A Guide to Broilers, Salamanders, and Cheese Melters
There are several styles of broilers available on the market today to cook or finish your menu items by utilizing quick, intense heat. In addition, some of these units can reheat certain foods as well. While there are many styles of broilers available, salamanders and cheese melters are best reserved for lighter applications.
All equipment that falls into the broiler category utilizes the same basic cooking techniques focused on quick, efficient cooking with intense heat. While smaller broilers like salamanders and cheese melters are reserved for lighter cooking applications (and have their own categories later in this guide), there are three main types of large broilers one can choose from. First, let’s discuss the three basic fuel sources for broilers across the board:
Electric: These use a cord like other electrical equipment but are easier to move if you rearrange your kitchen. These tend to be more energy efficient and produce less ambient heat.
Gas (including LP/Propane): You’ll need a gas utility hookup for these, making them harder to move should your kitchen rearrange in the future. Gas tends to be cheaper for many in the US and also can heat foods more quickly than electric broilers. Next, let’s look at some of the standard broilers available followed by lighter-application salamanders and cheese melters:
These are designed to conserve floor space while producing high volumes of food quickly due to their compact cabinets with one or more broiler decks.
Most of these units come with adjustable racks to allow more robust items to be adjusted closer to the burners. The most common kind of upright broiler will simply include two broilers stacked one above the other, and these are most commonly found in steak houses. Drip trays and broiler grids make for easy cleaning of this unit.
Specifically designed to cook whole chickens in large numbers, these can come in grate-top or rotisserie configurations.
There are two main versions that these types of broilers come in:
Grate Top: Chickens can stick to grates, so many of these broilers come with round rods to prevent stickage.
Salamander broilers are an ideal finishing unit, allowing the user to brown casseroles, melt cheeses, and reheat certain food items as well. While some are designed to retain heat, others can be fired up on-demand for quick, last-minute use. Designed to work in addition to other high-powered cooking units, salamander broilers typically operate on low to medium heat settings.
Heating Method: These broilers utilize a concentrated blast of infrared heat to quickly crisp or melt items within the small, narrow cavity. While they can be used for full roasting, they can be turned down just as easily for finishing touches on dishes or for melting more delicate items like cheeses. Some models allow for the control of different heat settings in different chambers, allowing for the user to cook multiple items at once.
Utility Source: The three utility sources mentioned at the beginning of this guide hold true in terms of pros and cons for salamander units as well.
Sizing and Mounting Options: These units can come in a variety of designs for different mounting options and are available with up to 6 burners. Each one has easy-to-load racks, making them a simple addition to any kitchen. Consider any of the following mounting styles:
Countertop: These can sit upon a large worktop if you have the extra space to spare.
Wall Mounted: Installed above countertop workspaces to free up your countertops.
Range Addition: These can be placed above a cooktop or griddle, allowing you to start a steak on your range and finish it in your broiler.
Note: Many of these include a ventilation hood or flue to remove grease-laden vapors and excess heat.
As the name implies, cheese melters are specifically designed to melt cheeses atop dishes such as subs, loaded french fries, and pastas. In addition, one can use a cheese melter to toast breads or finish of desserts as well. These units are used only for finishing and not baking.
Heating Method: Direct, radiant heat is blasted from above the cooking racks in this lightweight broiler. While convection ovens circulate heat, a cheese melter instead focuses heat from the top-down much like how the sun heats everything from above. Due to this, only the top layers will cook and crisp, leaving the insides unfinished if you haven’t fully cooked the dish.
The racks are typically adjustable for more or less intensities of heat. Delicate items like cheeses can be adjusted further from the heat source while other, more robust foods can be adjusted closer to the heating elements. Stainless steel racks are typically plated in chrome for a more even distribution of heat as well.
Cooking Zones: Many units come with several burners and/or heating elements for varied heating controls and cooking zones. With this, multiple types of foods can be finished at the same time within the same unit. Some even include removable separators, which can be used to create sections within the main cooking chamber providing more control over the finishing process while expanding the variety of items that can be put in the food finisher at one time.
Construction Options: There are several types of configurations available to suit just about any operation and setup:
Traditional, Cabinet-Style: These are similar to your standard toaster oven with a clear, hinged door that opens downward.
Conveyor: Place items one one end, and the conveyor pulls the item under the heating elements, dispensing them at the other end of the unit. This is a great option for sandwich shops that need to melt cheese and slightly toast sandwiches on an assembly-line type of kitchen setup.
Deck Style: Featuring an open front, items can be slid in or out on a chrome or stainless steel rack.
Also known as a vertical rotisserie, these broilers require meats to be suspended vertically on a spit in front of an infrared or coil burner.
If your broiler is going to be on display, then the vertical broiler packs a lot of punch. This is a big reason why many street vendors utilize vertical broilers over other broiler options when cooking meat, as the combination of brown caramelization and sultry scents are enough to attract customers from blocks away.
When selecting a vertical broiler, consider the following:
Fuel Source: If you’re operating a food truck, keep in mind that gas hookups will need to be provided by a local utility. You’ll still need an electric hookup for the spit as well, but electric-only models will need either a 208- or 240-volt connection as opposed to the 120-volt connection you’d need for the spit alone.
Ceramic elements radiate heat to the cavity and food. These typically have higher-powered heat.
A single coil snakes through the unit, ensuring even cooking from top to bottom.
Height and Weight: Consider that the listed height is typically the unit height and not the spit height. Available heights vary from 20 to 42 inches, with 20-inch heights having fairly small spits and 28-inch machines typically having an 8-inch-larger spit, making it a better fit for a commercial kitchen. For weight, the specification is for weight capacity that the spit can hold, so consider how much you need to cook at once and its estimated weight.
In addition, there are several options available in many styles of cheese melters:
Weight-of-Plate Feature: When an item is placed within the unit, the heating elements are triggered to turn on. This means that an empty unit is automatically turned to the ‘off’ setting.
Digital Controls: Programmable controls help to reduce errors in temperatures and keep temperatures consistent over time.
Energy Source: Refer to the same guidelines for salamander broilers in terms of energy and utility sources, as these units also are available in electric, gas, or LP.