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The Caterer

CESA guide – grills

12 February 2010
CESA guide – grills

Every kitchen needs a grill, but what type of grilling equipment is most suitable for the food you intend to serve?

No kitchen is complete without a grill. Grilling is traditionally associated with burgers, steaks, sausages, poultry and fish, although it is increasingly used for vegetables as vegetarian options grow in popularity.

It is also used to brown off products or give a crisp finish to foods cooked by other means, as well as to melt cheese. These days grilled food is often served as a healthy, low-fat option, as excess fat drains off during the cooking process.

The irresistible smell and flavour of grilled meat is due to what's called the Maillard reaction, which caramelises the sugars in foods to turn them brown and occurs at the high temperatures reached during grilling. In most cases the food is cooked on one side at a time although there are models, such as contact grills and rotisseries, that cook both sides at once.

The most common types of grill are:

CHARGRILL (UNDER-FIRED)

The most straightforward type of grill - it is basically a rack over a heat source. The rack becomes very hot and is designed to sear marks onto the food. This is the chargrill's signature. Most chargrills cook food between 288°C and 329°C.

The heat source is either gas flames or electric elements, but charcoal and wood are used in authentic outdoor barbecue grills. The different fuels vary in efficiency, level of heat, ease of use and ability to flavour food.

Some manufacturers of gas chargrills use ceramic briquettes and pieces of crushed lava rocks to imitate the aromatic properties of charcoal or wood. These briquettes are highly porous and are heated from below until they glow.

ROTISSERIE GRILL

This cooks food on one or more rotating spits, which can be placed as a feature so customers can see them operating and be tempted by the cooking food.

Chicken is most often cooked in rotisseries but they can be used to cook most spit meats, fish, turkey, potatoes, root vegetables and even some baked goods. Rotisserie grills generally produce either batches or a continuous output of cooked product.

In rotisseries designed to cook in batches, a drum rotates skewers during the cooking process. Some manufacturers use planetary drive systems that provide dual action rotation; others use free-hanging baskets in a Ferris wheel-type action. These are useful for products such as potatoes or vegetables that can't be easily skewered.

Rotisserie grills are usually gas or electric, with the heat source at the top or bottom of the unit, using either infrared or hot air convection heating.

SALAMANDER GRILL

A salamander grill takes its name from the legendary fire-dwelling lizard, and is found in most kitchens. It is a top-heated gas or electric unit that is often mounted over the back of a range.

In most models the heat is provided by gas or electrically heated ceramic or metal alloy elements, or by a direct gas flame. The sliding grill pan is usually height adjustable.

CONVEYOR GRILL

These large-production units are found in food service facilities requiring considerable quantities of grilled products in a short time, such as fast-food restaurants serving hamburgers or chicken products. They deliver volume production, a very consistent product and significant labour savings.

The speed of the conveyer is used to vary cooking time and amount of cooking. Once the temperature and conveyor speed is set, the operator simply places the product on the belt - no turning or monitoring, or much cooking expertise, is needed.

A rotisserie grill cooks food on a rotating spit; if it can be situated where customers can see it operating, it's a good way of tempting them to buy the cooking food

HEALTH AND SAFETY

The open flames associated with chargrilling require special attention - siting the grill away from customers is essential. Operator safety is paramount and appropriate fire precautions must be observed at all times.

Overhead heat, as in salamander grills, has the advantage of allowing fatty foods to be grilled without the risk of flare-up caused by fat dripping onto the heat source. Because the salamander cooks at such high temperatures it is also faster than other grilling techniques, which can be a benefit in busy kitchens.

Gas chargrills often use crushed lava rocks to imitate the aroma of charcoal or wood

LATEST TRENDS

Paninis are popular menu options in pubs, cafés, bistros and take-aways. A panini grill is basically a dual-contact grill with a ribbed top and bottom heating plate.

Contact grills are an easy, fast and efficient way to cook small quantities of food, such as toasties, burgers and steaks, as well as paninis to order.

Options for contact grills include all-flat cooking surfaces, all-ribbed cooking surfaces or one ribbed and one flat, for maximum versatility.

Q&A

Q In our fast-food restaurant we have periods of extremely heavy demand and slack periods. What would be the best type of grill to use so that we don't waste energy during the slack times?

A Some conveyer grills come with two independent grilling chambers, each with its own conveyer belt. This permits the operator to shut down one chamber during non-peak periods to save energy.

Q We run a pub with a large outdoor function area and we would like to feature regular barbecued food. However, we are uncertain of the consistency of cooking and don't want to run foul of health and safety issues. What would you advise?

A It is possible to pre-cook barbecue food in the main kitchen, then bring it out to the grill to finish it off. This way you will ensure it is thoroughly cooked but it will have that authentic grilled taste and attractive seared grill lines. This is also an extremely quick method of cooking during peak periods.

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