While a common preparation for vegetables, steam can also be used to prepare meat, bread, and desserts. The unparalleled impact one of these steamers can have in your restaurant makes them an economical and sensible choice. Options like gas or electric, connectionless or automatic fill, and manual or digital controls are all things to consider when choosing which steamer will work best in your establishment.
Countertop models come with either high-volume or portion-sized capabilities. High-volume models can steam up to nine pans of food at once, while portion-sized steamers can steam one or two servings at a time.
Both digital and manual controls manage water level and safety functions. Digital controls are best for automated operations. Precise times can be set using these controls. Manual controls are best for supplying a continuous amount of steam over long periods, if the cooking time is unknown, or required inspection is frequent.
Heat and Gas Type
Electric steamers are fairly flexible as to where they can be used; however, they usually must be wired in by an electrician. They take a bit longer to heat up than their gas-operated counterparts. Gas versions use one of two types of fuel—propane or natural gas. LP (liquid propane) steamers burn fairly efficiently, but you will need to consider where you will store the tank. NG (natural gas) is an even more efficient choice, but it is not available in all areas. Check with your utilities provider to see if your facility has access to it.
You may also consider a steamer that uses a steam coil. Rather than the steam coming into the cabinet, one with a coil will warm the cabinet without letting the steam actually touch the food. You should still keep water quality in mind, however, as hard water can potentially harm the unit.
The way steam is generated is one of the key considerations to take into account when purchasing a steamer. Boiler-based steamers utilize a boiler to inject steam through pipes into the heating compartment containing the food trays. Boilerless steamers, on the other hand, use a simple reservoir of boiling water to steam cook the food.< strong>Connectionless models tend to use about 10 percent less water than their boiler-based counterparts. Models using an external source must be provided steam by a generator that is not part of the unit and must be purchased separately. One of the key advantages of this type of unit is that the steam produced by the boiler can be used by multiple pieces of equipment, which can save space and cut the costs of buying units with integral boilers.
Pan Capacity and Type
Countertop food steamers tend to have a pan capacity of three to five. Some models can be stacked, which would increase your capacity. For most foods you should use perforated pans, which allow for maximum exposure to the cooking steam. Using solid pans only allows the top portion of the food to get the benefits of steam cooking, while food below only gets warmed by conduction of the heat the unit provides.
Whether the version you choose accommodates full pans, half pans, or both, it is important that the pan is not more than 2.5-inches deep. This will further maximize the surface area, which will ensure that your products cook evenly.
Drawer-type steamers are generally designed to hold specific, standard-sized pans in order to maximize space efficiency. Door types, on the other hand, allow more versatility in the sizes and shapes of items that can be used in the steamer.
- A countertop steamer with a compensating thermostat will allow you to take foods from a frozen state to a steamed one by manipulating the temperature. The unit automatically compensates for the change in the state of the food.
- Descaling ports are critical in preventative maintenance for boiler-based units. Deliming solutions are poured into the ports, helping to remove and prevent build-up of residue that can lead to poor performance and equipment damage.
- A condensate drain will help cool the condensation to under 140 degrees Fahrenheit before it empties into the sewer, a requirement mandated in many areas.