Buyer's Guide - Ice Makers

Buying An Ice Maker.

Utilised throughout many business sectors, commercial ice machines are expected to be reliable and produce consistent, appealing results. As such, making sure that you choose the right commercial ice maker for your establishment can be a critical decision, although the huge variety of machines on the market can seem overwhelming at first. Here are some simple guidelines to follow to ensure that your investment becomes an invaluable addition to your business.

Adding crystal clear ice helps to add extra value to drinks, as well as helping to store perishables such as fish for longer - potentially saving a lot of time and money, as well as reducing waste. Our range of ice machines, ice flakers, ice crushers and ice dispensers include best-selling award winning brands from around the world, including Polar, Hoshizaki, Ice-O-Matic, Foster and Prodis. These and other brands work closely with us to help ensure fast, reliable delivery and attentive after-sales support.

Types and Size of Ice

The first thing to consider is what you need the ice for. Are you expanding your canteen so your customers can self-serve their own ice or do you need a better quality ice to add value to high-end cocktails? Alternatively, perhaps you want to keep organic items chilled in the medical sector or your chef wants ice to blanch vegetables. In all of these circumstances, it’s important to choose the right type of ice for the job.

The four most popular types of ice made by commercial ice machines are cubes, flakes, bullets and spray – each with their specific uses within business sectors. If you are adding ice to drinks, make sure to check that the ice machine makes cubes that fit well and look attractive within your glasses.

Cube Ice (both half cube and full cube) is general purpose and is normally used in beverages as it takes much longer to melt in the glass compared to flakes or bullets – perfect for keeping the drink chilled, refreshing and appealing. Cubed ice can vary in size, however it’s normally suitable for drinks in bars, pubs or quick service restaurants.

Flaked Ice is ideal for keeping chilled displays cool and prevents foods such as fish from receiving “freezer burn”, as the ice can be used as a cool bed, shaping itself around containers and deli trays. It’s also sometimes used in the production of cocktails and smoothies, as it reduces wear and tear on blender blades.

Bullet Ice can be used for both of the above applications and is generally produced a little faster than cubes, however it can tend to melt faster than standard cubes due to the rapid way the ice is made. Bullet ice is sometimes called “chewable” ice as it is softer and easier to blend – useful for the healthcare or childcare sectors. Bullet ice is commonly produced by manual fill ice makers.

Spray Ice (sometimes referred to as “gourmet” ice) is generally considered the best quality ice. Perfect for top-end banqueting or occasions, this ice is crystal clear and takes much longer to melt in comparison to other types. However, spray ice machines can take longer to make the ice, so you need to ensure you select an appropriate machine to meet your expected demand.

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Placement and location is vital in deciding which ice machine is suitable for your needs. Once the ice is removed from its storage bin, it will immediately begin to lose temperature so it’s important to locate the machine in an easily accessible location to save transportation time and prevent wastage. In addition, it’s important to consider how close the machine is to its water and electricity supply.

Some ice machines are filled manually and therefore can be moved easily – ideal for mobile catering or one-off events and shows, however the majority of commercial ice makers require attaching to a mains water supply and drain. These larger machines have a higher output and are generally more powerful, at the cost of being immobile. Regardless of which machine you choose, it’s vital to make sure all legislation is adhered to when positioning, such as water regulations and disability access. Ice machines are available in countertop, freestanding, built-in and under-counter variants.

Air or Water Cooled?

Most ice machines will be advertised as either air cooled or water cooled. This refers to how the compressor is cooled and as such, how effective the machine is when ambient temperatures rise. Hot kitchens can place quite a burden on ice machines, so as previously stated, it’s important to carefully consider the placement of the machine before purchase. Generally, air cooled ice machines are more cost-effective, whilst water cooled models are more flexible in terms of their positioning.

Air Cooled ice machines generally need good clearance around the vents to ensure a good intake of the surrounding air for cooling. The surrounding area needs to be relatively free of contaminants and obstructions.

Water Cooled ice machines use a mains connection to cool the condenser - meaning the machine can be placed in warmer areas than air cooled variants, or in areas with poor air circulation. Water cooled machines can cost more to run due to the constant supply of water used and may also require a water softener to reduce limescale build-up.

How Much Ice?

Every business and menu is different so it’s impossible to provide exact figures about how much ice a caterer might need throughout the course of the day. However, it’s important to research how much ice could be required by your business at the busiest of times to ensure you and your customers don’t go without. A busy riverside bistro running out of ice during a heat wave would cost time and money - especially if you have to send staff off-site to obtain more. Conversely, producing and storing large quantities of ice can be expensive and inefficient if it's not used. Below are general guidelines as to how much ice could be required in normal circumstances but make sure to consider the variables within your business sector such as seasonality.

7-10oz beverages: around 17kg per 100 drinks
12-16oz beverages: around 27kg per 100 drinks
18-24oz beverages: around 40kg per 100 drinks

Other Considerations

As well as food preparation, one of the most time consuming responsibilities in a professional kitchen is cleaning, so it’s worth taking the time to consider how much time is taken cleaning and maintaining the ice machine. Remember: ice is food and must be handled in the same hygienic way, so not monitoring the cleanliness of your ice machine could lead to poor quality ice and the reduction of your machine’s lifespan. If you select a mains fill ice maker, remember to consider the quality of the water going into the machine, as in some areas you may need to filter the water for lime scale first. Some ice machines have self-cleaning cycles to save time whilst others have special anti-microbial coatings in the ice production and storage areas. Either way, consider the exterior of the unit and other removable parts when making your purchase to make sure you are aware of how long the cleaning process could take at the end of service.

With energy and water prices becoming more and more variable, increasing numbers of professional caterers are looking for ways to keep costs down. Using a highly efficient ice maker is a simple solution, as some of the more premium machines have advanced insulation and programming to ensure ice is only made when required and can be stored ready for service for longer. Some of the most efficient machines could pay for themselves in the long term with the savings made in energy and water usage.

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