Don't sweat the small stuff

Some pizzeria operators say they’re “old school” and don’tuse small appliances for slicing, dicing and shredding duringthe pizza making process.They still prefer to do the work byhand. But most couldn’t manage without these key pieces ofequipment—they save time, lower labor costs and reduce waste,thereby boosting the bottom line and profitability.

A wide variety of relatively small devices earn their keep inpizzeria kitchens nationwide, including slicers, cutters, grinders,shredders, scales and thermometers. Here we provide anoverview of some commonly used types of small equipment andthe advantages of each.

The Right Slice

One of the most prominent countertop appliances found inpizza kitchens is the slicer, used to prepare basic items for pizzatoppings, such as pepperoni, ham, onions, green peppers andother vegetables. Slicers come in hand-powered or electricmodels. For slicing small amounts, a hand-powered machineis suitable, though an electric machine may be more efficient.“Because one purpose of the slicer is to save time and effort,the electric version is mainly found in pizzerias,” writes industryconsultant John Correll in his extensive guide on pizzeriaoperations, Encyclopizza. “Generally speaking, a pizzeria thatdoes more than 10 minutes of slicing per day should consideran automatic model.”

The variables of a slicer include knife size, motor size andslicing speed. A typical knife size ranges from 12” to 13”, whereasmanual slicers have a 9” to 10” knife. Slicing dense foodssuch as pepperoni and cheese requires at least a ⅓-horsepowermotor size. Most slicers come in two speeds: a low rate of 35slices per minute and a high of 50 slices per minute.

The slicer’s advantage lies in its ability to produce neat, uniformslices with reduced bruising to soft vegetables. “The maindrawback of the slicer is its cost,” notes Correll. “If all slicingcan be done efficiently and to adequate quantity by a cheaper
method—such as a vegetable cutter attachment on a mixer—there’s little point in buying a slicer.”

But Lisa Lynch-Frank, owner of Ermanno’s Legendary Pizza(ermannospizza.com) in North Canton, Ohio, praises the sliceras “one of the best labor-saving pieces of equipment” in herkitchen. “We were having issues with our slicer, and our employeeshad to start cutting by hand,” she recalls. “It was verytime-consuming. We use the slicer for ham, cheese, green peppersand onions.”

Making the Cut

Many pizzerias use a vegetable cutter for slicing and shreddingvegetables and slicing fi rm meat such as pepperoni. Thesedevices are divided into two categories: revolving disc cutters(sometimes called rotary cutters) and blade cutters. Handoperatedcutting machines can process a wide variety of productsor may be dedicated to specific tasks, such as tomato slicing,chicken slicing, onion slicing or chopping, cheese cutting (incubes, slices or blocks) or lettuce shredding. To accommodatepatrons’ appetite for French fries, hand-operated potato cutterscome in a range of cut styles,including fine, ⅜”, spiral or wavy.

A disc-type cutter contains a disc with one or two knifeblades for slicing and a disc with sharp-edged holes for shreddingor grating. The blade cutter utilizes razor-sharp blades tocreate round or rectangular slices. A pizzeria that shreds onlya small amount of cheese or vegetables could make good useof a manual cutter, particularly if a mixer with an attachmenthub isn’t available. “The manual versions can be an economicaland effective way to process certain vegetables,” writes Correll.“When an onion is put sideways through a cutting grid, it comesout as a dice—just right for pizza topping.”

“A slicer and a tomato slicer would be at the top of my list ofmust-haves,” says Brad Randall, owner of Aver’s Gourmet Pizza(averspizza.com) in Bloomington, Indiana. “These are affordableand safe tools that greatly increase the speed at which an employeecan produce heaps of fresh, consistently sliced veggies.”

Grinding and Grating

Other small appliances used in processing meats, vegetablesand cheese include grinders, cheese cutters and shredders.A meat grinder is used in the pizzeria to drive chopped meatthrough small holes in the meat disc. It can be used for makingItalian sausage and ground beef, as well as for grinding cheese,although the latter can be slow and laborious work.

Cutting cheese rapidly with a regular knife can be difficult, somany operators employ cheese cutters, which use a wire or thinblade to whittle down the block. Some large-volume shredderscan accommodate a five-pound block of cheese, but these canbe cost-prohibitive to smaller pizzeria operators.

“What’s made a big difference in our operation is a cheesegrater,” says Randy Smith, owner of Mama Bosso, a frozen pizzamanufacturer in Rock Island, Illinois. “We used to have tochop up three-pound loaves into thirds, but the cheese graterjust zips through it.”

Measuring Up

While slicers and food processors are useful for preparing toppingsfor pizzas, other tools come in handy for measuring quantity,temperature, time, weight and volume to ensure consistentquality, increase efficiency and reduce waste. “My scale, whichI use to weigh cheese portions on every pizza, is very importantfor efficiency and cost savings,” says Paul Gillespie from FiveStar Pizza (gatorpizza.com) in Gainesville, Florida.

Scales, including mechanical, beam and electric varieties,are used for weighing dough balls and portioning cheese,sauce and toppings. Correll recommends using a scale witha 32-ounce capacity in ¼-ounce increments and a 9” squareplatform. “Most pizzerias would find that a good mechanicalscale would do the job,” he writes.

“The most useful equipment in my kitchen is my scale,” saysFrank Palazzolo, owner of Nonna Maria’s Ristorante & Pizzeria(nonnamarias.com) in Oracle, Arizona. “The consistency ofmy menu items ensures that, when a customer places an order,he’ll receive the same portion every time. It also ensures thatthe dollar amount of the menu item does not fluctuate dependingon who prepared the dish. The scale eliminates the amountof food that is wasted, thus saving time and money.”

A stem thermometer is useful for measuring the temperatureof water and dough. It’s also used for measuring the temperatureof frozen food, the internal temperature of baked pizzaand bread and for checking grill and refrigeration temperatures.Thermometers come in mechanical or electric models.Although mechanical thermometers are cheap and can do thejob, they have a drawback: “It takes 20 seconds to get an accuratereading,” Correll writes. “While that isn’t a long time,it’s sometimes enough to deter a cook from using it.” An electronicthermometer with a needle tip works and can measurewater and internal food temperature. High-tech infrared thermometerscan read the surface temperature on a pizza, which isdifficult to do with a stick thermometer.

Finally, Correll says a timer is a basic necessity in any pizzeriakitchen. “In making dough, time is critical,” he writes. “It’salso important when chopping cheese and other foods with acutter-mixer. A kitchen should have an individual timer availableto remind a cook when something should be done.”

For his part, Palazzolo says he’d add a blender to his wish list.“With that, I would experiment more in expanding my menuto create additional soups and sauces. I love trying new flavorcombinations. It would enable me to ‘play’ more often.”

Walter Webb is PMQ’s assistant editor.