Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Christmas present: an Avantco meat slicer

Losing one’s mind is never a good thing, and that was me back in mid-December. I was faced with too much to accomplish every day, so the pile of work waiting to be done just got larger and higher. Something had to be done!

Unfortunately, A Man for All Seasonings was one of the things I just had to take a pass on. Writing three blog postings a week (Type M for Murder, as well as Late Innings and this one) with occasional other guest blogs takes a lot of time and energy. Type M is more “work-related” which means it has to get done weekly, and with all the baseball trades and such, Late Innings needed my attention, too. So it was AMFAS that had to go into hibernation.

But now the days are getting longer, the sun is out (regardless that it’s cold as hell at the moment), and I find myself with some time to devote to the “neglected blog”. I hope you haven’t been pining too much during our absence!

Now this is going to seem like I’m reaching way back in time, but I got the most awesome Christmas gift ever. Here’s a photo of it:

Beautifully thin slices of our lonzino

That’s right. Your eyes are not deceiving you. My mother-in-law’s present to me this year is a real, honest-to-God deli meat slicer. Let me explain.

We buy and make a fair number of things that need slicing. Our home-cured lonzino (which we’re currently enjoying) needs to be sliced thinly, like prosciutto. That’s nearly impossible to do by hand, certainly well beyond my skills, and that’s what got me started on this search. But it’s silly to spend money to slice one of our home-cured meats. Now, however, we can also buy large chunks of salami, prosciutto, cheese, whatever (saving money) and be able to slice them easily and evenly. Since getting this machine, I find that we’re also slicing fruits and vegetables, too. It has proved to be much more of a help in the kitchen than I thought it would be.

I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes at the thought of having an appliance that’s this big, merely for slicing. Yes, that is a problem, expecially since our kitchen is a small one, but we have a solution. In the far corner stands a small “bar fridge” we inherited from Vicki’s studio. Usually it’s top is just a handy repository for junk: bags of potatoes, things that have to go into the basement, platters and trays. They’ve all now disappeared to where they should have been in the first place, and the top of the fridge is a perfect size for the slicer. Best of all, there’s an electrical outlet close by. We can keep the slicer out and ready to be used. It was packaged in its carton with a heavy plastic bag around it, so we kept that and use it to keep dust and dirt off the machine.

When I began to investigate getting something like this, I looked at the usual home-kitchen type ones, and found none of them really have enough power. Sharpening was also an issue in that the blade had to be removed and sent out. It quickly became obvious that something of a more professional level was the only thing worth buying. Hobart is one of the big manufacturers of deli slicers, but even a used one would have set us back a cool $800 at least, far too expensive for our budget.

I widened my internet search and came across a site (http://www.webstaurantstore.com/) that caters more to the trade than the domestic cook. In their slicer selection, they stock mostly the top-end Berkel and Hobart units, but they also stocked something that caught my eye immediately: a 9" Manual Gravity Feed Meat Slicer by a company called Avantco.

Some of our lonzino, perfectly sliced thinly!
This unit had good power (1/4 hp) and from the photos seemed to be well-made. The customer reviews were all positive (for what those are worth) and the manufacturer stated right off the top that this slicer was not meant for heavy duty output (hours of use per day). It also came with what looked like a good, built-in sharpening system for its 9" blade.

Having worked in restaurants, I know what good, solid construction is, and this unit seemed to have it. Best of all was the price: $269.99. I had looked at and disregarded home units that ran as high as $300+, so this looked like a real possibility.

So when my mother-in-law, the formidable Loraine, asked what we wanted for Christmas, I was ready. We have not been disappointed with our choice. The construction is mostly aluminum, cast or stamped, allowing for the lower cost, but the power is excellent (with an extra belt supplied for the motor/blade hook-up), cleaning very easy, and it slices from paper-thin to almost half an inch, plenty good for what we need. I haven’t used the sharpener yet, but it looks like it will be quick and easy to do.

We try to only buy the best for cooking. A cheap home-version of a pot or utensil just doesn’t compare to a pro version. They don’t stand up over time and they can give frustratingly uneven results. When we’re in the market for something, we usually buy at restaurant supply stores. This is an even more important factor when buying appliances. Anyone who has ever cooked on a professional range or used a professional appliance will know what I mean. (I really wish we had a Garland cooktop!) The Avantco slicer is a good saw-off for us: professional power and design, but at a nice price. To answer the question some of you no doubt have: yes, it’s made in China, but its quality is really quite good.

Stop by the Blechta Test Kitchens some time and we’ll slice up some paper-thin lonzino or prosciutto for you!

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Are you still happy with the slicer? I'm tempted to buy one.. however I've noticed that they say to not use it with cheese.

Rick Blechta said...

I'm still very happy with the slicer, and I don't know why anyone would say not to use it to slice cheese. I probably use it for that more than any other thing -- and it does a fine job, even with provolone which is notorious for not slicing well. If someone is having trouble using this slicer (or any one, for that matter) for cheese, it’s probably more a matter of bad technique than the slicer. Of course I’m talking about slicers with enough HP to do the job. The small, underpowered ones you find in hardware stores and the like are terrible for cutting cheese.

