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What should a home cook buy at a restaurant supply store?

I've recently become aware of two large restaurant supply stores close enough to where I live to warrant a visit (one of them is even in sales tax free Delaware!). I went online to browse through their merchandise and, as you might expect, it's overwhelming -- and tempting. A trip to one of these places could easily set me back a small fortune.

I'm certain there are bargains to be had, but I'm really not sure which items are really "finds" for home cooks. What are your recommendations? Thanks!

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  1. It's only a bargan if you need it and will use it. So my advice is only buy what you need. If you need a 24 quart stock pot then that will be a bargan, but if you don't need it, well then it's just a storage nightmare. Most of what they have is going to be priced better than at your local cooking specialty store. Be aware, some items that you might be interested in, the price is controlled by the manufacturer and the restaurant supply store can't sell them at a discount.

    1. I buy stuff that gets used nearly everyday, like tongs, spatulas, strainers, whips, cheese graters... that sort of thing. I've also picked up carbon steel pans that are hard to find elsewhere. The nice thing about buying from restaurant supply is that everything is built for use and doesn't come with some gaudy "ergonomic" handle or the extra cost of a celebrity endorsement.

      19 Replies
      1. re: Jeebs

        Are those carbon steel pans the ones I see TV chefs using - or do they use stainless steel? I've often wondered about those utilitarian silver pans.

        1. re: CindyJ

          I'm not sure what the TV chefs use. When I was a cook we used carbon steel for all our saute dishes. They are cheaper than stainless and they heat quicker.

          1. re: CindyJ

            tv chefs usually have a company that gives them pans for product placement on the show. you'll see it in the credits at t the end.

            1. re: CindyJ

              I suspect the *carbon steel* pan you reference are called *French or Mineral* fry pans. The are made of mostly iron (99%)

              1. re: fourunder

                Do those pans require any particular care/maintenance? I really like to see TV cooking shows where the pans are obviously well-used.

                I looked at some pans at the restaurant supply store yesterday. Some were aluminum, and they seemed rather flimsy. I'm not sure what the others were. I'll do a little "legwork" before I shop there again, so I can be more knowledgeable about what I'm looking at.

                1. re: CindyJ

                  The more you use them, the better they get. I don't recall ever having to pre-season them before use. They heat fast and evenly. Great for quick pan fry of fish.

                  Usually, a quick brush and rinse does the trick.....wipe with a towel.

                  http://www.chefscatalog.com/product/2...

                  http://www.google.com/#q=french+carbo...

                  If you like restaurant quality items.....go to a restaurant auction. You can pick up most anything for 10-25% of original cost @ wholesale restaurant supply prices.

                  I've purchased these type pans used for 3 bucks, new for 5 bucks....the latter though, I had to purchase a lot of 10.....still a great deal....you could sell the excess on eBay or give them away to your friends at Christmas or on their Birthdays. : 0)

                  1. re: fourunder

                    Don't you always have to buy huge quantities at these auctions? How do you find out about restaurant auctions?

                    1. re: CindyJ

                      Every auction is different depending on the size of the restaurant, or business, offered at sale. Small wares and China are often combined, but the prices are so low it doesn't matter. Sure, some of the items are throwaways, but you only need to get a few items in a lot to make it a good value. Using fry pans as an example, you could purchase one or two if they are large(14 in)....5-10 if they are medium(10-12 in) and 5-10 if they are small(6-8 in). Out of those numbers, all may be in great shape, or only a percentage. Many times though, single items will be offered, as that is how they bring in the most money. They separate the great condition items and auction them off first.....they bundle the lesser quality ones knowing they will not bring in top dollar.

