Whether it deserves it or not, the traditional salamander grill has earned a reputation in some parts for being one of the main culprits of kitchen inefficiency.

Often turned on as soon as the kitchen opens and left on all day, the heat that these units pump out can soon lead to wasted energy and dented profits for operators.

Salamanders also seem to have fallen out of favour a little of late, according to some industry figures, with a lot of kitchens preferring to use chargrills or rely on other pieces of equipment that are able to replicate some of the functions of
a salamander.

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With those trends in mind, it is no surprise that manufacturers specialising in this segment are working hard to develop models that allow the salamander to retain its unique features while delivering the sort of energy savings that would not have been conceivable once upon a time.

“Pressure is being put on all manufacturers to develop products that are ‘greener’ and more efficient in the use of energy,” agrees Jennifer Ismay, sales and marketing manager at British equipment manufacturer Parry Group. “Better insulation to hold more heat inside the grill and reusing the heat that exhausts from it are two areas that we as a manufacturer are constantly looking at — while still providing the power the chef demands.”

Hatco has also put the bulk of its salamander R&D spend into ensuring its units expend less energy than in the past. Its flagship Quick-Therm Salamander (QTS-1), which is distributed in the UK by Imperial Catering Equipment, claims to deliver energy savings of up to 79% compared with traditional salamanders.

This is achieved through functions such as plate detection, which cuts off the heat source when the product is not being used. “The power automatically switches itself on only when a plate or pan is put beneath it, thereby activating the ‘plate detection’ switch on the back wall of the unit and eliminating the need to leave equipment switched on all day,” explains Imperial’s managing director Mark Poultney. “Removal of the plate turns off the heating elements.”

Poultney says the QTS-1’s flexibility — it can cook, grill, melt, reheat, hold and finish all kinds of food — is also a highlight. “In addition, the Quick-Therm Salamander is ideal for holding prepared dishes with a choice of eight levels in a temperature range from 40°C to 70°C,” he says.

One of the largest suppliers of salamanders is Roller Grill, which currently manufactures 11 different models based around two sizes and four different heating options, but it’s the company’s latest addition to the portfolio — the SEM600-VC — which has really got it excited.

Sales director, Peter Clifford, says the product’s height adjustment system allows users to bring the right heat to their food and ensure accurate results every time.

“It also features our clean, efficient vitro ceramic infrared technology which minimises smoke and odours, the speed of cooking and ensures rapid heat up times — 400°C in nine seconds! The SEM600VC runs off a standard 13 amp plug, so energy consumption is saved without compromising performance,” he adds.

Parry currently has seven salamanders within its portfolio. This includes six gas models and one electric. Ismay insists it remains a very important category for the business given the ubiquity of salamanders in all types of commercial kitchen environments.

“We have four different sizes of salamanders in the range so that everyone from the small independent caterer right through to a top-end restaurant will be catered for,” she says. “Our gas grills range from 5.3kW to a very powerful 13.7kW. The electric grill is smaller and is good for when precise temperature control is needed.”

Dan Loria, director at Exclusive Ranges, believes that when it comes to future trends, plate detection will soon become the norm for grills, particularly as energy prices will force caterers to pay more attention to the utility bills they are racking up.

“We have three Salvis salamanders in our portfolio, each of which offers a range of different options: manual, semi-automatic and fully automatic,” explains Loria. “The electric Salvis grills are focused on performance and energy efficiency alike. They feature a plate detection function that detects plates and bowls and switches the salamander on and off automatically, thereby saving on energy. They also have a quick heating system, which helps save energy when cooking ‘au gratin’.”

Loria says that one model, the Salvis Vitesse, even offers access from four sides, which makes it really flexible for the chef.
As well as developing plate detection technology and finding new ways to make the kit more energy efficient, salamander grill makers still remain focused on ensuring their equipment delivers the sort of rapid heat-up times and consistency for which they have become known.

