Pros & Cons of the 4 Main Types of Commercial Fryers

Choosing the Right Fry System for Your Restaurant Menu

A Foodservice Fryers Buyers' Guide

Though it may seem daunting at first, choosing the best fryer for your foodservice establishment shouldn’t be that difficult. As long as you know the menu you are or will be serving, finding your way will be a cinch. With that in mind, here are some tips for choosing the right model among the four most common commercial fryers and the food items each is best suited to cook.

The Basics of Commercial Fryers

Commercial fryers are available in four main types, which we'll cover below, and models are available that are heated by electricity or gas (LP or NG). The basic idea is simple: Heat a cooking fat with a high smoke point (the temperature at which it scorches and breaks down) to provide a relatively hands-off and flavorful cook. Fryers are measured by the capacities of their cooking vats, with those ratings given in pounds of cooking fat they can hold. That system harkens back to a time when solid shortening was the fat of choice, with manufacturers of liquid oils now often rating their products in ounces and pounds. Though solid shortenings have mostly fallen out of favor, as many contain largely banned trans fats, if you plan to use them in your fryer, you'll need one with a melt cycle that gently brings the fat up to temperature.

Fryers are generally expected to provide hourly outputs equal to about 1.5 to 2 times the weight capacity of the vat, with the standard of measure a "typical" french fry. Since there is variation in qualities like thickness and starting temperature of products being fried, your actual results may be higher or lower. To increase your production, you can buy multiple separate units, or there are models that include several fryers in a lineup with a single utility connection. Those are called batteries.

Generally, there are three classes of commercial fryers you're likely to consider.

Economy Fryers

These entry-level units are serviceable for a lot of operations, offering the most basic, stripped-down functionality at a price point that attracts plenty of customers. None of them are available in batteries or with built-in filtration. They also won't offer programmable controls or automatic basket lifts.

Mid-range Fryers

A small step up in price can mean a significant difference in the features of your fryer. These will offer more power, meaning faster recovery times and higher outputs. Many are equipped with thermostatic controls that offer more precise temperature settings. However, these don't offer the high-end features of premium units, like programmable controls, automatic basket lifts, high-efficiency models, and spark ignition systems.

Premium Fryers

These units offer the most functionality and customization. They can save you money by prolonging the life of your cooking oil, freeing up employee time with automatic features, and cut your utility costs with top-of-the-line efficiency attributes. Those cost-savings, combined with the potential for increased output, can justify the premium price tag for some operations.

Comparing Commercial Fryers

Jump to:

Open Pot FryersTube Type FryersFlat Bottom FryersPressure Fryers
Gas or Electric? Fryer Control OptionsFryer MaintenanceFryer Accessories

The Open-Pot Fryer

Frypot of Open Pot FryerElectric Open Fryer

Best for foods like:

Packaged and frozen foods that need to be rethermalized, from cheese sticks to poppers to the beloved French fry. Open fryers are best for low- to medium-sediment foods that don’t shed a lot of breading.

How they work:

They’re called open pot fryers because the heat source is outside the vat on gas models, leaving that space mostly open. Electric models have a ribbon-like heating element inside the pot that typically swings out of the way to make cleaning easier. The bottom of this type is V-shaped, which makes it easier to clean, and has better temperature control thanks to thermostats mounted in the cooking area. That shape also provides a large cold zone for sediment collection.

Since much of the frypot in this commercial fryer is clear, the open-pot fryer is perfect for fryer baskets. For best results on any fryer you use them with, shake those baskets after you load them over a sheet pan next to the fryer to remove lose crumbs prior to bringing food into the cooking area. This keeps unwanted sediment out of the oil and reduces the amount of ice that gets into the fryer, preserving the quality of your food and the life of your oil. During cooking, heavier sediment will settle into the deep “cold zone,” the area below the heating elements near the filtration drain. That area of the vat should be cleaned regularly using a heat-resistant brush designed for that purpose.

Such sediment zones optimize the fry cycle by allowing particles from the food to precipitate away from the cooking area. Those accumulate in that cooler, less turbulent part of the frypot, where they won't carbonize and ruin the flavors of your foods. Another benefit of sediment zones is extended oil longevity, since the sediment isn't burning and compromising the quality of the oil.

