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April 7, 2016 Comments (3) Kitchen Appliances

The Best Meat Slicer: Tips After 20+ Years Running a Deli

meat slicer header

Is there anyone who doesn’t love great deli sandwiches, stacked high with paper-thin slices of ham, turkey, and other delectable goodies? How about a large Hoagy, or Submarine sandwich on a fresh-baked bun and piled high with almost transparent slices of salami, ham, turkey, tomatoes, lettuce, and onions? On a more mundane note, have you ever wondered how restaurants manage to always have good supplies of thin-sliced tomatoes, onions, pickles, and Cole Slaw, even though they serve hundreds of meals per day?

All of this is made possible by an invention called a meat slicer. Commercial-grade electric meat slicers can crank out pounds and pounds of sliced food in a very short time. They can slice foods thinner and more consistent than even a skilled professional chef could with a top-quality knife. They can slice large amounts of meat and veggies in a few minutes, whereas, by hand it would take hours, or maybe even days. It’s hard to imagine a restaurant, deli, or meat dept. being able to operate without a good electric meat slicer.

But why should pros have all the fun? What if you wanted to slice your own meat? Most meat markets and even some grocery store delis will slice your meat for you at no charge, but what if you wanted to buy some raw London Broil to make jerky with? To make jerky, the meat has to be very thin. Some health regulations prohibit the slicing of raw meat for immediate sale. A lot of places won’t do it just because the clean-up after using a slicer on raw meat is extensive, and would have to be done before the slicer could be used to slice anyone else’s meat. What if you weren’t sure what you were going to do with that wonderful Honey-Roasted Turkey Breast you just bought? Wouldn’t it be better to slice it as you need it? Then you can use thick slices for serving hot with mashed potatoes, and peas, or slice it very thin for deli-style sandwiches. I consider a meat slicer in the home as an absolute necessity, second in importance only to the stove and deep fryer.

My Favorite Meat SlicersBrandBladeMy Opinion
KWS Premium Meat Slicer
KWS
KWS12" Stainless Steel BladeThis KWS is one of my favorite meat slicers. I have been using it for almost 6 years now. Heavy duty and durable.
10'' Blade Deli Slicer
deli slicer
Best Choice10" Stainless Steel BladeHigh quality, heavy duty meat slicer great for home use.
Chef's Choice Slicer
chef choice slicer
Chef's Choice7" Stainless Steel BladeA good, Affordable option.
Hobart Edge 12
hobart
Hobart12" Stainless Steel BladeTop-notch, professional quality.

At First, There Was The Blade…

We can credit an enterprising Homo habilis, we’ll call him ‘Uugh’, with creating the first tool used to cut meat with. It was a crude stone device called a Hand Axe. As a rule, it was used by biting into a chunk of meat, then sawing it off even with your lips using the sharp edge. We don’t know how many cavemen and women walked around with cut lips all the time, but it probably made kissing problematic. Thankfully, the tool was refined and eventually became the stone knife, made from obsidian, or flint. It was incredibly sharp for making fine and detailed cuts. Modern knives are still based on this design. Through the years, the materials evolved from stone to copper, bronze, iron, and eventually steel. But the basic design remained the same.

When professional preparation of food came about during the Roman Era, all meat and veggies were sliced by hand. It required a lot of skill to make good-looking cuts that would appeal to customers. The people who became skilled at this were known as “Slicers” and were in great demand throughout Europe. But slicing by hand was (and still is) slow, inconsistent, and it was difficult to create the large quantities of sliced food needed by busy pubs and delicatessens. This changed in 1873.

Bologna, Italy was famous for a delectable local cured meat known as Mortadella. To get the full nuances of all the great spices in it, it had to be sliced very thin. Bolognese deli’s hired skilled cutlery masters just to cut Mortadella, and they were the culinary Italian Rock Stars of the time. In 1873, Bologna began exporting its outstanding cold cuts to the rest of the world, but it was very time-consuming to slice it by hand, and the demand far outweighed their ability to supply. Luigi Giusti solved the problem by invented a slicing machine to make consistent and rapid slices of Mortadella for export.

Mortadella from Bologna.

Mortadella from Bologna.

In 1898, a butcher in Rotterdam, Netherlands, W. A. van Berkel started a factory to make meat slicers, and soon, they were being shipped all over the world. In the 1920s, Clarence Hobart fitted one of his electric motors to a meat slicer, and the Electric Meat Slicer was born. Berkel and Hobart are still the 2 top names in commercial meat slicers.

Care and Feeding of An Electric Meat Slicer

An electric meat slicer is not a very complicated machine, but since it does have a very sharp blade, it can be dangerous. You need to understand your machine before using it. Here are some basic parts common to most electric meat slicers. The Blade Guard and Sharpener have been removed to show more detail:

parts of a meat slicer

Parts a Meat Slicer.