That’s certainly the case with Blue Seal, says the company’s area sales manager, Donald Harvey. “Both of our gas salamanders have two independently-controlled infrared plaques, giving the ability to have different temperatures set on either side of the unit, and the infrared plaques also speed up the heating times,” he comments.

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Blue Seal currently has three salamanders in its range: the heavy duty E91B electric model and G91B gas model from its Evolution series, and the CS9, from its medium duty Cobra series.

“Our gas salamanders are at full operating temperature after five minutes, so no more long heat up times,” adds Harvey. “Also, because of the rapid heat up, users can have the unit on a low flame when it’s not in use and simply turn it up as required. Our electric unit also has two independently- controlled heat zones with the same performance as the gas, and the Evolution units are supplied with a branding plate ideal for steaks.”

Elsewhere, Signature FSE is set to launch the Capic W340301 salamander in the market after striking a partnership with the France-based company, while one of the newest salamander grills to be made available to the trade is the ASG2800 from Apollo, which is exclusively distributed by Uropa.

“Offering a salamander grill as part of our range of equipment ensures there is a product to suit every kitchen requirement in line with the caterer’s business demands and available budget,” explains Tony Mercer, sales manager at the Bristol-based trade distributor.

He insists that the product’s durability and easy-to-clean stainless steel countertop make it ideal for quick grilling, heating and toasting. “Its 436mm x 240mm grill area features three shelf positions for improved convenience, so can be used to cook a variety of food items,” says Mercer. “The newly designed handle offers improved safety for users with more control over the grill tray. An easily removable waste tray and upper and lower splash guards also make cleaning convenient.”

It is quite clear from the sophistication contained within the current array of models in the market that the salamander is no longer just a device that is used by chefs to melt cheese. It can play a part in facilitating the preparation of a whole range of dishes once the user knows how to get the best from it.

As with most standalone items of cooking equipment, manufacturers advise distributors to find out exactly what caterers need to use the kit for before doing anything else, as the size of the machine and the power required will determine the specification.

Neil Roseweir, development chef at Falcon, which manufacturers seven gas and electric salamander grills, says there is more to selecting the right model than many think.

“The most important things that a distributor needs to bear in mind when specifying salamander grills for customers are the caterer’s menu, service times, throughput of menu items — and in what time scale — and the amount of covers,” he says.

Where the salamander will be positioned or mounted in the kitchen is also a key consideration, although most models these days are slim enough that they don’t take up too much valuable space.

“Our salamander does not need to be mounted underneath a canopy and therefore can be positioned by the pass, which is great for finishing and holding,” comments Imperial’s managing director Mark Poultney. “Mounting the salamander directly above and very close to fierce heat sources is not recommended.”

Roller Grill’s Clifford concurs, noting that the salamander should always be positioned in a location where its usage is optimised. “If space is tight we supply wall mounting brackets for both our 600mm and 800mm wide models but there should always be a shelf or other barrier beneath the grill if mounted above a heat source,” he says. “Otherwise, consider a counter top position which allows for greater accessibility.”

Electric models surge at the expense of gas equivalents

Salamander grills are a strong product group for Roller Grill, which in total now offers more than 200 different catering equipment products. Peter Clifford, sales director at the firm, which formed its UK office 15 years ago, says that traditionally gas has been the preferred heating option for salamanders, with its SGM600 the company’s best seller for many years.

However, it has recently observed a sales trend towards electric models. “This is in part due to rises in the cost of gas, but primarily due to the latest range of electric models from Roller Grill,” explains Clifford. “We have improved the heating system so that we can run off a 13 amp supply without reducing performance.”

Roller Grill provides 600mm and 800mm models and Clifford says the company still manufactures salamanders featuring the quartz tube/infrared system and hard elements, which are less powerful but a lot more robust.

“For us, the introduction of our vitro-ceramic infrared technology has opened up new markets for our salamanders due to their 3Kw/13 amp rating,” he explains. “This has meant that smaller cafes and front of house cooking operators can now benefit from the performance of these grills.”

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Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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