Pros:

These are easy to clean and offer better temperature control. They also typically have long service lives.

Cons:

Open pot fryers can have slower heat recovery and the frypot drain can become clogged if it's not cleaned regularly.

Top Manufacturers:

Anets, Frymaster

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The Tube-Style Fryer

Tube Type Fryer Frypot

Best for foods like:

This is the most versatile type, capable of handling almost anything battered or breaded, including breaded seafood, bone-in chicken, onion rings, french fries, and anything else likely to produce a lot of sediment.

How they work:

They have tubular elements in the frypot that flames and heat pass through, heating the surrounding oil. Large sediment collection zones below those burners give them the ability to handle high-sediment foods. However, cleaning out from under those can be like washing windows with the blinds down; it's not that easy to do a good job in the narrow openings. Because of that, the manufacturers recommend the vat be boiled out after each cleaning, to ensure everything has been cleared. If sediment is allowed to build up, it will begin to burn, which ruins the flavors of your foods and shortens the life of your cooking oil. Additionally, that build-up can force the burners to work harder, which can cause them to burn out faster.

You won’t find an electric unit in this design, as these are only offered with gas heat.

Pros:

Tube-style fryers can handle both low- and high-sediment foods, with the large collection area allowing for longer times between cleanings. Since the burners are submerged in the oil, they can provide more efficient heating and quicker temperature recovery after cold food is added to the vat.

Cons:

Cleaning is more difficult, thanks to the in-vat burner tubes. Heat diffusers - little spinning flaps that help spread out the heat - in the burners may also wear out and need to be replaced.

Top Manufacturers:

Dean, Pitco, Vulcan

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The Flat-Bottom Fryer

Flat Bottom Commercial Fryer

Best for foods like:

Funnel cakes, tempura, tortilla chips, taco shells, doughnuts, and wet-battered items, as well as unusual things like fried butter and candy bars. These are foods that float in the oil, so they don't settle on the hot bottom and don't produce a lot of sediment.

How they work:

As you might guess, the bottom of the frypot is flat. When wet-battered items are placed in the oil, they first sink to the bottom, then rise to the surface as they cook. You might also see this type referred to as a funnel cake fryer or a doughnut fryer, thanks to its proliferation into midways and other places concessions are proffered. It's also great for chips, because they float and don't need a deep cooking area. Rather than fry baskets, most users scoop food out of this type with a wire mesh skimmer.

Flat bottom fryers have no sediment collection or cold zones, which means sediment remains in the heat of the frypot. With the wrong foods, that can lead to a burnt flavor and rapid oil decomposition caused by contaminant compounds in the oil. Because of that, this type is not good for foods like cornmeal- or flour-breaded fish and seafood.

There are both gas and electric models available in this category.

Pros:

Flat-bottom fryers are great for battered and specialty foods, and their shallow, open tanks make them easy to clean.

Cons:

Not a good fit for high-sediment foods, since those can produce crumbs that are likely to carbonize if not cleaned out regularly. Typically these are more expensive than the other types.

Top Manufacturers:

Comstock-Castle, Gold Medal, Pitco

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The Pressure Fryer

BKI Pressure Fryer

Best for foods like:

This type was invented specifically for fried chicken and that's still its forte, though it could be used for almost any thick, dense protein.

How they work:

Much like a pressure cooker or pressure steamer, these use pressure to raise the boiling point of water, which speeds cooking. Food is lowered into the cooking oil and allowed to begin browning with the lid open. That ensures a crispy outside and lowers the temperature of the oil in preparation for the pressure cook. Then, the lid is lowered over the vat, a handle is turned to secure the gasket, and the food is cooked through.

This type was actually invented by Colonel Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame. Frustrated by the fact it took 35 minutes to cook his chicken (Science fact: Chickens were allowed to grow longer before butchering until fairly recently, which means they produced more collagen, making the meat tougher and requiring more cooking.), Sanders turned to the idea of the pressure cooker, convinced it could be modified to speed frying. He filed for U.S. Patent 3,245,800 for a, "Process of producing fried chicken under pressure." He then partnered with foodservice manufacturers to turn his idea into a serviceable, scalable reality.