The blade is the main part, of course. Normally, it would have a blade guard attached, but I removed it so I could show the entire blade. Blades are usually made of high-quality 420J steel, and are self-sharpening, which is a good thing, because trying to hand-sharpen a circular blade can be dangerous. The blade is usually held on by a bolt from the back. The sharpener attaches at the top and the blade continually sharpens itself as it spins. The Baffle Plate gives a smooth surface for the food to slide against, so that the rapidly spinning blade does not sling it into the next room. The electric motor is normally encased in the unit, but there are some models with a removable motor so that they can be run through a commercial dish-washing machine. Most models will have a permanently attached motor. The Power Switch should be in an out of the way place, so as not to be accidentally turned on. The Thickness Adjustment Knob lets you select how thick or thin you want the slices to be. The food rests in the food tray against the ramp, and it is fed to the blade by Manual Guide. Some units are completely automatic, and do not have a Manual Guide.


Cleaning an electric meat slicer will require disassembly, to a certain degree. Your Owners Manual will have instruction on how to disassemble your particular unit for cleaning. Follow them to the letter. Other than cleaning, electric meat slicers require little else other than a good storage space. They are incredibly durable, and almost maintenance free. Occasionally, a moving part might need a drop or two of food-grade mineral oil, but that’s about it.

How To Use An Electric Meat Slicer

Sliced meat... delicious.

Sliced meat… delicious.

Any professional cook or food service worker will tell you that the meat slicer is the most dangerous piece of equipment in the kitchen, and results in more accidents than anything else. Most restaurant regulations require that no one is allowed to use the meat slicer unless they are over 18, and have been properly trained in their use. You have a rapidly spinning, very sharp blade, mere inches from your hand. But, believe it or not, most accidents are not from being sliced by a running machine (luckily…). Most people are cut washing the blade, when it is off the machine. So, exercising Safety First, and using the proper techniques and procedures will eliminate almost all of the risk.

Using electric meat slicers is pretty easy. Inspect the machine for any loose or missing parts. Make sure the area is clear of obstructions, and that the machine will not slide. Wash your hands well with an antibacterial soap before handling any food. Now, you are ready. You place the food to be sliced in the Food tray. Things like onions, potatoes, and tomatoes can be stacked, instead of cutting one-at-a-time. There is usually a manual Pressure Plate that you can rest your hand on to make sure the meat feeds into the blade properly. Next, after checking to make sure the area is clear of obstructions, turn the unit ON. If there are any weird or unfamiliar sounds, turn the unit off immediately, and do not use until it has been inspected by someone who knows about meat slicers. Once the blade is spinning, set your Thickness Adjustment to what you want. Now, gently slide the Guide forward, moving the food into the blade. After making a slice, check it to see if it is the thickness you want, and make any needed adjustments. Now, you can move the guide back and forth at a moderate speed until all of your food is sliced. You may have to catch the slices manually, and place them on a plate, or some models may have a catch tray. Also, some models may have an automatic guide, so all you have to do is watch, while the machine does everything else except adjust the thickness. When you are done, clean the machine and put it up. That’s all there is to it.

What To Look For In The Best Meat Slicer

My favorite slicer (Keep reading, I'll review it later on...)

My favorite slicer (Keep reading, I’ll review it later on…)

First, you need to decide what you need a slicer for. Are you going to be doing a lot of slicing or just some occasional lunch meat or tomatoes? Will you be slicing cheeses? Believe it or not, slicing cheese is very hard on a slicer, and many will not slice cheeses at all.

As a rule, you get what you pay for. Entry-Level slicers will work on deli meats and produce for a while, but will burn out quickly. Mid-Level slicers will have more power, more features, and handle more and heavier use, including occasional cheese-slicing. Premium slicers will be mostly aimed at commercial-use, but will handle as hard, and as much use as you care to give them. The higher price on a Mid to Premium-Level slicer will be offset by longer service life, better performance, and more safety. Here is a synopsis on the 3 different types:

  1. Entry-Level. these are only good for using on a very casual basis. They are best used as a kitchen decoration. They are not recommended for slicing cheese, or running for more than 30 minutes at a time. The weak motors burn out easily. These meat slicers are mostly the types you will see at Walmart, Kmart, etc….
  2. Mid-Grade. these have larger, more powerful motors, larger blades, and better features. They can stand up to more heavy use than Entry-Level units, but slicing cheese is still not recommended. Mid-Grade units will also have more safety features. OK for very casual use.
  3. Premium Grade. this is what I recommend if you plan on doing any real slicing at all. They have powerful motors, bigger blades, are built to last, have good warranties, and can handle just about any slicing you need to do, including cheese. They are more costly, but the higher price will be more than compensated for by better performance, a longer service life, and a lot more use.