                      Using the items you recently purchased as an example, if all the items were used, they would probably fit in one container, or a bus tub with a lot number assigned. The lot in the tub would probably not exceed $20 for all.....but some things like a thermometer may or may not work. That's the chance you take, but use your eyes as the best indicator. If the restaurant is well kept, chances are you are risking very little in any purchase you make. Some items you would never think to have in your home, but make great additions are things like scales. New they could be $70-100....rarely do they ever fetch more than $15 dollars at auction. The Coca-Cola boxes you see at your local deli.....if you need a second refrigerator, you can purchase one for $100 or less.. The sheet pans mentioned above....you can get them usually for less than $2 each. Sometimes they require you to buy them all, but sometimes they will announce you only need to buy as many as you want. After the winning bid, they ask you how many you want. At these prices, they are cheaper than disposable aluminum trays.

                      Usually, the Auctioneer will advertise in the largest newspaper for your region. In my area of New York and New Jersey, that means the Sunday NY Times and the Sunday NJ Star Ledger....both in the Business and Financial Sections. Your local paper may do this on the prior Wednesday for next weeks auctions. If you rarely purchase the newspaper anymore, just record who the major auctioneers are and check their websites.. They always have their upcoming auctions listed in advance.

                      My personal favorite item to get auctions is triple gauge aluminum or copper pots and pans.....especially Braziers or Sauciers with lids. These would normally go for a couple of hundred dollars, but at auction I could pick them up for $30-50. You can also get some pretty good furniture and decorations as well. Think of your favorite restaurant going bust and getting that Armoire, Butler's Table, Picture or Framed Mirror...or simply the collectibles scattered throughout the dining rooms or bar area.

                      1. re: fourunder

                        Fourunder-I completely agree with you. I loved a good auction. The mixed lots could be lots of fun. I still have seasonal decorations that I use that were part of a mixed lot. I do recommend going to auctions with measurements of all doorways so you don't get overexcited and bid on something that just won't fit. Yup, it happened. A lovely Wolf range sat in the garage for 3 years because it wouldn't fit.

                        1. re: fourunder

                          That's really helpful, fourunder. I'll be sure to check my Sunday Inquirer and take it from there. I'd love to find a used Robot Coupe food processor...

                          1. re: CindyJ

                            CJ,

                            Below is the link to one of my preferred auctioneers who does everything correctly. i.e., he does not play games and palms the bids with a quick knock down and gives items to his friends.

                            Click on the link and go to the *Past Auctions* feature, There you will see two past auctions for an ice cream store and a Pizzeria UNO. Click on them individually and you will see another link to download the catalog. This will give you an idea of what to expect should you ever go to an auction. Basically, they may require you to register with a $100 deposit. Once you register, they give you a copy of the catalog and the items offered.. You get this right back if you do not win anything or if you decide to leave early. If you win something, they will often accept this as the deposit for the first item you win. Any additional items won and they want you to give some additional cash. I usually just give another $100 or 35-50% if requested.. It's the one quirk of auctions in my area. I don't take it personally.

                            The Classified listing in the newspaper usually has the items available listed so you know what is available and what to expect. The robot coupe may be found in auctions for restaurants, delis or fitness clubs...even Public Storage facilities (Storage Wars). If you check the public notices, that's where some storage facilities will list locker items...specifically mentioning restaurant goods.

                            http://www.ajwillnerauctions.com/

                            1. re: fourunder

                              Wow! I know there are auction houses around where I live, but they're not (at least to my knowledge) liquidators -- they handle primarily estate contents. Do you ever find that your impulses get the better of you in auction situations?

                              1. re: CindyJ

                                When I first went, I would show my hand and bid early due to the fact i did not know any better.....however, I've since learned not to bid based on emotion. My bidding is dictated by how badly I need an item or piece of equipment. If it is essential, I do not mind over bidding to save me time and energy....but if it not essential, then I wait to see where the price is going. I've learned from experience, everything comes up for sale sooner or later, so I do not feel compelled to bid or purchase unless I need to.. Depending on the item, I assess what I feel it would go for and I set a price. ....or I use my memory from previous auctions for similar items as a guideline. I try not to exceed that price and get into any bidding wars.. the worst thing you can do is get emotional and impulse buy/bid. Most auctioneers have shill bidders to raise the price if they see you have interest.....that why you never open any bids and wait until the auctioneer says ...*Going Once*. For arguments sake. let's say I put a price on something @ $100 dollars as fair value. i would not expect to exceed 125 on any bidding, as I would expect another auction would come up again very soon....especially when considering restaurants and other food related businesses.

