Holding food at the right temperature is essential for all foodservice operations. Not only does it prevent cooked foods from reaching temperature ranges where harmful bacteria grow and thrive (read, foodborne illness). It also keeps food at that “just made” quality. After all, there’s nothing worse than taking a bite of a lukewarm burger or a handful of cold, soggy sweet potato fries.
Strip heaters are a convenient and practical solution for your food temperature woes. Through the use of radiant heat, they slow the natural cooling process and hold food at optimal temperatures for longer. These warmers are easily installed and work great for a kitchen’s back-of-house areas, waitstaff pickup stations and customer serving counters. There are many Hatco options available, but don’t be overwhelmed — finding the perfect Hatco strip heater is as easy as one-two-three.
1. Get a rough idea of hanging height
Before selecting a strip heater, think about where you’re installing it. How high are the ceilings? How narrow are the pass-through areas? From both an operational and aesthetic perspective, how much space do you need (or prefer) between the strip heater and the counter? This last question isn’t entirely up to you (there are clearance requirements), but these are the kind of high-level questions that will get you thinking in the right direction.
Some strip heaters are better for certain applications than others. Different strip heaters must be hung at different (and specific) heights above the countertop to ensure they provide between 140-160° F (60-71° C) temperatures to the food below. This is considered an acceptable temperature range for proper food safety, and it’s also the right temperature to hold food for a short time without continuing to cook it. Clearance requirements are outlined in the product manual — but at this point, the goal is to determine if you have a little, a moderate, or a lot of space to fit a strip heater. From here, you can move to the next analysis stage...
2. Connect hanging height to emitter type
The next move is to connect what you’ve gathered about your operation’s available space and narrow down which type of strip heater emitter will best accommodate it. Each Hatco strip heater uses a certain type of emitter, or component that transmits heat from the unit to the food. There are three emitter types to choose from:
- Metal sheathed “calrod” heating element: This emitter type is versatile, economical and popular — plus it works for 90% of foodservice applications. A small diameter sheath provides the optimum wavelength for holding most food well. Calrod elements need to hang at the recommended clearance levels ranging from eight inches all the way to 24 inches (203-609 mm) from the food. The wattage (standard or high) helps determine the distance the heater is hung from the countertop. For example, a high watt emitter will have a higher hanging clearance than the standard watt strip heater (again, check out the manual for specifics).
- Infra-Black heating element: This emitter creates a gentler infrared heat than any of the other emitter options. This gentle heat makes strip heaters with this type of emitter a perfect fit for operations that need to position the strip heater closer to the food or accommodate a narrower target area. The Infra-Black emitter has a minimum clearance level of four inches (101.6 mm) above the counter, making it perfect for operations with limited space.
- Ceramic heating element: This element produces stronger heat that travels a longer distance, making it a good solution for high-clearance areas like fry stations that are harder to heat. The clearance can range from 14-26 inches (355-660 mm), depending on the amount of wattage you need and if your operation chooses a single or dual heater option.
3. Customize the details
The strip heater’s emitter type is the most important piece to align with your unique application. From here, you can customize your selection by thinking about the following factors:
- Watts: Hatco strip heaters come in standard and high watt options. A higher watt strip heater provides more heat and needs to be hung at a higher clearance than the standard watt version (yes, always consult the product manual). You’ll need to evaluate your available clearance and the application of the strip heater to determine what wattage will work best for your operation.
- Dual, narrow or single: Deciding between a dual, narrow or single strip heater has to do with the volume of food you need to warm at one time. For example, a single strip heater might work well in a waitstaff pickup station where orders are quickly whisked away by servers. However, a dual strip heater might be the answer for your hot-holding, grab-n-go area. Often, these areas are packed with greater volumes of food and can most certainly benefit from the added boost of a larger strip heater.
- Length: The world is pretty much your oyster when it comes to choosing the size of your strip heater. There are a variety of different lengths and widths of strip heaters available. Strip heaters come in lengths ranging from 18-144 inches (457-3657 mm). Think about how much space you have, the amount of food you need to hold, and choose the length accordingly.
- Lights: Lights are available on most strip heater models to help operators better illuminate the hot-holding area. Choosing lights as a strip heater feature is typically a matter of preference, but they might be a nice touch for darker back-of-house areas or service lines that need light to showcase food items to customers.
- Bells and whistles: There are a variety of colors, sleek designs, optional sneeze guard and mounting choices available. You can even determine where the power and toggle switch are placed to ensure they live in the most convenient location possible. And as an added bonus — Hatco strip heaters come with the option to purchase a control box that is remote and away from the heat source. This is always recommended, as it’ll increase the life of the control elements.
A lot to explore.
Strip heaters are an essential tool for foodservice establishments to keep food safe and appetizing. There is a lot to explore in the world of strip heaters. To provide your establishment everything it needs for a successful hot-holding experience, check out our robust strip heater (and heat lamp) offering today.