6 Things To Consider Before Buying One

Cut using my meat slicer.

Cut using my meat slicer.

There are 6 things to consider before buying a meat slicer:

  1. Blade Size. One factor that can help you determine what type of electric meat slicer you need is blade size. Almost all Entry-Level units will have a 7” blade. This mean you can only cut things that are less than 7” tall. Anything bigger will not be cut all the way by the blade. Mid-Grade units often have 7-1/2” to 9” blades. Premium units can have a blade as large as 14”, more than big enough for anything you’ll ever want to cut. Also, with Entry-Level machines, you will not have any choice of blades, such as serrated, or straight. You’ll be stuck with what the machine comes with. Serrated blades slice some things better than non-serrated ones. Premium units often have interchangeable blades available, where you can easily switch between serrated, and non-serrated.
  2. Power. You will want a unit with some power, especially if you plan on slicing raw meat (which should be frozen, first), or cheese. I would not even consider any unit with less than a 240-watt motor (or 1/3 hp…. 1 hp = 746 watts), unless I knew for sure that my use would only be very minimal (unlikely…).
  3. The size of the food tray. Most slicers come with a tray that will hold things from around 7” to 10” If you think you’ll be slicing anything larger, make sure the machine’s food tray will accommodate larger items, say up to 14” or more, before buying it. Food trays, as a rule, cannot be changed out for larger sizes, even on commercial machines.
  4. The power transfer method the machine uses. In other words: gears vs belt-driven. Gears probably last longer, but anything mechanical will eventually wear out, even metal or nylon. Belts are easier and cheaper to replace than having a repair technician replace worn-out gears.
  5. Price. Prices on electric meat slicers can range from around $50.00 for Entry-Level units, to several thousands of dollars for some commercial units. Most Premium-Grade machines suitable for home-use can be found for between $350.00 – $3000.00. Once in a while, you can find a good Premium model for under $300.00. There is also nothing wrong with buying a used machine, if it is Premium-Grade, and has been taken care of. Used Premium-Grade machines can be anywhere from $50.00 to a few hundred dollars, or more than $1000.00, depending on the model, and it’s age.
  6. Materials. Normally, I steer people away from plastic, or nylon things, but on meat slicers, these are a plus. Nylon gears are smoother, and last very well. I think they are also a lot quieter. Nylon gears have been around for about 20 years now, and have an outstanding service record in everything from toys to military hardware. I consider nylon gears a plus…

Now, you are ready to go out and find that perfect electric meat slicer you’ve been dreaming about. Here is my suggestion on what I feel is the best model available concerning price vs quality, to help you get started:

Best Choice Model 688: Our Complete Review

best choice slicer 688

The meat slicer I recommend. Simply perfect.

This is a Premium-Grade commercial machine that will take care of all of your home slicing needs. It is designed for restaurants and delis, butcher shops, commercial kitchens, etc…, and can handle cheeses, frozen meat, and large quantities of food. With stainless steel construction, and a 240-watt motor, this will give you years and years of trouble free use, before needing anything. Some of it’s features are:

  • 10” 420J stainless steel non-serrated blade
  • Easy Thickness adjustment from 0 to 17mm (5/8”)
  • Built-In, high-quality dual whetstones that automatically keep the blade razor-sharp
  • Poly V Belt-Drive for long life, and easy maintenance.
  • Easy break-down for cleaning and maintenance. Without reading the manual, I was able to disassemble this unit in less than 2 minutes. It went back together in less than 4 minutes.
  • Quiet and smooth Belt-Drive means no requirement to grease and oil gears.

At around 50 lbs, this machine isn’t all that heavy compared to other commercial units. The dimensions are around 23” x 19” x 19”, which may sound a little big, but hey, it’s a commercial unit. I have a Hobart myself, but a local restaurant that I do work for sometimes let me come in and test their unit, that they have had since they opened, around 10 years ago. The Best Choice performed smoothly on everything I threw at it, including a 5 lb. block of hard cheddar cheese. It’s a good thing they serve a lot of cheeseburgers, because it made 1/16” thick slices like there was no tomorrow, maybe even a bit better than my Hobart, and the 5 lb. block just disappeared in minutes. I sliced the whole block in less than 10 minutes, with each slice absolutely perfect. 20 lbs of tomatoes were no problem at all, with perfect 1/8” slices. 30 lbs of frozen raw roast beef were rendered into beautiful 1/2” slices in 20 minutes. I sliced 30 pounds of frozen hamburger cylinder into perfect 1/2” patties in less than 15 minutes, and I was never rushing.

10" Stainless Steel Blade.

10″ Stainless Steel Blade. Great for cutting pretty much anything.

