Kentucky’s Murray State University, located about 3-1/2 hours from Louisville, is a four-year public university with an enrollment of close to 11,000. Foodservice operations in this part of the country are known for offering a wide range of smoked meats and barbecue dishes, and Murray State University is no exception.
A continuous meal facility open seven days a week, Winslow serves between 5,000 and 6,000 meals a day or approximately 30,000 meals weekly. The dining hall has been in operation since 1964 and started offering unlimited meal service six years ago, according to Timothy Bruce, Murray State’s executive chef.
Foodservice operations in this part of the country are known for offering a wide range of smoked meats and barbecue dishes, and Murray State University is no exception. Menu staples include smoked ribs, barbecue butts and brisket.
“Smoked foods have always been huge in this region, but we’ve broadened the product scope to include unconventional items, like rib eye and tri tip,” says Bruce. “By smoking foods, it encourages students to try new items.”
Three years ago, the university chose to incorporate two Alto-Shaam Combitherm® ovens into its operations and added a third the following year.
“We chose these Alto-Shaam units due to the added functionality,” says Bruce. “And when it comes to smoking, speed is the biggest benefit of this equipment, especially feeding as many people as we do over four meal parts—breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night.”
Using the Alto-Shaam Combitherm unit, Bruce is able to smoke product in a third or less of the time it takes in a conventional smoker. Smoked butts are prepared in four hours versus 12 and ribs are smoked in less than three hours. Despite the speed, food quality remains at a high level.
The versatility of this equipment has led to menu expansions in recent years. Winslow Dining Hall’s Combitherm ovens are used for cold smoking fish, including salmon or white fish. Smoking at lower temperatures coagulates the product’s proteins, creating a moister result. Adding cherry or apple wood to the process imparts a subtle, light smoky quality.
“We cold smoke rib eye steak for a little over an hour at a low temperature, cool the meat down, and then grill it for a subtle smoky flavor without overcooking,” says Bruce. “Tri tip are smoked to medium rare, then held before slicing, while briskets are smoked to 212 degrees F to ensure collagen break down for a smoky, tender product. We’ve also smoked cheddar for sandwiches, and this was a big hit.”
In addition to speed, the ovens’ programmability feature and icon-based touch screen controls make it easy to input recipes and ensure that product is smoked consistently every time.
“These ovens even have jump drives to download existing and new recipes,” says Bruce. “It was very simple showing our staff members of varying ages how to use the equipment, since they use touchscreen technology with their smartphones every day.”
The combi ovens’ self-cleaning feature allows Bruce to smoke meat for hours, program the clean cycle, and later steam vegetables in the same oven.
“The cleaning cycle totally eliminates the oven cavity of any smoke or residue, so there is no flavor or odor transfer,” says Bruce.
The popularity of Winslow Dining Hall’s smoked items, and the use of Alto-Shaam’s combi oven to prepare these foods, has opened the door to many more menu possibilities in the future.
“This is a multi-functional piece of equipment with no limits,” says Bruce.