Although much slicing and chopping is still done with knives, more is being mechanized as labor becomes scarcer and more expensive. For meat slicing, the electric slicing machine has become standard. There aren’t many of the old delicatessen carvers left.
But, the electric meat slicer is only one of electric and manual slicers that are available for kitchen use. There are bread, vegetable, and cheese slicers, as well as food processors and vertical cutter/mixers that are often used for vegetable slicing and chopping. This is the essential step before moving to using the oven.
The Electric Meat Slicer
Although most operators buy electric meat slicers because they can rapidly turn out quantities of sliced meats and cheeses for sandwiches, they are actually far more versatile than that. The machines also can be used for vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and cabbage, as well as for firm breads. The electric slicer is a frame which holds an electric motor that drives a circular blade. An inclined carriage that holds the product being sliced runs on a track which takes it across the face of the spinning blade. Safety shielding protects the worker who is operating the slicer.
In some models, the carriage must be moved by hand. In others, it’s motor-driven. A spring-loaded or weight-loaded chute may automatically feed the product being sliced into the blade. An adjustable guide plate around the blade enables operators to vary the thickness of the slices, which fall onto a receiving table.
- The width of the slice is controlled by moving the guide plate, usually by an adjusting knob, which may be marked in fractions of an inch. With a sharp blade, slices as thin as paper can be produced. Slices of one-and-a-half inches or more can be produced on most machines. Despite similar basic features, there’s a wide variety of electric-slicing machine designs on the market. There’s a range of motor sizes, blade drives, and blade size, as well as a host of other options. Electric slicers are generally rated according to blade diameter, which probably ranges by one-inch increments from eight to 11 inches, and there are some larger sizes.
- Surface finishes may be stainless steel, anodized aluminum, or porcelain. The finish must be easily cleaned and resist corrosion and staining. Although most slicers are designed for worktable or counter mounting, some manufacturers do offer floor mounting stands.There are direct motor drives, belt drives, chain drives, or gears to make the slicer blade spin. All types have been refined through regular use to provide reliable, trouble-free service.
Since blade replacement represents the major maintenance expense when it comes to most slicers, the blade’s use full life is a major sales point. That life depends not only on the material and construction of the blade, but on what and how much is sliced, and how and how often the blade is sharpened. Blades are most commonly made of stainless steel, although some manufacturers offer high-carbon steel blades. Different kinds of blades may have a wedge-shaped edge, be hollow ground, or have a special concave shape that supposedly reduces slicing friction.
Some operators will insist that the blade be sharpened every day. Such a schedule will result in about a one-year life for the average blade. There can be blade life of up to about three years if there are moderate-to-high-volume slicing loads. When slices pass the blade, they usually fall onto a flat receiving platform and are manually removed. However, automatic stackers are available for many machines. Some shut themselves off when the stack of slices reaches a certain height. Others allow operators to preset the number of slices that are desired.
Most automatic stackers permit an employee to set the receiving tray for a vertical stack or for “shingling.” Shingling is where the slices are overlapped in a row, which results in an attractive buffet display and makes serving easier, as well. Because cleaning often caused accidents in the past, manufacturers have developed special blade shields or covers which should be used when the machine is cleaned.
Bread slicers are equipped to cut an entire loaf at once using a series of spaced, scalloped-edge blades that are set parallel in a motor-driven, short stroke frame. The typical spacings between blades are 3/8 inch, 7/8 inch and one inch. Spacing on an existing machine can be altered by changing the frame, but that often can be an expensive job.
The frame of the knife may be either vertical or horizontal. There are advantages claimed for both styles, and some operators tend to prefer one or the other. Some bread slicers have two-speed motors for cutting breads of different texture. Both countertop and floor-mounted models are available. Floor-mounted models are generally used by institutions which bake large volumes of bread. Although bread slicers are generally used only for breads, other baked goods can be sliced. Some operators use bread slicers to slice onions for onion rings.
Electric Vegetable Slicers
Vegetable cutters, vegetable slicers, and even food processors all feature the continuous feeding of vegetables through a blade or blades onto a receiving table or into a collecting bin or bowl. Some of them permit specialized slicing for such items as french fries or julienne cuts, and some of them will chop or dice in addition to slicing.
Most electric mixers that are used in the foodservice industry come equipped with accessory shafts that are capable of running optional equipment. One popular option is a vegetable cutter or slicer. This machine has rotating blades used to cut vegetables placed in a feed chute at the top and exit into a bowl or other kind of container that is placed underneath the machine.
Other Electric Slicers
The food processor is an effective slicer for certain foods. It is a popular machine for slicing vegetables, such as carrots, potatoes, and cucumbers. Some pizza operators like to slice pepperoni and other hard sausage in a food processor. However, most food processors are not intended to be used for volume slicing.
Also popular in foodservice operations are cutter/mixers, both the vertical and horizontal types. These machines are able to slice large volumes of vegetables and other foods, but they do not have the precision of an electric meat slicer or a vegetable slicer
Keep in mind that both the food processor and the cutter/mixer do a better job of chopping foods than they do of slicing them.
There’s a wide range of equipment on the market for manual slicing. Some models are dedicated to slicing a specific food, such as eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, or cheese. Others are more general-purpose slicers. One of the most versatile machines on the market today is a slicer that has interchangeable hand-cranked blades and grating plates. It shoes or shreds such vegetables as lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, and potatoes. It also produces French fries and steak fries, makes bread crumbs, and grates onions, cheeses, and the like. This slicer comes with a broad assortment of shreder/grater and cutting plates.
Many of the manual slicers force food through cutting blades or wire. Typical of these machines are the french-fry cutter, the tomato slicer, the cheese, slicer, and the hard-boiled egg slicer. They work by having a hinged cutter frame that is swung down through the items to be sliced, or by having a fixed frame through which the food is forced by a feeder plate or rod. If you are selling a replacement slicer, attempt to upgrade your customer. Move from manual to semiautomatic or fully automatic electric slicers, for example. If manual equipment is being used, demonstrate the advantages of low-end, manually operated electric slicers.
Manual slicers are sold like any other small wares. Many of them have a short blade or cutter life cycle, so replacement must be fairly frequent. Some accept cutter replacements while others must be completely replaced with a new slicer.