Every kitchen restaurant has a fryer; you can’t open a kitchen without [one],” notes Dave Wilson, corporate chef and sales, for W.D. Colledge Co. Ltd. in Mississauga, Ont. “The only place they may be eliminated is schools.”
That much hasn’t changed, but what is new these days is that the focus is increasingly moving towards higher efficiency, lower volume fryers. “Energy efficiency is driving purchase decisions,” Wilson says. “Larger chains are watching the numbers and equipment budgets. Even though high efficiency costs [10 per cent] more, they save on gas and oil.” Depending on what region of the country the operation is located, Energy Star fryers are also eligible for rebates.
A standard fryer operates at 40- to 50-per-cent thermal efficiency while a high-efficiency one — which carries a 10 per cent or higher price premium — operates at approximately 70-per- cent thermal efficiency. High-efficiency fryers capture heat inside the flame chamber and transfer it to the oil rather than being discharged through the flue. Depending on the size of the operations and available rebates, various experts note that return on investment can be realized in less than a year.
Manufacturers are continuing to push the efficiency thresholds, says David Zabrowski, director of Engineering at the Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Food Service Technology Center in San Ramon, Calif. He explains: Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Alto-Shaam reached 70-per-cent thermal efficiency initially, and San Antonio, Texas-based Ultrafryer, Baltimore-based Vulcan, Shreveport, La.-based Frymaster and Concord, N.H.-based Pitco weren’t far behind.
But, one innovation that is drawing special interest is a new convection fryer technology by Douglasville, Ga.-based Pearl City Manufacturing. It uses a continuous recirculation pump to move oil through the vat to speed up cooking. “Cooking faster using oil motion also helps to remove the moisture barrier on food that acts as insulation,” Zabrowski explains. “It cooks quickly, the food comes out crispy and clean, and it’s very energy efficient.” The only caveat is the price. A 30-inch fryer costs approximately $20,000, a big leap from a premium fryer of that size, which costs between $4,000 and $8,000.
For some operators, performance and durability is more important than energy-efficiency. For example, Real Sports Bar & Grill in Toronto has nine heavy-duty fryers to handle the large volume of frying needs at the restaurant. “They’re basic fryers, but given the volumes we work with, the big thing for me is temperature control,” says Matthew Sullivan, executive chef. “We have to have fryers that can maintain the temperature when we drop in product.”
Chris Beall, director of Purchasing for Browns Restaurant Group in Vancouver, says each of his chain’s 31 locations has two Pitco fryers: an 18-inch three-basket fryer that costs $2,000 and a 14-inch two-basket machine, which costs $3,000.
Beall is not one for the bells and whistles, either. To him, fryers need to be durable and offer quality and high performance. “We may pay a bit more, but they’re built stronger. The sides on a lot of economy fryers are not stainless steel. These have stainless steel all around, so they last longer, look better and are easier to clean.” Recovery time is also key, he adds. “If it doesn’t get up to the temperature you want quickly after dropping in food from the fridge, you’ll only produce greasy food.”
Finally, there is also a growing demand for ventless countertop fryers. These self-contained units feature built-in carbon filtration and fire suppression, eliminating the need for a hood. Zabrowski notes that Northborough, Mass.-based Autofry and Concord, N.H.-based Perfect Fry have come out with models that are doing well. “They offer operators the ability to add a fried-food program where they couldn’t before,” he explains. “They’re great in snack bars, stadiums and kiosks — anywhere it’s not possible to install duct work, hoods and fire suppression systems.”
But, perhaps the biggest trend in fryer equipment is related to oil management. Oil costs are rising, but, due to the rise in gourmet burgers, for example, many operators are using premium oils in their fryers. “It has become one of the most dramatic operating costs associated with fryers,” says Zabrowski. Premium oil is not only more expensive, it has a shorter lifespan, he adds. “So anything you can do to stretch that life is important.”
To that end, manufacturers such as Eaton, Ohio’s Henny Penny, Pitco and Frymaster have introduced new oil-conserving fryers that reduce usage by as much as 40 per cent through design changes such as reducing the size of the trash zones where the sediment resides. “Ultrafryer has also come out with ‘Right Size’ 18×18- and 18×14-inch models that reduce capacity in the fry vat without affecting fry volume,” Zabrowski says.
Filtration is another essential aspect of oil preservation. “It’s important to treat oil with respect,” says Beall. That means filtering it often and doing the job well. Real Sports’ Sullivan estimates that his restaurant goes through 350 litres of oil a day. “Oil is so expensive, so we filter it after a couple of services so it can last two to three days,” he says.
Indeed, filtration has become a significant factor in fryer decisions. “The biggest thing manufacturers are trying to do is make filtration easier. The biggest problem for operators is that it’s usually cumbersome, clunky and difficult,” says Zabrowski. So, instead of filtering manually or using a portable filtering system, more operators are opting for built-in filtration systems installed under the fryer’s internal piping, allowing for hands-free operation. This feature must be requested at the time of purchase (no retrofits) and can add $1,500 to $3,500 to the cost. “The less employees have to handle oil the better,” Zabrowski notes, speaking of potential safety concerns. While built-in filter systems cost more, the machines can be configured to accommodate multiple fryers, which helps to reduce the overhead costs.
Interestingly, new technology in Japan recirculates water underneath the cooking oil. “The idea is that debris drops through the oil into the water, so it doesn’t stay in the oil and won’t break down as fast,” Zabrowski explains.
So, whether talking energy efficiency, add-ons or new fryer formats, the outlook is favourable. “There is a lot of good stuff happening,” Zabrowski confirms.