Let’s say you’re a foodservice operator and chicken is not currently on your menu. Chances are you’ve thought about adding it. Maybe you’re a pizzeria or a steak and burger place looking for a grilled chicken sandwich. Maybe you’re a convenience store or travel plaza ready to take advantage of the profitability of a fried chicken program. Maybe you’re a mid-sized retail or supermarket deli looking to expand from sandwiches and salads into a full menu of hot fresh chicken options.
No matter who you are, you’re definitely thinking about what kind of equipment you’ll need to invest in to make your chicken dreams a reality.
Your cooking equipment is where the rubber meets the road. Managing the cost of food, labor and consumables determines your operating margin. But equipment is a capital expense, so this is where you will derive your principle return on investment. Equipment built to lower your operating costs while increasing throughput not only accelerates that return, it also contributes to a higher margin.
Choosing the right fryer(s)
Efficiency/temperature recovery—When it comes to making money frying chicken or other proteins, you want to be able to fry full loads all day long. That requires a fryer efficient enough to recover temperature in roughly the amount of time it should take to cook a full load. If your fryer isn’t powerful enough for chicken, you will always be cooking at lower temperatures and it will take too long.
Capacity—Vats for open fryers generally come in two size categories determined by their width and oil capacity. Standard vats are around 18 inches wide and hold from 50 to 65 lbs of oil with up to four full or split vats per fryer. Large vat fryers are around 24 inches wide and can hold from 75 to more than a 100 lb of oil. Low-oil volume fryers in both categories are designed to cook the same amount of product as standard vats in 30 to 40 percent less oil.
Pressure fryers also fit into two size categories. Standard size cooks up to 4 head of chicken per load, large size up to 8 head per load.
Pressure, open or low oil volume frying?
Pressure frying is ideal for freshly breaded bone-in fried chicken, wings or larger filets or tenders with traditional texture.
Open frying is better for freshly breaded chicken with extra-crispy texture or for smaller batches of different chicken items.
Low oil volume open fryers are ideal for pre-breaded freezer-to-fryer chicken products, French fries, onion rings, etc., because the oil is filtered much more frequently preventing moisture from building up in the oil.
All types of commercial fryers are readily available with either gas or electric power. Typically, the local energy market and prevailing site conditions determine which is more viable. If you’re uncertain, ask your local utility or your Henny Penny distributor about an energy audit before deciding.
Choosing the right combi oven
The more varied your menu, the more likely you are to benefit from utilizing fryers and combi ovens in your chicken program.
A combi oven uses moist heat and dry heat individually or in combination to create the perfect cooking environment for just about any type of food. In fact, it will replace a conventional oven, steamer, grill and rotisserie.
Henny Penny combi ovens come in 6 and 10-pan countertop units and 20-pan floor units
Team combi models combine separately operated ovens into a single integrated unit
Compact 5-pan Space$aver combi ovens can fit in just about any space
Space$aver Team combis are available with self-venting hoods so they can be installed anywhere
One of the first things to think about when considering the capacity and configuration of a combi oven is how much crossover in utilization you can achieve between your new chicken program and your existing menu.
Real World Example
Let’s say you are a deli-market café with lots of delicious soups, sandwiches and sides. You want to expand your carryout and delivery business by adding whole rotisserie chicken to your virtual menu. With a full-size combi oven, you could crank out 72 whole birds in about an hour!
Using a team combi, you can dedicate one combi oven to the chicken program and the other to increasing the productivity of your existing menu, from a single footprint.
A single countertop combi oven strikes a good balance between capacity and flexibility. You can load it up with whole birds ahead of mealtime and hold them in a grab n go merchandiser. Then grill up some spicy tenders for wraps and salads. Use the smoker option and create authentic smoked chicken halves from real hickory or apple wood chips in less than an hour.
Why a Combi Oven?
The combi oven has evolved. Many operators still think of them as complicated, hulking machines with cranky boilers that constantly require servicing. No longer the case. The Henny Penny FlexFusion is a powerful combi oven that creates as much steam as you need instantly—without the maintenance expense of a separate boiler. No boiler also means they are significantly narrower in width than the older style. That can be important in planning the space and workflow for your chicken program. And the Chef’s Touch control is as easy to use as a smart phone.
The importance of holding
Holding cabinets play a vital role in throughput, especially considering post-pandemic changes in foodservice operations. For consumers, traditional meal times have migrated into all-day online order-fests and convenience driven pick-up or delivery options. For operators, scarcity of labor and hybrid menu concepts place a premium on equipment utilization and automation.
Holding serves two strategic functions:
Maintaining product quality over time to improve service and reduce waste
Improving workflow efficiency by keeping high-quality product at hand and easily accessible.
Humidified holding cabinets let you set the right conditions for cooked food to retain its taste, texture and temperature for hours, allowing you to cook ahead of time and serve or pack on demand.
Holding capacity can be centralized in a full-size cabinet with individual tray level timers, or distributed in modular countertop drawer pan units conveniently located near packing, plating or drive-through/pick up service. High volume/high traffic operations often take advantage of both.
Henny Penny SmartHold cabinets with precise humidity control extend holding times from minutes to hours.
Modular units keep small quantities of product at safe temperatures for short periods of time and are designed to be restocked during busy times from full-size holding cabinets.
Holding can also extend to display merchandising, with humidified counter warmers and grab ‘n go express cases located at pick-up and purchase points.
If you’re going for a major signature fried chicken item, you are going to be breading fresh chicken. That means adding equipment specific to the task, as well as dedicating labor and space to the process. Typical hand breading tables adjust for right or left-hand work flow, feature multiple breading lugs, sifter and dipping pot. Henny Penny also offers an automatic breader that uses a rotating drum for consistent coverage with minimal labor.
Fry baskets and racks come in a variety of capacities and dimensions. Half baskets are handy for frying two different items in the same vat at the same time. On the other end of the scale, large vat pressure fryers use multiple racks that fit into a special basket. This lets you handle large loads with little effort.
We talk constantly about how much you can cook at one time in a combi oven. But loading and unloading a full cabinet of rotisserie chickens is a lot of work. Instead of skewering each bird onto a spit, combis use special chicken racks that fit two per rail and are much easier to handle. Rolling transport carts make it easier and safer to transport racked chickens from prep area to oven and from oven to packing.
Obviously, choosing your equipment is a huge part of implementing a profitable chicken program. As a foodservice operator, what else is there to figure out?
Sourcing to Serving is a step-by-step planning guide from our chicken experts that will help you make key decisions about:
Menu and operations
Sourcing product and equipment
Installation, start-up, maintenance
After-sales service and support