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.