spatial limitations. With kitchens getting smaller and smaller, using space effectively is of the upmost importance, according to Foodservice Equipment Marketing.
Marketing and sales manager Mark Hogan said: “There is often the pressure on restaurants to shrink the kitchen space in order to create more space for customers, especially in London where rents and rates are very high and a higher turnover required. Caterers are looking for equipment that makes the most of the space available.
“This has led to a trend for more compact commercial kitchen equipment, combination models and multifunctional bits of kit.”
While the fundamentals of the space that grills are used within has drastically changed, so too has the way they are used. The units, which are normally left on for hours on end, are now undergoing a makeover to become more planet-friendly.
Grande Cuisine has identified a shift towards green initiatives, and has responded by cutting down power usage of its equipment. Hobbs said: “When it comes to chargrills, Capic is leading the way with its electric units because whereas the traditional gas chargrill is inherently a ‘dirty’ cooking method, causing issues with servicing and maintenance, the electric chargrill is cleaner, easier to use, comes to temperature much quicker and requires less maintenance.”
Aside from products, another major change that has impacted the catering sector is the eating away from home culture. The sharp spike has led to consumers wanting easy-grab food on the go. Grills offer caterers a virtually effortless way of meeting this demand.
Pantheon sales director Barton added: “One of the biggest changes to UK eating habits that has increased the demand for countertop grills is the massive out of home market. Caterers are under pressure to add interesting, easy-to-eat foods to their menus such as paninis and toasted sandwiches.”
While the sector has welcomed the changing demands of consumers and has turned to grills, it remains to be seen what equipment is best for getting the job done.
While for some a bespoke unit will flawlessly fit their needs and that will be the end of it, others are favouring modular ranges or sticking to the basic countertop offering.
Some suppliers, such as Lincat, are finding that modular offerings are far and away the most popular, while others are spotting a bumper response to specialised units. “We have experienced strong demand for adjustable salamanders. That said, we sell plenty of traditional gas and electric salamanders too. All our salamanders can be fixed to the wall, or mounted on a bench or wall stand as required by the kitchen design,” said development chef Paul Hickman.
Blue Seal, which produces a 900mm-wide gas and electric traditional salamander, due to current demand also supplies an electric rapid heat up rise and fall grill, which is used mainly in conjunction with island suites for flash heating and cheese melting.
Chesshire said: “This unit comes in handy when there is no room under a gas canopy for a traditional gas salamander due to other equipment prioritising the menu requirement, but a fast performance salamander is needed for specific minimal purpose. They can be positioned conveniently on the end of an island run or on a wall bracket above a work top.”
Beyond the way the unit fits into the existing kitchen there are ample factors that sway dealers one way or another when making the all-important decision of what grill to go for.
Dealers and end users are increasingly conscious of the kitchen’s electricity excess, menu and how often the unit will be used, and this is reflected in their specifications when looking to buy grills and salamanders.
Lincat’s Hickman explained: “When dealers are specifying salamanders, the first thing to consider is the kitchen’s available power supply, whether gas or electricity. The next thing to consider is size, which will be determined by their customer’s requirements in terms of menu range and output. They should also consider whether the salamander needs a toast rack or branding plates, and whether it should be GN compatible.”
In addition to a suitable power source, dealers are looking to tidy up their environmental approach and reduce end users’ carbon footprints by installing green technology.
Hogan, from FEM, added: “Dealers will always find it easy to specify equipment that provide caterers with energy, cost and time saving equipment. When choosing a new piece of equipment, dealers can compare power consumption to demonstrate the most energy efficient grills.
“For example, caterers purchasing a new Panini grill could see that models with infrared elements would work more quickly than conventional grills. Ones that keep the temperature of the grill surround at around 10% lower than the grill itself reduce energy consumption further and create a safer, more user-friendly working environment.”
In the quest for environmentally-friendly equipment, dealers are very keen to put energy efficiency centre stage to achieve their design plans.
According to Grande Cuisine, when looking for energy savings from grills, distributors are keeping an eye on the time taken to heat up and how multi-functional the grill is.
“The key criteria are firstly energy efficiency and secondly speed of heating which reduces ‘heat up’ time prior to operation. Flexibility of use, i.e. can the unit be used for different styles of ‘cooking’, is also a consideration. The Capic Quick Therm has three separate elements and can be used in a number of different ways: as a warming unit (with one element) holding/resting (with two elements) or full cooking with all three elements,” said Hobbs.
While every dealer will inevitably have its own priorities in the grills field, there are some common denominators to be aware of; speed, power and kitchen positioning, according to Blue Seal.
And Blue Seal is not alone. For Charvet, while there is an acknowledgement for the wider attributes, the supplier put forward that there is a core set of fundamental requirements for dealers universally.
Charvet’s sales director, Clow, concluded: “Heavy duty build quality, high power, easily interchangeable infra-red elements plus the ability to colour match to fit the décor!”
With pressures mounting on the foodservice sector to focus on green initiatives, Charvet honed in on its grills and salamanders to address energy consumption.
Clow, said: “The ‘environmental trend’ has had a recent effect in that new products such as the Charvet Rise and Fall Infrared Salamander introduced 2 years ago.
“This has energy saving features such as plate detection systems (which turn up the heat from ‘standby’ to full power when a plate is put under the grill) and two independent cooking areas, so one can be switched off during slack periods.
“Plate detection saves approximately 30% energy compared to a conventional grill, given average restaurant usage with peaks and troughs in demand through the day.”