Ovens and Fryers: Putting the Sizzle in Major League Baseball Parks

Feeding thousands of people daily requires not only organization and skill, but the right tools, too.  Integral to any large food operation are fryers and ovens, two of the hardest working and most important investments in a commercial kitchen.  They are indispensable and offer a strong potential return on investment.  “We serve thousands of fans on a daily basis, so the equipment we select needs to have the capacity to cook a high volume of food, and above all else be reliable,” said Dustin Miller, the ARAMARK executive chef at Kauffman stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals.  He added, “We use Blodgett Convection Ovens and Vulcan Fryers.” Concessions giant ARAMARK sports and entertainment spokesperson, David Freireich, said, “We partner with 11 major league teams to provide food at the ballpark.  They include the Los Angeles Angels, NY Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Colorado Rockies, Boston Red Sox, Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros, Oakland A’s, Pittsburg Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays and the Atlanta Braves.  In addition, we team up with a number of minor league teams.” Not surprisingly, given the specialty expertise required, other major league parks also outsource their food services to experts.  Delaware North, for example, another notable hospitality company, partners with stellar teams like the Orioles at Camden Park in Baltimore and the Cincinnati Reds to feed hungry fans.

As Freireich noted, “Food is an important part of the fan experience. When they look forward to a day at the ballpark, in addition to the game they are also anticipating their favorite food and drink.”

Ovens are fryers are expected to produce a continuous stream of all types of food.  And, top chefs want no-hassle results.  “We look for equipment that is easy to operate and does not require a lot of maintenance,” said Michael Pappas, ARAMARK’s executive chef at Turner field, home of the Atlanta Braves.

Pappas’s food operations rely on equipment like the Garland Master 200 Gas Oven and Vulcan electric fryers to bake and fry it up.  Fellow ARAMARK executive chef Craig Luckmann at Coors field uses Blodgett ovens and Pitco Solistic Supreme Fryers to produce an array of food for Rockies’ fans.

Feeding fans is serious business.  On opening day at Fenwick Park in Boston, for instance, fans consumed over 23,000 hot dogs, more than 5,000 sausage and pepper sandwiches, over 4,000 slices of pizza and more than 2,000 orders of chicken tenders.  And, at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, they served up a staggering two tons of French fries.

Fortunately, top brands like Vulcan-Hart, Pitco, Blodgett, Garland, Wolf, Frymaster, Dean, Imperial, Hobart, Anets, Wells, and others have all made great strides to design and build gas and electric energy saving ovens and fryers with improved manual and computerized controls.

Fryers often come with features such as timers with an audible alarm, automatic devices to raise and lower the basket into the oil, measures to prevent food crumbs from becoming over cooked, ventilation systems to reduce frying odors, oil filters to extend the usable life of the oil, and mechanical or electronic temperature controls.  They advise that while commercial fryers with infrared heating or convection heating are efficient, they are often expensive.

The most common fryer models are electric and gas.  Electric restaurant fryers are popular in counter top models because of their mobility. In comparison, they lose a little less heat than gas fryers because their heating elements are immersed in the oil, and they have a faster temperature recovery time between frying cycles. Gas fryers heat up more quickly and to a higher cooking temperature than electric fryers. Gas fryers can be powered by either natural gas or propane, both of which are generally less expensive energy sources than electricity. This makes gas power especially popular in floor model fryers.

As food preparation technology evolves, it is having an impact on fundamental cooking methods.  Quik N’ Crispy Greaseless fryers, for example, are “hot air” units used for quickly reconstituting, by convection and radiant heat, frozen, fully cooked or oven ready “fried”-type foods.  Their GF5 model is finding favor in restaurants and amusement parks because it takes up less space compared to a standard fryer, it’s more versatile, it’s easy to clean since there is no oil to change and dispose of, and it offers obvious health benefits.

For durability, commercial fryers and ovens are generally available in mild steel or stainless steel. Stainless steel, however, is less likely to corrode or stain than mild steel. Mild steel also expands under heat which may damage the welds over time. Because of this, stainless steel fryers and ovens often come with a better warranty than their mild steel counterparts.

Top chefs and equipment experts advise careful review of specifications and features before making a commitment to buy an oven or fryer.  This should be tempered by the projected level of use.  Considerations include such factors as stainless steel construction, temperature safety switches, drain valve interlock safety features, adjustable legs, solid state controls, or easy to use manual controls.

Food is a central element of the tourist attraction and park entertainment experience. And, unless it is something cool like a salad, it has to sizzle to contribute to a customer’s complete and memorable experience.  After all, you want them to return again and again to enjoy your offerings.

Tips for Purchasing the Right Oven or Fryer

  • Consider your goals, projected use, and requirements to narrow the search for suitable equipment; be sure to factor in things like available space to house the equipment.
  • When comparing options, calculate operating and maintenance costs, for example, how often do you need to change oil or how energy efficient is the item?
  • Calculate return on investment payback and set a budget.
  • Compare warranties, service, features and operating costs among various brands and vendors.
  • Ask for referrals, visit other operations, and get feedback from those who have used the equipment.
  • Try to negotiate a trial period; at a minimum compare return policies for different vendors.

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