In addition to significantly speeding cooking, this type of fryer offers several other advantages. For instance, since the food (it's almost always chicken) is in the oil for less time, it absorbs less of the cooking oil. That lower absorption rate is bolstered by the fact the food loses less moisture in cooking, since pressure raises the boiling point of water and prevents the creation of steam. That, in turn, reduces the amount of water that goes into your cooking oil, which prolongs its useful life, since water promotes the degradation of oil.

There are both gas and electric models available in this category.

Pros:

Cooking times are cut significantly, which increases yield and reduces the amount of oil the food absorbs. These also prolong the life of cooking oil by reducing the introduction of water from steam, which can cut costs substantially.

Cons:

More labor intensive, since there are two steps to the cooking process. As with other pressure cooking methods, some people are scared of these because of the perceived risk of an explosive pressure relief.

Top Manufacturers:

BKI, Winston Industries

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Choosing Between Electric and Gas Fryers

For years, this was an easy choice for many restaurateurs, with gas considerably cheaper for high-demand uses like cooking. That’s not always the case now, with the variable price of the fuel and the relative stability of electricity costs in many areas.

A commercial gas fryer offers fast recovery times of cooking temperatures, which can mean higher yields. This is particularly true with tube-type fryers, thanks to the fact the burners are submerged in the oil. As noted, those are only available in gas models. Gas fryers are also frequently more economical than comparable electric models.

An electric commercial fryer can help you keep the kitchen cooler and quieter, since they don't have flues that exhaust lost heat. They can cut down on utility costs because they are vastly more efficient, with some models turning more than 90 percent of incoming energy into heat in the oil.

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Control Options for Commercial Fryers

There is a wide range of functionality provided by the control options available on commercial fryers. While the economy end of the scale is fairly limited in this area, the systems become more complex and lessen the work operators have to do as you go up the scale.

Economy Controls

Most of these offer fairly rudimentary controls, with a simple temperature knob typically concealed behind the door on the front of the unit. That protects it from accidentally being bumped, cranking the temperature up above the smoke point of the oil or down so it's not cooking properly. It also keeps it away from popping and splattering oil.

For many operators, particularly those on a budget, these simple controls are a perfectly serviceable option. Available with both analog and digital temperature read-outs, these offer uncomplicated operation that should maintain proper temperatures throughout cooking. They do require more work on the part of the operator, though, since that person must monitor the cooking process and time to be sure the food is removed at just the right time.

Controls with Timers

A step up from the most basic option, fryers that offer cooking timers help ensure food isn't left in the oil for too little or too much time, both of which can ruin the batch. While timers are integrated in higher-end control systems, in this case they're a compromise, allowing operators a bit more freedom to work on other tasks without the sometimes-hefty price tag of more complex systems.

Fully Programmable Controls

Programmable Fryer Controls

Relatively new to the scene, these offer a level of control and hands-off operation that can't be touched by the other options already covered. Built on platforms with integrated electronic memory, many of these systems allow the operator to practically forget about the fryer until it's time to serve the food.

This type of commercial fryer will allow you to set cooking programs for your most-commonly fried foods, automatically setting cook times based on the food. Some will also adjust those times based on factors like the size of the batch and the temperature of the oil as the food cooks. Many also have automatic basket lifts that remove food from the oil when it's time to shake it and when cooking is completed.

Potentially offering the most time and money savings of any of the features of programmable controls, many of these units also provide automatic oil filtration and topping off. Typically, the first of those is handled by a notification to the operator that a filtering is necessary, with that process taking no more effort than the push of a button. With an automatic topping-off feature, not only do you eliminate the need for an employee to be constantly hoisting the heavy oil bottle to the frypots throughout the day, you can also extend the life of your oil since it is kept fresh.

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Keeping Commercial Fryers Clean: Filtering and Maintenance

Provided you take regular steps to maintain whichever commercial fryer you choose, it will work better for longer. Those processes will also extend the life of your oil, meaning cost savings and better food products.