Bottom line: so far I’m quite pleased with my Avantco slicer. It’s handled everything I’ve given it. The only issue is that I wish the bed was longer for slicing bacon more easily -- but that’s a problem with any small slicer (8"-9" blade), and is easily remedied by inserting the bacon differently and being satisfied with shorter slices.

Many thanks for writing in!

Rick Blechta said...

Yes, the Avantco is heavy, but that's because of the way it's made (mostly cast aluminum. The Weston slicer you mentioned just will not do the same job. I think the Avantco spec sheet saying that it wasn't intended for cheese is for those small businesses for which it is intended, in other words, they would be using it A LOT more than a home owner would. I've had no trouble cutting cheese up to the size of provolone, but I haven't used it to cut several pounds of cheese at one time.

One of the big drawing points for me was that it includes a built-in sharpener. No slicer will work very well if it isn't REALLY sharp. With slicers like the Weston, you have to remove the blade and get it sharpened professionally, and all of that is a huge pain in the butt.

My suggestion is to find a place in the basement where you can use it, and leave it there rather than lugging it upstairs every time you want to use it. It's shipped in styrofoam with a heavy plastic bag over the unit. I kept the bag and use it as a dust cover.

As for the A-maze-N pellet smoker, it is just fantastic: easy to use, good selection of woods and built to last. I just smoked some trout last week, and this weekend we're cold smoking bacon as part of a double smoke (hot after) and also doing up some smoked medium cheddar, all using applewood pellets. I can't recommend it more highly.

Martin said...

Good call on leaving it in the basement. I'll try to plan for that. How much of a pain is it to clean? Spray cleaner and wipe? (ie: in the basement isn't as convenient as the kitchen when it comes time to cleaning or handling the food..)

Rick Blechta said...

All slicers are a bit of a pain to clean. That used to be my job in one of the restaurants I worked in, and I grew to loathe it. To really clean this one, especially if you've sliced something fatty (like bacon), you need to unscrew some parts to really get at all areas, and I even take the blade out (really carefully) to get at everything. Usually a spray cleaner and wipe, usually followed by a damp cloth and then a dry, does the trick. It’s really only the blade and blade guard area that are tricky on these machines -- and a space where dirt can build up. But as I said, it's this way with any slicer I've worked with over the years. Some of the older Hobarts were amazing in how fiddly they were to clean.

Rick Blechta said...

One last thing. My slicer is on the opposite side of the kitchen from the sink. I would probably have the same issue if I used and stored it in the basement. It's really been no big deal.

toddblanco said...

I'm enjoying this blog about your Avantco. I'm going to buy a slicer within 2-3 weeks. Would love the Berkel 823E 9".
But @ $550.44 from Webstaurant or the Globe C9 @ $581.00 from Kitchenrestaurant Supply I find this hard to justify for home use. Your positive reviews of the Avantco are reassuring.

Rick Blechta said...

Todd,

I hear what you're saying. Sure, I'd like a Berkel (or a Hobart), too, since they’re for serious professional use, although, I think the 10" would be a better bet. The longer bed would handle stuff like bacon or mortadella a lot more easily.

But all in all (and having used professional machines in restaurant kitchens, I'm happy with the Avantco unit. Since I don’t use it hours on end most days, it has plenty of pep to do the job I need. The included sharpening system is a HUGE advantage. Getting slicer blades sharpened professionally is expensive and time-consuming in the long run.

Thanks for getting in touch.

Opal said...

Thanks for writing this review. I've been toying with purchasing an meat slicer for years and am finally going to buy one. I saw the Avantco SL309 9" on Amazon, but there was only one review, so thanks for adding another positive review. I'll be purchasing this brand in a few weeks. I'm looking forward to slicing my own meats.

Good idea about finding a place in the basement. That makes sense. I already have a spot in mind for the slicer.

Rick Blechta said...

Opal,

Sorry for the late response: busy.

The slicer is now down in the basement. If you haven't already gotten your meat slicer, you need to know that this one is worth it. It's only shortcoming is that one with a wider blade might be useful, or more specifically, one with a tray that goes back farther would be helpful. I can only slice bacon to a maximum of about seven inches long. It's really not the fault of Avantco, but since we do use it for slicing bacon and the occasional roast beef, more length would make things easier.

Also, you MUST make sure any slicer is kept clean. That takes some getting used to since they don't give you cleaning instructions. You'll need to do some disassembling of parts to get into all the nooks where things can collect. Maybe I should do a video for the blog showing how to do it. I'm pretty fast at it now, but the first time took over an hour.

Sharpening, too, on this machine is very good, but a bit tricky. It's great that you don't have to send your blade out when it needs work.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rick. Thanks for the great info. I can not find out how much it weighs. We will probably have to store it and get it out when needed (not that often) and I just want to be sure my wife can move it by herself. We are not talking up steps - just from a closet near the kitchen to the counter.

