The outdoor event season is upon us, and with it the need for practical, portable cooking and serving equipment. In this month's Tools of the Trade, manufacturers talk about their top products — and new upgrades — for the on-the-go catering pro.
YOU GO, GRILL
According to Gerry Donner of Union, Mo.-based Region Welding, dual-side cooking capability gives her company's Regency VI propane grill an edge with alfresco caterers. To fuel its ample cooking capacity, the model packs 350,000 Btu of propane power. Plus, Donner adds, caterers can expect to retain all the heat produced. “You can continually serve from it with the lids open,” she says. “There's no recovery time.”
While the unit offers double the grilling space, Donner says, it can be transported by just one person. “It looks large, but it's easy to pick it up and pull it around by hand. Even I can move it,” she explains. And to set it in motion, “all you need is a 1 ⅞-inch to 2-inch cross hitch. It's easily towable.”
Responding to user feedback has been the key to success for the recently enhanced SGC-48 propane grill from Saint Catherines, Ontario-based Flagro Industries, says sales manager Bill Patterson. Upgrades developed over the last year in anticipation of the 2003 grilling season include a depth extension from 18 inches to 21 inches, Patterson reports. A new smoke hood and a conversion of the unit's inner frame to 100-percent stainless steel also are proving popular with caterers, he adds.
Perhaps the most welcome advancement has been the unit's switch from pneumatic to semi-pneumatic tires, according to Patterson. While users appreciated the bounce of fully pneumatic tires on rough surfaces, he says, “When they went flat, they didn't like them.” The new tires allow give “when you're rolling the grill around in a parking lot or a field,” while making flats a thing of the past, he adds.
A favorite with rental companies is Quincy, Ill.-Based Comstock-Castle Stove Co.'S line of professional restaurant ranges, according to company vice president Curtis Spake.
What sets his portable stoves apart, Spake says, is their capacity and portability. Features include reinforced lifting handles, and safety protection for range controls that “help prevent damage to the valves and thermostat.” He adds that the units include “special caster wheels and safety pressure regulators and hoses for a complete and ready-to-go professional appliance.”
Comstock-Castle's 36-inch-wide range is particularly popular with caterers, who prize its size — “some 23 percent larger than the industry standard,” Spake says. The increased width offers the extra bonus of “better air-flow through the oven without the need of a convection oven fan,” he adds.
On the service side, the new “collapsible catering system” from Glendale, Calif.-Based EZ Cater is all about adaptability. Company CEO Gabrielle Reynolds describes the unit as “an all-stainless-steel, fold-down cart that can be used as a number of different types of equipment.” Capable of holding more than 300 pounds, the EZ Cater unit accommodates hot food pans or insulated drop-in boxes for chilled foods. A range of finishes from copper to mirror-polish electroplate offers aesthetic versatility, Reynolds says, adding that a new overhead-arch accessory will soon be available to accommodate decor and floral.
Reynolds recounts positive feedback from a range of clients. These include one venue that has reported first-time approval from a local fire marshal for use of outdoor Sterno — a result of the unit's protective fold-down panels, which keep the heat source completely contained, Reynolds says.
She adds that another off-premise catering client who serves many New York events has noted that she is able to take the unit off the back of a van, load it with supplies and head up the elevator. “In a place like Manhattan where street load and unload is so critical, it's so much easier,” Reynolds says.
Comstock-Castle Stove Co., 800/637-9188, 217/223-5070; EZ Cater, 800/654-5819, 818/662-9399; Flagro Industries, 905/685-4243; Region Welding, 636/583-4110