Commercial Charbroilers Buyers' Guide
If you're building a restaurant menu that places an emphasis on smoky, grilled flavors and seared proteins, then a reliable charbroiler will be one of your most important kitchen tools. Like their outdoor kin, this type of commercial grill creates that signature taste when fat drips off of meat and onto a hot surface where it is vaporized and wafts back up to flavor the product. This equipment is responsible for preparing some of the most popular menu items, including steak, grilled chicken, and seared vegetables. This guide aims to help you choose the right one for the job.
Radiants vs. Lava Rocks
In order for a commercial charbroiler to provide even cooking, heat from the equipment's burners must be distributed. The simplest way to achieve that is with the use of radiants, V-shaped pieces of metal just above the burners to absorb and radiate heat from the burners up toward the cooking surface. Charbroilers built with radiants are relatively easy to clean and maintain.
Economy and standard-duty charbroilers are built with stainless steel radiants that can eventually warp, become brittle, and break after years of constantly heating up and cooling down. Heavy-duty radiants are constructed from special alloy steels which are made with special "recipes" that make them more resistant to warping, rusting, and breaking. That means they're more likely to provide a longer service life than standard steel radiants. Some of the most rugged charbroiler radiants are built with cast iron, a metal that's virtually indestructible but harder to clean than steel.
The alternative to metal radiants is lava rocks, chunks of porous rock that achieve the same end as radiants, diffusing the heat evenly across the charbroiler's cooking surface. Lava rock charbroilers can impart richer flavors and aromas than radiant models because the stones absorb grease and steadily vaporize it to flavor food. The downside is that lava rock broilers are more costly and labor intensive, since the rocks should be replaced every few weeks, or possibly more often, depending on how heavily the equipment is used.
Charbroilers are available in a number of widths in 12-inch increments. Common sizes include 24, 36, 48, 60, and 72 inches. Obviously you'll want to choose equipment that will fit the space you have available and handle the volume you'll need to prepare, but you'll also need to pay attention to equipment clearance requirements. Most equipment needs to be installed at least 6 inches away from combustible materials on all sides, which may include walls and other cooking equipment, so take those requirements into consideration when you're planning where you'll install your new equipment.
Burners are the charbroiler components responsible for creating the gas flames. The amount of heat generated by a gas burner is measured in BTUs (British thermal units); the higher the BTU rating of a burner, the more heat it will generate over any given period of time. More powerful burners mean you can cook more quickly and in higher volumes, so it's worth comparing different equipment's BTU ratings to make sure you're getting one that can keep up with demand.
Many economy and standard-duty charbroilers are built with 30,000 BTU burners, while heavy-duty equipment is often built with more powerful 40,000 BTU burners. Charbroiler burners are generally spaced every 12 inches, so it's common for a 36-inch griddle to include three burners and so on, but manufacturers sometimes place a burner every 6 inches to give users more fine-tuned control over the heat.
As with radiants, the type of metal a burner is made of can play a role in its longevity. Standard charbroilers are sometimes built with steel burners, while heavy-duty units have cast iron ones. Less expensive steel burners will wear out quicker, while cast iron burners are the most resistant to cracking and breaking. They can also make the unit more efficient, since they hold onto the heat better than their stainless counterparts.
A charbroiler's grates create its cooking surface. The majority of standard commercial grill grates are made of cast iron, a material used for its durability and even heating. These grates are generally reversible, with one side designed to grill denser products like steak and burgers, and the other crafted to handle more delicate products like fish. A number of specialty grates are also available for purchase separately.
- Waffle grates will leave unique grill marks on products. This style is best for cooking leaner cuts of meat like chicken, since the waffle texture doesn't drain grease to control flare-ups as well as standard grates.
- Floating rod grates are built with individual rods that spin freely within the grate's frame. This style has the advantage of being easier to clean than other types. In addition, floating rod grates tend to last longer since the materials can expand and contract freely without developing the same weak points as rigid grates.
- Steel grates are lighter and easier to clean than cast iron grates. This makes equipment easier to use and maintain, though that comes at the cost of the superior even heating and heat retention that cast iron offers.
Although they're nowhere near as popular as gas equipment, electric charbroilers are available. Electric equipment is often built with mobility in mind, providing operators the ability to wheel their charbroiler from place to place and use it anywhere there's a suitable outlet. That mobility is impossible to achieve with gas equipment that must be connected to a fuel line. If an electric commercial charbroiler is the right choice for your kitchen, just be sure to choose the right voltage option: 208 and 240 volt models are available, each in 1- and 3-phase setups.