Rick Blechta said...

I'll try to remember to weigh it tomorrow, but it's probably around the 25-30 lbs range. She should be able to manage it.

Stay tuned!

Rick Blechta said...

Okay, I found out what the slicer weighs. According to the description for it on Amazon, it's 36 pounds. That could be the weight of the unit, or it could be the weight of the slicer and the packaging. I can't be sure. Let's just say it's no more than 36 pounds.

Seymore yo said...

Just bought one an Avantco SL310 and it is the worst design for cleaning I have EVER seen.They conveniently omit disassembly and cleaning instructions on the site and in the instruction booklet.
The "slicer deflector" is attached with 4 fasteners : 2 screws at the top that go into holes where 2 nuts lay freely. Lose those nuts and you are out of business.
2 nuts at the bottom placed so inconveniently you have to take the meat tray off to get at one of them...2 more screws.
If you do not take the deflector off, your slicer is not clean and you risk poisoning yourself and or making yourself sick.
I have worked in several restaurants,the commercial models are a breeze to clean. This thing is ridiculous with what has to be taken apart.It's heavy which is a good thing but that's about it.

Rick Blechta said...

Seymour,

Thanks for writing in with an opposing view to my review.

I, too, was a bit dismayed by how cleaning needs to be done with this unit (and all the other Avantco slicers, I'd assume), but I've found it really isn't that difficult once you've done it a couple of times – especially if you've cleaned other professional slices. The back blade guard (what you call the “slicer deflector” doesn't need to come off (although it would be nice). I simply remove the blade. This allows you to clean it somewhat more safely than if you left it attached. I know that sounds rather counter-intuitive (removing something so sharp rather than the metal guard, but at least you can clearly see what's going on behind the blade, which wouldn't be the case if it was left on.

Bottom line, though, you're right. They really dropped the ball on the instructions and the blade guard could be much better designed for easy removal. However, the price point for these slicers is very good for those of us who'd rather not spend double for a similar slicer from Hobart, for instance.

By the time I finished my third disassembly and cleaning, I could do a very thorough (and safe) cleaning in under 20 minutes.

Which brings to mind, a video on how to clean the Avantco units would be a good idea since neither the vendor (Webstaurant.com) or more importantly, the importer (Avantco) has seen fit to do much more than say "this is easy to clean!" which isn't the same thing, is it?

Stay tuned folks! I'll post something on what I've learned about cleaning this unit to help you on your way, and my apologies for needing to have this lack pointed out by someone else!

And thanks for the prod, Seymour!

Anonymous said...

Hi Rick interesting review. How's that slicer holding up? Would you buy it again?

Rick Blechta said...

It's holding up well -- although it's not in constant use (maybe once or twice a month at most). Once you get used to the drill, cleaning it isn't all that bad, but you certainly have to respect the blade! The secret is to go slowly and deliberately -- and think ahead.

The only thing I'd do differently is to buy one of the slicer's big brothers. A 9-inch blade isn't big enough to slice a normal sized strip of bacon. Realistically, you can only cut something maybe 6 inches long with a blade that size. If I were purchasing again, I'd go for the 12-inch slicer.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking of buying this slicer and wondered have you used it to slice raw meat. Just like cheese, i see it says not to slice raw meat. I want something i can slice beef with very thin to make steak hoagies. Would this work for that? I'm not sure why they recommend not slicing raw meat so i hope you have had some experience with that.

Charles said...

A great gift, I will say. Those are perfect slices, you definitely will have enjoyed the dish.

M. Haque said...

Amazing post about meat slicer. Thanks for sharing such important kitchen gadget with us. I got some important information from your writing & I think I should appreciate your writing. Thanks

Jelina Roy said...

Hello,

Indeed a good post, I know we all like eating meat and that's why meat slicer is very important, as it helps and make preparation very easy, so that's why I have recently purchased one of the Best Meat Slicers available, because i want to make things easy with meat slicer.
By the way, Keep up the good work.

trang seo trang1987 said...

Those looke pretty thick (máy thái thịt) - have you sliced anything thinner than that? Did you figure out how to make it so it doesnt stick here and there? How was it to clean? I'm considering this as a purchase. Thanks.

Rick Blechta said...

Actually, the lonzino in the photo is pretty thin.

With any slicer, but especially these less expensive models, it's important to have the meat (or cheese) very cold to help prevent sticking when slicing thinly.

My suggestion is to put whatever you're slicing in the freezer for an hour or so (depending on the size of what's being sliced), and you'll have a lot less of an issue with sticking.

As for cleaning this slicer, it's no more difficult than other slicers, more or less. You do have to be very careful of the blade, though, which needs to be removed so that it can be cleaned very thoroughly.

Hope this helps!

Lindy Shelly said...

Nice device, definitely I want to buy this incoming Christmas for my family, I have made more recipes with the help of this device.

Rick Blechta said...

If I could suggest one thing: buy a unit with a larger blade. The six-inch blade is not good for slicing things like bacon. It's worth the extra cost (which isn't all that significant).