Planetary Mixer Buyers' Guide
Named for the way the hub moves around the bowl like a planet orbits the sun while rotating on its axis, the planetary mixer, also called a vertical mixer, offers versatility to kitchens that need a mixer to perform a variety of tasks. It can be used to whip meringue, knead dough, and even grind meat with the proper attachment. There are a number of options to consider when choosing the right mixer for your establishment.
How Planetary Mixers Work
Planetary mixers have bowls that remain stationary while the hub moves agitators around inside the bowl. The agitators themselves spin in the opposite direction of the head, so ingredients become combined evenly and quickly.
Size & Power
Floor Model vs. Countertop Mixers
The first question you'll need to ponder is how much dough, batter, or other food you'll be preparing in your mixer. Planetary mixers are available in countertop models that hold up to 20 quarts, while floor models generally hold up to 200 quarts, so whether you're mixing up a hand crafted batch of mayonnaise or batter for dozens of cakes, there should be a model to fit any need you may have.
Typically, as the capacity of the mixer increases, so does the horsepower of the motor. From a small 1⁄3- to a tough 5-horsepower motor, there's one to fit whatever mixing job you have in mind. The horsepower you'll need will depend on the density of the ingredients as well as the absorption ratio of the dough or batter you'll be preparing. You can determine the absorption ratio by using the following formula: percent absorption ration=water weight divided by flour weight.
For kitchens that are mainly producing whipped toppings and cake batter on a small scale, a standard mixer (1⁄6 to 1⁄2 HP) should be sufficient for your needs. A medium duty machine (1⁄2 to 11⁄2 HP) is what you need if you're baking needs include an occasional bread dough or if you have relatively high volume. If you're purchasing a mixer for a bakery or commissary that is constantly producing dense dough like that for certain breads, pizza, and bagels, you'll need a heavy duty mixer (11⁄2 HP or more).
Mixer Transmission Types
Inside a commercial stand mixer, the power from the motor is transferred to the agitators through either a belt- or gear-driven transmission.
Belt-driven mixers: Mixers that have belt-driven motors allow the user a full range of speed options, as well as the ability to adjust speed on the fly. Not only does this mean you don't have to stop the mixer to change speeds, you can also adjust it to variables beyond high and low. These typically offer lower repair bills, as belts tend to be much less expensive to replace than metal gears. Labor can potentially cost less as well, since it's also easier to replace a belt.
However, belts are likely to wear out much quicker than gears and the belts can slip, which can cause the velocity ratio to decrease. That can lead to inconsistencies in how batters and dough are mixed from batch to batch.
Gear-driven mixers: Gear-driven units are typically capable of powering through denser recipes and those with more ingredients. The gears transfer the power of the motor better than a belt, which means the whole unit is more efficient. Also, gears in good working order don't slip like a belt can, so you get better, more dependable velocity every time.
On the downside, gear-driven models can be noisier than their belt-driven counterparts and will cost more to repair if the gears become warn or malfunction. More crucially on a daily basis, they also only have two fixed speeds, making it impossible to customize speeds to fit your specific recipe. Belt-driven mixers have a number of integral speeds. You will also need to stop the mixer completely when you want to change speeds.
Many units will have adjustable speeds, so you can mix the ingredients according to the recipe, but some will not be able to adjust speed on the fly. In those instances, you'll have to turn off the machine, adjust the speed, and then resume mixing. Gear driven models will typically only have high, medium, and low speed settings, but those with belt drives can be placed at numerous speeds in between.
The speed at which the agitator rotates depends on a number of criteria. The horsepower of the unit comes into play, but so do any attachments you may use with a planetary mixer, as well as the density and amount of the mixture. Different attachments will whip through batters and other ingredients differently. Mixers come with either a No. 12 or No. 22 hub, so be sure the attachments you purchase will fit your machine. The following lists the most common agitators and the speeds recommended for each:
- Flat beater: One of the most popular attachments is the flat beater. It will cream, mix, and mash, and works best at medium speeds.
- Wire loop: When used at high speeds, the wire loop will create perfect meringues and soufflés.
- Dough hook: A dough hook is vital for making bread, pizza crust, and bagels, and should be used at low speeds.
- Pastry knife: When used at low speeds, a pastry knife will ensure that your pie crust dough is light and fluffy. Overworked gluten can cause your crust to be tough.
- Wing whip: Ideal for making whipped potatoes and mayonnaise, the wing whip works best at medium and high speeds.
- Sweet dough hook: A sweet dough hook is ideal for folding and stretching dough that is low in gluten. It works best at medium speeds.
Bowl Lifts & Trucks
Many commercial planetary mixers have manual or automatic mechanisms that lift the bowl into place. If your mixer will be handling large amounts of product, an automatic bowl lift can make it easier to get that loaded properly on the machine. Alternatively, some units have bowls that swing out for loading and unloading ingredients.
Bowl trucks are specially designed dollies that move mixing bowls directly under the head of a floor mixer, making moving heavy, product-filled bowls easier. They have durable casters and are made of stainless steel.
- Bowl guard: OSHA requires that commercial mixers have a bowl guard in place to help prevent injuries that can occur from hands entering the mixing area, and prevent clothing or other textiles from becoming wrapped around the mechanism. Wire bowl guards allow for adding ingredients while the mixer whirs away, but one with an enclosed back will keep dry ingredients like flour from spraying up out of the bowl. In most cases, the bowl guard will have to be secured in place before the mixer will run.
- No-voltage release: When the unit loses power, you won't have to worry about the machine starting unexpectedly when the power is restored. As a safety precaution, many mixers have no voltage release to keep this from happening. If the machine loses power while it's in operation, it will not start back into the mixing mode automatically when power is restored.
- Bowl support interlock: Preventing spills that can lead to falls and other injuries is a vital concern when it comes to safety. Heavy mixing bowls falling from the unit can also cause injury. Bowl support interlocks help keep heavy bowls in place to prevent hazards like these.
- Foot pads: Models that aren't bolted down to the floor or countertop can wobble and move – commonly called "walking" – when loaded unevenly. Foot pads that are covered in rubber or neoprene help to prevent this.
- Timers add convenience, allowing operators to work on other tasks while the unit is working. Some of these timers also have a last-time entered feature that "remembers" the last time you entered into the unit. This helps maintain consistency when you're making the same recipe over and over again.
- Ingredient chutes also make the mixer more convenient. These chutes allow you to add ingredients while the mixer continues to spin. They are generally made of easy-to-clean stainless steel.
- Models with bowl scrapers provide the added convenience of not having to stop the machine to scrape ingredients off the sides. Most units will not continue to mix without the bowl guards in place, so an automatic scraper will save a good bit of time and hassle.
While different manufacturers offer a wide variety of mixer attachments that connect to the unit's hub, here are just a few of the most popular.
- Meat grinder: A number of plates are available to get the coarseness of grind that you need for sausage and ground beef.
- Vegetable Cutter: Cut up vegetables like green peppers and onions quickly with this attachment.
- Vegetable Grater: Get different shapes, such as julienne and shred, with different plates available for this attachment.