What Every Restaurant-Owner Should Know About Deep Fryers

Everyone loves a deep-fried treat!  Frying is one of the oldest of all cooking methods, one which will undoubtedly continue to be popular for a very long time to come.  No matter what foods you serve, some can - and should - be deep-fried. Plus, making fried foods is exceptionally easy.

However, what's not quite as easy is the process of selecting the best fryer for your restaurant or commercial food service.  There are many types of fryers out there, which each have their benefits and drawbacks.  Maintenance, in particular, is an issue you will want to think about carefully if you want to see a good return on your investment.  

So, in this guide, we'll run down everything you need to know about choosing between commercial deep fryers.  We'll look at the basic types available, the differences between potential fuel sources, optional accessories, and of course, what care and maintenance to expect.

I.  What types of deep fryers are available?

For such a seemingly simple concept - dunking foods in boiling oil - there is a huge range of fryers on the market. Suffice to say, there's a fryer for businesses of any size and type, from fairground stands to five-star restaurants.

When it comes to functionality and form, however, there are only two major types: countertop fryers, and free-standing floor fryers.

Countertop Fryers are the choice if your space is limited or if frying will only be a small part of your overall business.  They can be extremely space-efficient, as small as only a single dunking tray.  These are also the most inexpensive fryers, available for as little as a couple of hundred dollars.  The small size, portability, and low cost also make them excellent for any mobile applications, such as food trucks or fairground stalls.

Floor Fryers are larger, free-standing models and meant to be part of your everyday cooking workflow.  These are designed to be utilized all day without a break, whereas many countertop fryers - especially smaller / cheaper models - are more intended to be heated up as needed and powered down in between uses.  They can also handle significantly more food at once than countertop models, with up to four baskets' capacity in a single unit.

There are also a handful of specialty types of fryers:

Outdoor fryers are standalone units, effectively a floor fryer but with wheels attached. These are primarily for use in places like state fairs or theme parks.
Donut fryers are designed solely to cook donuts, funnel cakes, and similar confections that demand a wide-but-shallow oil bath. They are useless for most other applications.
Drop-in fryers are like countertop models, except they're intended to be dropped into a cut-out hole in your countertop, like a sink. These save space and are visually appealing but can be a bit dangerous.
Ventless fryers incorporate built-in filtration systems that eliminate the need for a vent hood, making them another good option for fairground-style usage. However, relatively high costs mean you only buy one if you need that feature.

Fundamentally, the choice between countertop and floor fryers just boils down to available space and your desired cooking capacity.  In addition, many manufacturers will mark their fryers as either light-duty, medium-duty, or heavy-duty depending on how much usage they're rated as being able to handle. 

II.  Choices in Fuel

Nearly all types of fryers can be powered by either electricity or gas. Chances are you've already decided whether you're primarily an electric or gas-powered operation, but there are still differences between the two to consider.

Electric fryers benefit from portability and ease-of-use.  They can be plugged in anywhere with sufficient voltage.  They're typically more energy-efficient and are also better at re-heating in between batches of food.  However, they are slower to initially heat up than gas-powered fryers and they also operate at lower temperatures, which could make a difference in some cooking situations.

Gas fryers can generally use either natural gas or propane, but that means they do have to be attached to a fuel source.  As such, most gas fryers are floor models, although countertop options do exist as well.  They're faster to heat up than electric fryers and can operate at higher temperatures too.  In general, this is the better option, unless you need the portability of electric models or simply don't have gas in your kitchen.

III. Optional Features and Accessories

Your choices in commercial deep fryers get more complicated when considering the wide number of options and accessories which may be added onto the units. These can drastically affect the initial purchase price, as well as how efficient they are going forward. Your options include:

Extra energy efficiency:  Fryers are very power-hungry, so some models are designed to reduce energy waste as much as possible.  For example, they may have a motorized blower system for recirculating warm air beneath the tank.  Or, gas models may utilize pre-mix burners that are tuned to minimize the amount of gas being used while speeding up the heating process.

Oil filtration systems:  There's a fine line between fryer oil that's used enough to be extra-tasty and over-used to the point it gives food a nasty aftertaste.  Fryers with an oil filtration system circulate the oil, reducing the number of contaminants that have dropped in and allowing the oil to be used for longer without having to be replaced.  This can be critical in high-volume situations.

Programmable controls:  As with most kitchen appliances, you'll have your option of manual or programmable controls.  This is a pure cost vs. convenience question.

Automatic baskets: Used in conjunction with programmable systems, these will automatically raise the fryer baskets after a pre-determined length of time. While a bit expensive, they're an excellent choice in busy kitchens and will undoubtedly prevent a lot of overcooked foods.

Spreaders:  In general, your fryer should not be located too near to other cooking units, such as griddles or broilers, due to the possibility of cross-contamination or popping oil starting a fire.  However, if space is at a premium, you can put spreaders in-between - basically tall pieces of metal designed to catch any stray oil.  Make sure it rises at least one full foot above the surface of the oil.

IV.  Care and Maintenance of Your Commercial Deep Fryer

With proper care, a well-made, heavy-duty fryer can be expected to last up to a decade.  However, their active lifespan can be quickly reduced without necessary maintenance. Here are some tips for protecting various parts of your fryer:

The Body:  Take care to protect the body of your fryer from repeated water exposure.  They aren't intended to get wet and can easily rust - which will ruin the fryer.  Also, be careful not to allow the oil to get too hot, for too long. Sustained heat above 375°F can quickly warp or otherwise damage the body.

Additionally, keep an eye out for any cracks, or a sign that the legs are becoming bent.  Repairing the body of a fryer is usually too difficultexpensive to be worth the effort, so be vigilant. 

The Oil Tank(s):  The most common way a fryer will fail is by developing a leak in the oil tank, so frequently check for any signs of leakage.  If it's leaking, it'll quickly develop a crust of hardened oil on the floor beneath.  Also, it must be frequently cleaned of any carbon buildup.  The carbon will damage the tank and represents a fire hazard.

As with the body, a fryer with a broken oil tank will probably need to be replaced.

The Oil:  If you're leaving the oil overnight, be sure to use a cover - otherwise stray light and heat will darken the oil and force you to replace it more frequently.  Otherwise, simply keep an eye on the oil color, and be ready to refill it whenever the oil has gotten too cooked.  Again, adding an oil filtration system can significantly increase the lifespan of each oil batch.

The Thermostat: This is one element of the fryer which is (usually) easily replaceable if it goes bad.  However, if the thermostat has gone faulty, it needs to be taken care of quickly.  Most fryers have an automatic shutoff failsafe if the oil gets too hot, but every time that is forced to trigger, some damage will have already been done.

Also, should that temperature sensor fail alongside the thermostat, the fryer is basically a kitchen fire waiting to happen.  So never let the thermostat go without replacement if needed.

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