Commercial Slicers Buyers' Guide
With key roles in establishments ranging from cafés and delis to pizza parlors and steakhouses, commercial slicers are some seriously adaptable pieces of equipment. Not only do slicers equip you to pile a sub high with sliced meat and cheese, but they'll outperform just about any other tool to quickly provide consistently sliced vegetables to dress your baked-fresh pizzas. Even cooks in high-volume steakhouses can use a slicer to produce consistent cuts of meat, helping ensure that each steak and chop cooks uniformly.
Slicers vary widely in terms of the benefits they can provide, so a little research is in order to ensure you get the proper model for the job. As with any kitchen tool, you'll need to understand how you'll be using your commercial slicer day-in and day-out so you can be sure to choose the best one for your needs. You'll want to think about what foods you'll be slicing and how often.
Sizing Your Deli Slicer
The size of a slicer's blade and the power of its motor, expressed in horsepower, are related to the volume and type of food that the equipment should be able to handle.
- 9-inch blade: For slicing meat and vegetables in limited volumes, a slicer with a light-duty, 9-inch blade and 1⁄5- or 1⁄4-horsepower motor is suitable for slicing food for a few minutes each day. Slicers this small are rarely designed to handle cheese.
- 10-inch blade: A slicer with a medium-duty, 10-inch blade and a 1⁄5- or 1⁄4-horsepower motor will be able to perform up to an hour a day of slicing meat and vegetables. These slicers' blades are still too small and their motors too weak to handle slicing cheese.
- 12-inch blade: The most popular size, a slicer with a 12-inch blade can be found in many busy restaurants and delis that serve up fresh meat all day. These machines usually sport 1⁄2-horsepower motors, but some include more modest 1⁄3-horsepower motors. These slicers are the smallest equipment suitable for handling cheese and should still only be relied on to do so in limited quantities, generally a half-hour or so each day.
- 13-inch blade: Slicers with 13-inch and larger blades can handle larger cuts of meat than their smaller kin. Most slicers of this size are designed to handle all types of products, including cheese, and are able to do so all day and in virtually unlimited volumes. Some 13-inch slicers are also capable of slicing frozen foods. Look for 1⁄2-horsepower or more powerful motors to get the most out of these slicers.
- 14-inch blade: If you'll be slicing large cuts of meat or frozen products throughout the day, you may want to consider one of these largest slicers. A sizeable 14-inch blade glides through frozen products quickly and more easily than smaller blades.
Slicer Construction Materials
It's not just the size of a slicer's blade and the power rating of its motor that determine how well a slicer will perform. The material it's made of will play a part, too. Economy model slicers are typically made of lightweight aluminum, while the more heavy-duty units are constructed of stainless steel. Aluminum is lightweight and tends to lower the cost of the slicer, but it isn't quite as durable or resistant to damage as stainless steel.
The materials and processes that manufacturers use to forge a slicer's blade also play a part in the equipment's performance and durability.
- A hard-chromed blade is coated with a layer of chrome, a metal that provides superior hardness to stainless steel.
- Hollow-ground knives are sharpened to a concave point that yields the sharpest edge achievable so that the equipment can cut through dense products quickly and efficiently and with as little wear and tear on the motor as possible.
- Stainless steel is a combination of several metals that always includes iron and chrome. Slicer manufacturers often add additional metals into the mix to improve a blade's performance in one or more areas including its ability to resist corrosion in the presence of acidic foods, its ability to retain a sharp edge, and its overall longevity. Each manufacturer may use its own trademarked name for its special steel alloy, but they're all designed to provide some benefit over traditional stainless alloys.
Belt-Driven vs. Gear-Driven Transmission
Power from a commercial slicer's motor is transferred to its blade either by a belt or by a series of gears. Economy models are generally built with belt-driven transmissions since they're the cheapest to produce, but these can't handle high demand. Gear-driven slicers come at a higher up-front cost, but they're capable of handling both larger volumes and denser products. The tradeoff is that, while slicer motor transmission belts are more prone to failure than gears, they're also cheaper and easier to replace.
You have the choice between manually-operated slicers and automatic slicers. The motion of the carriage on a manual slicer is controlled entirely by the user. An automatic slicer can be set to automatically perform the motion that pulls the product across the blade to make each slice. The main benefit that a manual slicer brings is its lower upfront cost, while the primary benefit of an automatic slicer is its ability to cut down on labor costs. Once an automatic slicer is set up and powered on, the user can step away to perform other tasks and leave the slicer to do the job.
Given that commercial slicers are such powerful pieces of equipment with razor-sharp blades, it's obvious that users should take extreme caution when operating them. Given the inherent risks that commercial slicers pose, equipment manufacturers do their part to keep users safe by building a number of safety features into their products.
- Various interlocks keep the blade from spinning when certain slicer components that are critical to maintaining the safety and functionality of the unit are missing or not attached properly.
- A no-voltage release prevents the slicer from automatically resuming operation after a power outage. This feature prevents potential injuries and damage that could be caused if a slicer were to suddenly resume operation after being left unattended while the power is out.
- A knife guard helps shield users' fingers from the blade and prevent damage caused from the blade coming into contact with foreign objects. Many slicers are equipped with knife guard interlocks that prevent the equipment from powering on if the guard is not properly attached.
- A pair of cut-resistant gloves makes a great accessory to your commercial slicer. It's good practice to require staff members to wear such protection every time they operate and clean the slicer so they're sure to stay protected from injury.
When it comes to slicer safety, nothing replaces proper training and close adherence to your equipment manual's operating procedures. If you don't feel comfortable training employees to use your deli slicer, manufacturers are often willing to send a representative to your kitchen to teach staff how to use the equipment responsibly.
Commercial Slicer Sanitation
Going hand-in-hand with commercial slicer safety is sanitation. Sanitation is in itself a form of safety because it protects guests and staff from the illnesses caused by bacteria that can grow on poorly maintained equipment. As with slicer safety, nothing replaces proper training in keeping the equipment clean, but manufacturers have built slicers with features that make them easier to maintain. Many of these features are required in order for the equipment to meet NSF 8 standards.
- Kickstands that prop slicers up, raising one end off of the countertop or work table so that staff can thoroughly clean and sanitize the underside of the slicer and the surface beneath it.
- Rounded edges and coved corners on the body and base of a slicer can make it easier to wipe clean and reduce the number of nooks and crannies that can harbor residue that allows bacteria to thrive.
- Commercial slicers are complex machines, so thoroughly cleaning them requires that certain components are removed and washed by hand or sent through the dishmachine. Traditionally, many of those components could only be removed with tools, but manufacturers and agencies like NSF understand that complex disassembly routines discourage staff from practicing the correct maintenance chores. That's why there's been a push in the modern design of commercial slicers to make as many components as possible removable without tools. These easy-to-remove components often include the slicer's meat grip, knife sharpener, and carriage.
- Drip grooves and no-drip bases direct food juices to areas that can easily be cleaned, rather than allowing them to collect in hard-to-reach spots or to seep into the slicers' controls and components.
- Moisture-proof controls and sealed splash zones are protected from moisture and food residue that could gunk them up or cause a sanitation issue.