Pitco fryer filter

The most expensive part of owning a commercial fryer isn't the initial purchase cost or even the utility bills - it's the oil. In order to extend its useful life, as well as that of the fryer, the oil should be filtered at least once a day, more frequently if your kitchen produces a lot of fried food. KaTom has a wide range of commercial fryer filtration systems, along with the accessories that go with them. Some come as part of the fryer or battery, while others are portable.

Built-in filtration systems are typically cleaner and allow for a quicker change out of the oil, with many equipped with automatic pumps to push the oil back into the pot. Because of the ease with which the process is completed, these make it more likely the filtration will be done as needed. That makes them a great choice for busy operations and for those where turnover is high, since they don't typically require extensive training.

Portable filters can be cheaper for restaurants with multiple fryers because one can service all the units. These can range from something as simple as a funnel and filter paper placed over a large stock pot to a fully automated system on casters. Since these aren't built into the fryer, they are easier to replace if they should stop working properly. However, the process of filtering the oil is more challenging with this type, with most requiring the operator to lift a heavy bucket of oil back to the vat. These also require serious safety training, since the oil will need to be allowed to cool before filtering and the process should still involve a heavy-duty apron and heat-resistant gloves.

At least once a week, with frequency again dictated by usage, commercial fryers should undergo a serious cleaning. That involves not only clearing out all the sediment, but washing the frypot out by boiling water in it. After that process, it’s critical to ensure that all water has been removed from the frypot, because leaving it there can cause the oil to pop when it’s heated, potentially burning people nearby or even starting a fire.

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Accessories to Get the Most from Your Commercial Fryer

There are two types of accessories commonly used with fryers: those used during cooking and those used for cleaning/maintenance.

Accessories for Cooking

  • Fryer Baskets - These are used to contain food before, during, and after frying, and make the process a lot easier than trying to skim everything out of the oil when cooking is done. They also enable you to cook more than one product at a time, so chicken strips and fries can share the same cooking oil.
  • Hispanic Food Fryer Baskets - This category includes a variety of baskets specially designed for preparing the classic foods of Latino cultures, including hard tacos, taco bowls, and tostadas.
  • Fryer Screens - These are used to keep food items, particularly small pieces, from collecting at the bottom of the frypot. That can make cleaning easier, prolong the life of your oil, and prevent unpleasant tastes in your food.
  • Fry Dump Stations - When food is removed from the fryer, it's best to let it sit for a minute or two to allow excess oil to drain off. Operations who don't want to or can't afford to leave a fry basket suspended on a hanger above the vat use a fry dump station for that purpose. Most are also heated, ensuring your food remains at proper serving temperatures. These are available in both countertop and floor-standing models.
  • French Fry Scoops - These are used to scoop fried foods, particularly their namesake fries, out of a fry dump station for serving. A wide, spade-like end is used for collecting, while the narrower, funnel-like side directs the food into the serving vessel. Most of these have handles on both sides to ensure the comfort and safety - a righty using a lefty's scoop can burn his hand on hot surfaces surrounding the dump station's pan - of the operator.

Accessories for Maintenance and Cleaning

  • Fryer Gas Connector - A critical piece for installation of gas-fired units.
  • Fryer Filter Systems - These units automate the process of filtering oil. Since they aren't built into the fryer itself, they can be moved around the kitchen to serve multiple vats. For a more economical filtering system, a filter cone can be used with fryer filter paper and powder.
  • Fryer Brushes & Clean-out Rods - These are critical to ensuring all the crumbs are cleared through the drain, from around the burners or elements, and on the sides of the vat during cleaning.
  • Shortening Disposal Units - Even with proper filtering, your oil will likely need to be replaced on a regular basis. When that time comes, the vat can be emptied into one of these mobile tanks for transport to a disposal container. These come equipped with a pump and hose that enable the operator to empty them easily into the waste unit.
  • Deep Fryer Covers - These protect the vat and the oil it contains overnight and during other periods when the commercial fryer isn't in use. They keep out airborne particulates and pests, and prevent items being accidentally dropped into the frypot.

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More Help for Your Commercial Fryer Choice

If you want more help choosing the right commercial fryer for your kitchen, please contact one of our helpful customer service representatives at 1-800-541-8683 or info@katom.com.