With more restaurants focusing on freshly prepared rather than pre-cut ingredients, slicers have become more prevalent in the back of house.
From vegetables and fruits to deli meats and cheeses, both manual and automatic slicers provide a fast, safe and consistent method of cutting, slicing, dicing and more. Slicers also provide an effective way to portion food, which helps a foodservice operation’s bottom line.
Operations with high-volume demands of a specific item can utilize product-specific slicers, but many times, it makes sense to choose a versatile unit that can accommodate different slicing and cutting needs. Larger operations may opt for more than one unit, but they should also weigh back-of-the-house space considerations. Most manual slicers offer some type of quick-change feature that allows for several different slice thicknesses.
Manual, semiautomatic or automatic commercial slicers utilize a rotating blade on a removable carriage with a spring-loaded upright or gravity-fed angled design. Depending on the model, slices can vary from very thin to as much as 1¼-inch thick.
The type of slicer an operation requires will depend on the products staff will prep as well as the volume. Operators generally use manual slicers in the front of house for on-demand slicing or lighter volume. Semiautomatic units have a secondary motor, which moves the product carriage. Sandwich shops and institutions with higher-volume slicing needs typically choose automatic slicers, which staff can adjust to perform 20 to 60 strokes per minute.
Mandolin slicers are basic manual units for low-volume slicing. Operators often use mandolins for specialty cuts, like wavy fries, carrot shavings or grates. Specialty slicer models can perform specific tasks, such as vegetable cutters, which have slower RPMs and utilize sharp blades to help retain the cell structure of produce. A variety of discs can mimic a number of hand-cutting styles.
Slicer configurations offer various food deposit options. For example, while angled slicers drop food slices directly onto a receiving table for immediate use, upright slicers typically use a lever arm to stack products in various patterns for easier access.
Although most slicers feature anodized or burnished aluminum construction, some units combine aluminum with stainless steel. Slicers generally feature hollow-ground, high-carbon steel knife blades. Some slicers may have knife blades made from chrome-plated steel or hardened steel alloys.
Slicers include belt- or gear-driven knife motors with ¼ to ½ horsepower. Operators who can’t decide between a manual and automatic unit should be aware that automatic slicers feature a separate DC motor driven by a chain and sprocket system, which can be disengaged for manual operation.
The bigger the slicer’s knife, the higher the motor’s torque and the larger the unit’s footprint. The most common slicer knife sizes measure 12 and 13 inches. Medium-duty slicers typically include 12-inch blades, while heavy-duty models have blades between 12 and 14 inches in size. Those requiring lower-volume slicing can employ units with 9- or 10-inch cutting blades.
Slicing time depends on product density and should play a role in choosing a model. For instance, while medium-duty slicers can handle one to three hours of slicing a day with a moderate amount of cheese, light-duty models are for operations slicing a half hour or less with little or no cheese.
Operators can also choose from a number of slicer options, such as top-mounted knife sharpeners, full gravity-fed vegetable or tubular chutes on heavy-duty models and slicer side bars. Slicer stands minimize vibrations and can facilitate a quieter operation.
Standard slicer safety features include guards that cover the slicer blade and blade cartridge and hoppers to push product by the blade for slicing.
More recent innovations include newer models that accommodate hard and soft food and a safety feature that prevents the slicer from operating when it’s plugged in after being unplugged without being turned off. Newer “one-stop shop” models can be quickly adjusted from a multipurpose fruit/vegetable slicer to a wedger, corer, dicer and/french fry cutter.
Some slicers include a safety wash guard that staff can apply before removing the blade cartridges for cleaning or changing sizes.
Ignacio Goris, principal at Miami-based labor management solutions firm Labor Guru, says slicing takes time, but cleanup takes longer.
“From a labor perspective, foodservice operators need to be by the machine when it’s operating,” Goris says. “The majority use slicers more for batch production rather than slicing to order.”
Higher-volume production requires longer slicing cycles and may be best served with manual units. “It’s all about function and what the unit will be used for,” says Goris. “For example, whether the operation offers full or limited service and the type of products being prepared.”
Foodservice operations don’t typically have multiple slicers unless slicing to order, which is not very common. Delis and other similar types of restaurants can take advantage of portioning capabilities with linking to scales. “Some slicers have integrated heating elements, like a heat lamp, to keep product hot,” says Goris.
Automatic slicers are best for big batches that require between 5 and 15 minutes of continuous slicing. “From a workstation perspective, this is not a piece of equipment that will be moving around, so operators may want to consider a movable cart for slicers that need to be in different areas throughout the day, or units can permanently be placed on a table,” says Goris. “It’s best to build a workstation around the slicer.”
It’s also important to think about other equipment that should be nearby, such as a cooler with ingredients, for efficiency’s sake. “Safety is another factor, as slicers are a dangerous piece of equipment,” says Goris. “Depending on the skill of the staff, it may be necessary to utilize a cutting glove to minimize risk of injury.”
Cleaning & Maintenance
Commercial slicers are workhorses for any foodservice operation. Whether slicing cheeses, meats, vegetables or frozen foods, Christopher B. Warren, director of operations at food equipment services provider Joe Warren & Sons Inc. in Norwood, Mass., offers six important cleaning and maintenance steps that operators should follow:
- Ensure the slideways are clean and lubricated.
- Keep all mechanical components clean and lubricated.
- Ensure the sharpening stone assemblies are present and clean at all times.
- Always use nontoxic, odorless, tasteless, silicone-free food grade oil on all the slides and moving mechanical components.
- Never use cooking spray, olive oil or vegetable oil to lubricate a slicer as this will result in moving parts seizing up.
- Hand wash the unit with a damp cloth; do not put the slicer in a three-bay sink or run it through the dishwasher because most detergents or cleaners will deteriorate the metals.
- Warren also recommends checking to see if the power cord is free and clear of all stress fractures or breaks and if the strain relief is present. “Have a professional regularly inspect the slicer and sharpen the blade to avoid over-sharpening; this causes excessive wear on the blade and will result in premature replacement,” he adds.