Steam jacketed kettles are best thought of as a “pot without the stove”.  Anything you can do in a pot on the stove, you can do in a kettle.  You can use it for soups, stocks, gravies, sauces, or any liquid product.  You can also use it for browning meats before draining off the grease and adding other products, like taco seasoning, or chili beans.  You can do the pasta in one kettle and the sauce in another.

The typical steam kettle uses steam in a “jacket” around the perimeter of the kettle as a heat source.  This steam can come from several sources.  You may have a steamer with a pressure boiler available to use.  Or, as in a large hospital, prison or  manufacturing plant, you may have a large boiler that is used for other things, like laundry.  Remember, that you must have steam under pressure to fire a kettle.  Atmospheric steam, such as from a convection steamer that is not under pressure, will not work.  The optimal steam pressure is around 17-20 PSI.  This will provide approximately 270° F heat in the jacket. This is ideal to cook quickly without scorching.  It is also sufficient to brown meats.  Normal steam pressures can bring liquids to a boil in about 1 minute per gallon. You can get kettles capable of handling between 50-100 PSI, but the temperature is often too hot at this pressure and you might burn product.

When other steam sources are not available, you can use a “self-generating” type of kettle.  These may be either gas or electric.   This is a really interesting process.  The lower jacket contains a water “charge”.  This is heated by either the gas or electric energy and the water becomes steam, filling the jacket and operating exactly as the direct steam units above.  However, when the steam cools off, it turns back into water and goes back into the bottom of the jacket, waiting for the next time you need it.  Therefore, you do not need to have any water line to the unit.  This saves not only the water, but it will never lime up or need descaling.  This cannot be said of the steamer that you might have to hook it up to.

Also, it is becoming much less popular to hook free-standing kettles to steamers.  This is primarily because if the steamer were to require service, the kettle would be inoperable as well.  Usually today, customers purchase independent units.  These kettles come as small as 1 qt., which is usually used for oysters, to a typical table-top kettle which is either 20 qt. or 40 qt., to floor kettles which can go anywhere from 25 gallon to 400 gallon or larger.

There are a number of options that are available on kettles to make the operators jobs easier.  A draw-off valve is a 2” valve that is located at the bottom of the kettle that allows the operator to drain the kettle without tilting it.  Some kettles are stationary and some tilt.  The tilting kettle is significantly more popular than the stationary.  Don’t forget to order the fill faucet with the unit.  Also, remember what mama said: “A watched pot never boils.”  In this regard, a cover always makes the unit cook quicker.  There are two other normal type options. One is the pan carrier.  This allows the operator to tilt the kettle and have it pour directly into a steam table pan.  The other, designed primarily for table-top kettles, is the basket insert.  This is great for doing pasta.

There is a standard height on kettles that is about the same for most manufacturers.  There is also a “low-height” version available.  It is a bit wider, but it is quite a bit shorter.  This is a big deal particularly in the schools where there are a lot of shorter cooks.

The second item is the floor-mounted tilting braising pan.  This may be the single most versatile piece of equipment in the kitchen today.  It can do everything that the kettle can do, but more.  It can grill, sauté, poach, braise, pan-fry (not deep-fry), steam, bake or boil.  What can you do in a frying pan at home?  Well, the answers never end.  Anything you can do in that frying pan you can do in these, it is just that in these you can do 30 or 40 gallons worth!

Many users have abandoned their old kettles and purchased more of these {work-horses}.  The units come in 10, 15, 30 and 40 gallon sizes, in gas or electric, in manual tilt or power tilt.  You always get a lid.  There are various footprints required, depending on the manufacturer.  Check their spec sheets.

When using the skillet, care should be taken not to scratch the surface.  It is quite durable, but if you are constantly using metal utensils, you can scratch the surface.  These scratches then tend to have food stick to them.  It is better if you purchase special tools for stirring in the skillet, such as a phenolic, or plastic paddle.

Typical options for the skillet include the pan carrier we discussed on the kettle, and faucets.  However, a more popular item on skillets that the faucet is the spray hose.  While more expensive than the faucets, it is much easier to use to clean the surface of the unit.  Don’t forget to order the clean-up brush package, for either the kettle or the skillet.  This includes a kettle brush, drain valve brush and the paddle.  Another good option is the lip strainer.  This mounts to the lip of the skillet, allowing you to pour off liquids by tilting the unit, without the solid contents coming out.  Also, many skillets may be purchased on casters.  This makes clean-up much easier.  Make sure if you order casters that you have a long enough cord (on electric) or gas line (on gas) for the skillet to move.

There is a great option recently made available on skillets and that is the same 2” tangent draw-off that has been on kettles for years.  This makes removing liquids from the skillet much easier than dipping them out or tilting them out.