Commercial Mixer Buyers' Guide
Commercial mixers are an essential part of any kitchen. The first step to finding the right one for your operation will be to consider what and how much you'll be mixing. Then, you'll also need to determine where you'll be placing the unit: the countertop or the floor.
Whether you need a spiral mixer for high-volume mixing of dense dough like that for pizza or bagels or a more versatile planetary mixer, there are many options available to ensure you get just the right mixer to fit your needs.
So named for the way the agitator moves around the bowl like a planet orbits the sun while spinning on its axis, planetary mixers offer versatility to any kitchen. Planetary mixers allow you to mash potatoes, whip cream, and mix nearly anything with significant moisture content.
This versatility arrives through a variety of agitators and attachments that aren't available with the spiral variety. A spiral mixer usually only has a dough hook, while planetary mixers have four to six agitator types. They are available in both countertop designs that are up to 20 quarts in size to larger floor model units that can handle up to 200 quarts.
These units are also called cake mixers thanks to the fact they're great with batters like those for cakes. That functionality has made them a top choice for bakeries that want to produce everything from cupcakes to pastries.
Spiral mixers are so named because of the spiral shape of the agitator. The motors on these machines are typically faster than the planetary variety, which make them perfect for powering through dense dough. Because of that specificity, they may not be practical for everyday kitchens, but if you're running a high-volume commissary, bakery, or pizzeria, this type of mixer is invaluable.
These mixers are available in capacities that will tackle 50 to 600 pounds of dough, or 30 to 380 pounds of flour, at a time. For a heavier amount of dough, you may want to choose one that has a hydraulic bowl lift. Hydraulic lifts can be simple mechanisms that lift and lock bowls into place, or they can be huge arms that lift hundreds of pounds of dough up and over a work table so the ingredients can then be scooped out for prep.
Thanks to their rather targeted mission and the fact that they're the only type of mixer powerful enough to handle big loads of dough, these are commonly known as dough mixers or pizza dough mixers. As noted above, they're great for bakeries, pizzerias, and other large-volume applications.
Mixers range widely when it comes to the horsepower their motors use. From small 1⁄3-horsepower motors to giant 5-horsepower ones, there's a model to fit whatever mixing job you have in mind.
The horsepower you'll need will depend on the absorption ratio, as well as the density, of the ingredients you'll be preparing. The absorption ratio will depend mainly on the type of flour you'll be using and indicates how much water the flour can absorb—the higher the absorption ratio, the higher the dough yield and shelf life. Standard-duty mixers (1⁄3- to 1⁄2-HP) will easily whip up lighter items like whipped cream, cake batter, and egg white meringues, while medium-duty mixers (3⁄4 to 11⁄2 HP) will handle all of those, plus heavy dough and batter. Heavy-duty mixers (higher than 11⁄2 HP) are ideal for bakeries, commissaries, and pizzerias that are continuously mixing and kneading very dense dough for bread, bagels, and pizza.
The speed at which the agitator (and, in the case of an industrial mixer, the bowl as well) 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. Different attachments will move through batters and other ingredients differently. Attachments will fit either a No. 12 or No. 22 hub, so consult your manual for which type hub your machine has. The following list shows the most common attachments and the speeds recommended for each:
- Flat beater: The flat beater is ideal for mixing, creaming, and mashing, and works best at medium speeds.
- Wire loop: Ideal for high speeds, the wire loop is the tool you need for beating whole eggs, egg whites, and frostings.
- Dough hook: No mixer is complete without a dough hook that mixes and kneads dough at low speeds.
- Pastry knife: A pastry knife incorporates shortening into flour without overworking the gluten, so your pie crusts stay flaky and not tough. This attachment operates best at low speeds.
- Wing whip: Functioning best at medium and high speeds, the wing whip is idea for making mayonnaise and whipping potatoes.
- Sweet dough hook: This attachment works best at medium speeds and is great for creaming, folding, and stretching dough that is not high in gluten.
Many units will have adjustable speeds so you can mix the ingredients according to the recipe, no matter what it may be, 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. Spiral mixers will typically only have high, medium, and low speed settings.
Mixers that have belt drivers tend to last longer and are less expensive to repair. They allow the user a full range of speed options, as well as the ability to adjust speed on the fly. The downside to this type of drive is that the belts can slip, causing a reduction in velocity ratio. They also wear out more quickly than gears, which means more repairs.
Those that are gear driven tend to be a bit louder than those driven by belts. There is not belt to slip, so you get better, dependable velocity every time. The gears also make them more powerful and longer-lasting. When they break, however, they can be somewhat expensive to repair.
Many commercial mixers have mechanisms that lift the bowl into place, keeping you from having to hoist heavy loads into place. These lifts may be manual or automatic.
If your mixer will be handling large amounts of product, an automatic bowl lift can make life easier for the operator. It can also help eliminate user-error because some units will only run when the mixing bowl is properly in place. A few may even have bowls that swing out for adding and removing ingredients easily and with less physical stress on the operator.
Units with a manual lift will have a lever that lifts the bowl securely into place. While their operation is simple, some dough and batter may become too heavy for an operator to lift into place. The lever may also break, if too much stressed is placed on it due to weight.
- Bowl Guard: Bowl guards tend to be made of stainless steel and have wire front and solid rear portions. The front portion is designed to move easily, making the addition of ingredients and the removal of the agitator easy. The guard must be in the correct position for the mixer to run, which helps keep items like hands and clothing from getting hung up in the mixer.
- Bowl Support Interlock: Bowl support interlocks help keep heavy bowls in place to prevent spills that can lead to falls and other injuries.
- Foot Pads: Foot pads covered in neoprene or rubber help keep the unit solidly in place, so you don't have to worry about the machine "walking" and causing operators to slip.
- No Voltage Release: No voltage release means that the mixer won't automatically and unexpectedly restart when recovering from a power failure.
- Many floor models have integrated bowl scrapers that safely and conveniently scrape the sides of the bowl throughout the mixing process. This is a great option since required bowl guards block easy access.
- An ingredient shoot is another convenience you may look for when shopping for your mixer. The shoots make it easier to add ingredients while the mixer is running.
- Some models are also available with convenient timers that allow operators to walk away and work on other tasks while dough processes in the mixer.