Considering the price, this is a real bargain. It compares favorably, and maybe even a bit better in some respects, to my $1800.00, 15-year old Hobart. If I were to start another restaurant, I wouldn’t think twice about putting one of these in it. It’s truly the best meat slicer. I cannot give a better recommendation to any appliance than that: A Big 5-Stars.

> Check Out The Best Choice Slicer On Amazon <

The Hobart Edge 12: Professional Quality

hobart 12

Incredible quality.

The Hobart Edge 12 is almost the industry standard for countertop professional slicers. You’ll see these in delis and professional kitchens all over the world. This is what I use at home. The Edge will slice anything you need to, whether it is frozen meat, cheeses, or whatever. it has a powerful 1/2hp, 480-watt motor, a Poly V Belt drive, one-piece brushed aluminum casing, making it super easy to clean, outstanding 12” 1095 carbon steel blades that stay sharp enough to shave with, thanks to the built-in Borazon sharpener. It operates smooth as silk, and slices stacks and stacks of food in a very short period of time. The Edge easily disassembles for cleaning, and Hobarts Customer Service is second to none. Replacement parts are readily available from lots of sources, and if you ever need work done on the unit, almost any restaurant equipment repair shop can work on them. It’s a beast, at around 23” x 23” by 22”, and 80+ lbs, but that means it is all but bomb-proof, and it’s not going anywhere while you are slice with it. Mine is around 20 years old and still works like new. I have never had to have it worked on, or have any parts replaced, even though I used it in my restaurant for many years, before I retired. It’s not cheap, but you usually get what you pay for… Used ones can be found for a few hundred dollars.

The Berkel 829

berkel 829

Another slicer I like.

The Berkel 829 boasts a 14” 1095 carbon steel blade, and a powerful 1/2 hp motor. The unit disassembles easily for cleaning. It has a brushed aluminum casing. The unit I tested handled cheese reasonably well, and did a good job on meat, although the thickness setting tended to drift a little on very thin slices. At 29” x 23” x 21” and 74 pounds, it is a solid-feeling unit. All-in-all, this is not a bad meat slicer.

Do’s and Don’ts of Meat Slicers

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts. These are not the only safeguards, but enough to keep you out of most bad situations. More safety tips here and also here.

DO

  • Follow the Owners Manual recommended procedures and instructions to the letter.
  • Wear mesh protective gloves, especially when cleaning the unit.
  • Read the manual and be familiar with the machine before using it.
  • Go to YouTube, or other good sources for information on how to use and clean your slicer.
  • Always clean the machine well after each use, and in between slicing different foods, especially with raw meat.
  • Freeze raw meat before slicing it. It will make much nicer cuts, and not be as messy.

DON’T

  • Lose the manual
  • Use the machine without reading the manual from cover-to-cover
  • Use the machine without the blade guards attached.
  • Use the machine without checking all the bolts, and parts, to be sure they are tight.
  • Use the machine while it is wet.
  • Clean the machine without wearing mesh gloves
  • Completely immerse machines with a non-removable motor in water.
  • Disassemble the machine without unplugging it first.
  • Leave the machine plugged in when not in use.
  • Leave the machine unattended when while it is ON, or plugged in.
  • Use the machine around children, pets, or when distracted.
  • Use non-food grade oil on your machine. It may be cheaper, but you will be tasting oil for weeks. How do I know? Let’s just say that I can tell you with complete authority that WD-40 tastes awful… Only use food-grade mineral oil.

Conclusion: Time to Choose

I hope this helps you in finding the right electric meat slicer. It’s not easy to choose a good model, and I always recommend exploring your options first before buying one. If you have doubts or questions, leave a comment below, I’ll be help you.

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3 Responses to The Best Meat Slicer: Tips After 20+ Years Running a Deli

  1. AudreyK says:

    I never knew that a meat slicer was the most dangerous piece of equipment in a kitchen. Although, thinking about it now I guess that’d make sense. I’ve actually been craving a deli sandwich. Maybe, my husband and I can buy some for dinner.

  2. Keith Goad says:

    My wife and I make jerky and we cut around 100 pounds of meat a week. We currently own a Cabela’s home “professional model” 120v 60Hz 300w 12″ blade. I believe this might be made by INTERTEK? My biggest problem is
    #1 I get a lot of meat in between the blade and baffle plate and also between the blade cutting edge and guard around the slicing edge of blade.
    #2 The meat sticks to the baffle plate when drawing the food tray back after doing a slice.

    Is there a cure for either one other than purchasing a expensive slicer? Even a expensive used slicer tends to run about 500 dollars to start. Kinda out of our reach.

  3. Falk11 says:

    AWESOME, exactly what I needed. Got a slicer for myself (and my wife), finally.

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