Refrigerated prep tables allow chefs to create elaborate dishes without leaving their station. They’re essential for pizza parlors, sandwich delis, and many other foodservice businesses. Depending on your kitchen’s needs, these tables come in a wide range of styles and sizes. Some tables have cold storage compartments on top for easily accessible ingredients, while other tables only have cold storage capacity inside the unit. Meanwhile, some tables have compact dimensions for simple tasks, while others are much wider.
In this guide, we’ve outlined the various options that chefs should take into account when shopping for a refrigerated prep table. This will ensure that you make the right purchase for your kitchen or foodservice business.
Sandwich Prep Tables vs. Pizza Prep Tables
Refrigerated prep tables can be broken down into two primary categories: sandwich (also called “sandwich and salad”) and pizza. These categories may seem overly specific for a table, but they help distinguish between the product’s different features. For example, it takes less surface area to make a sandwich than a pizza, so sandwich prep tables are more shallow than their counterpart. Typically, a sandwich prep table spans 27″ to 72″, while a pizza prep table can span 44″ to 119″ in width.
Likewise, a sandwich cutting board is shallower than a pizza cutting board, because it’s designed for sandwich bread. The cutting board on a sandwich prep table can be as shallow as 8″, while a pizza cutting board can be at least 16″ deep. Moreover, pizza prep tables have a designated storage area that maintains condiment and topping temperatures during extended services, even with the top open.
To help narrow down your refrigerated prep table selection, consider your restaurant’s menu. If you’re a pizza parlor or a deli, it will be easy to choose between these tables, but other establishments will need to assess their specific goals. For example, a sandwich prep table is also designed for preparing salads, and it may be wide enough for your menu items. If the table is refrigerated, it will include an insulated hood to keep pans cold and retain freshness.
Finally, it’s worth considering whether a standard top or mega-top s better suited for your commercial kitchen. Most prep tables have a standard top for ingredient storage, but some sandwich prep tables are designed with a larger mega-top. This allows you to add an extra row of pans, which effectively doubles the top’s storage capacity.
Next, there are three primary methods for keeping a prep table refrigerated in a hot kitchen:
- Air Cooled: This is the easiest choice for budding chefs and restaurateurs. Most sandwich prep tables rely on this method, which blows cold air onto the pans. It’s simple to use, and requires less maintenance than the other methods (but is also less powerful).
- Cold Wall: This design has refrigerated lines that run through the table. It keeps the pans colder than using air cooling, but some pans may end up colder than others, which may affect the finished product.
- LiquiTec® (or Glycol): Often used in pizza prep tables, this method is more expensive than the other two options, but it’s more energy-efficient as well. The liquid design ensures that your food stays at a uniform temperature.
When comparing different prep table sizes, consider where you plan on installing the unit. Of course, it needs to fit safely in the space constraints, and the table should be long enough to accommodate your food items. Likewise, if your business has a lot of demand, you’ll want a longer table to handle all the orders.
Table sizes can vary dramatically, from as short as 27″ (most sandwich prep tables) to as long as 119″ (the longest pizza prep table). Sometimes, a short prep table is all you need to get the job done in a small commercial space. You should always choose a prep table length that makes sense for your business.
Doors and Drawers
Finally, your kitchen will need to decide between a prep table with doors (a.k.a. cabinets), drawers, or a combination of the two. Every refrigerated prep table is designed with a pan rail for keeping ingredients cool on top, but what kind of storage do you need below?
Typically, prep table doors open to a cavity with the same features as a reach-in refrigerator, including multiple shelves for storing different sized items. Meanwhile, drawers tend to have a smaller refrigeration area, but they’re designed for holding and accessing food pans. If you’re constantly swapping out the rail with new pans that are filled with food, having a drawer design can be quite convenient.
Door and drawer designs can have a significant effect on your kitchen’s flow, so it’s worth investing in a prep table that makes sense for your space. For a chef passing through the aisle, it’s easier to close a door with their body, even if their hands are full. Many prep table doors are designed to close automatically, but drawers are usually designed to stay open. With a door, you also need to consider the aisle width, because the door will not be able to open fully if the aisle is too tight.
By considering your space constraints, daily kitchen traffic, and the amount of product turnover, you can make an educated decision about a prep table with doors or drawers. And if you’re not sure which is the best choice, you can invest in a prep table that combines both storage options.
Since 1988, Chefs’ Toys has offered the best commercial kitchen equipment at competitive prices. It’s the lifeblood of our operation. We have a huge selection of refrigerated prep tables for restaurants, delis, pizza parlors, and other establishments. Let us help you find the perfect prep table for your business. Click here to send us a message, or call (714) 665-CHEF (2433) to speak to our team.