                                With your mention of of a Robot Coupe.....if all the parts and attachments are there, they usually go for $200-300 . That may seem high to some, but the regular price is normally $900-1200 depending on specific model. Once in a while someone will get into a war and may go as high as $900...Seems crazy since they can buy new, but the buyer may need it fast and thinks he saved 300 bucks. Whenever bidding on items like that, I always factor in that a small repair will be needed costing 100-300 dollars depending on condition. That's how I set my limit price......I've seen Kitchen Aid Mixers and Food Processors, home models, sell for $100 or less in almost new condition, or up to full retail......You never know what will happen.

                                I've also seen Villeroy and Boch China go for $5 per plate. Even though it;s a great buy and people know what it is, they do not know how or where to re-selll....and it's too nice to put into their restaurants....so no one bids. That's the craziness of the auction....but what also creates the excitement and adrenaline . Some items will always go for good money, e.g., food slicers....as deli meats or thin slicing is needed in all food operations. Obviously, you do not need a behemoth model, but a small commercial slicer is 7-900 wholesale. You can pick up one for 300 or less. The Home Cuisanart./kitchen Aid/Chef's Choice model my niece and nephew purchased for their Dad went for $450 retail at Bloomingdale's. Any cheap commercial model is 10 times better than the best home model .

                                Given a choice between All-Clad or Vollrath ...I'd rather use the latter...and that's why I use commercial cookware in my kitchen at home.

                                eBay will give you an idea of the skills you need to assess the potential final bid. Start by tracking an item you are familiar with and set the price you would pay. You mark the listing in your *Watched Items*. See what the final bid is. That's how you get a feel for what an item is worth to others.

                                If you watch Storage Wars, it will give you an idea of how it works, but in my opinion, the auctions can be staged at times. .....and they definitely inflate the prices for television. The final bid may be true, but the guesstimate is always exaggerated.

                                1. re: fourunder

                                  It sounds like the lyrics of The Gambler -- "You've got to know when to hold 'em,
                                  know when to fold 'em..." And I suppose remaining emotionally unattached is key.

                      2. re: fourunder

                        A look at the Restaurant Store website shows they carry French style Vollrath carbon steel fry pans, but they're only available in quantities of 6 or 12, depending on the size. I see they also have to be seasoned before using.

                        1. re: CindyJ

                          My idea of the mineral pan is to transfer the iron into the diet....so seasoning wouldn't be of any concern for me.....seasoning to me is to make the pan less sticky with food. the beauty of the mineral pan is it gets seasoned the more you use it and the pan gets darker with each use....

                          That's just my personal take.

                          I cannot speak for the quality of other manufacturers compared with Vollrath, but you can certainly find the pans online at much cheaper pricing. In lieu of that, I suggest eBay.

                          http://www.ebay.com/itm/Vollrath-5893...

                          1. re: fourunder

                            "My personal favorite item to get auctions is triple gauge aluminum or copper pots and pans.....especially Braziers or Sauciers with lids. These would normally go for a couple of hundred dollars, but at auction I could pick them up for $30-50. "
                            ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

                            I read this sentence and literally pushed myself back out of my chair almost. Perhaps copper isn't out of my reach afterall. I'll definitely look into restaurant supply stores and auctions.

                            1. re: shezmu

                              While restaurant kitchens will not have many copper pots for cooking, many better restaurants use them to serve menu items in. Also, the kitchen may keep one or two sauce pots exclusively for reheating soups. That's how it was in the kitchens I was associated with and it's how it is done in the restaurants now that my friends own. It must be because of a tip they learned somewhere along the way in their career paths.

              2. Some of the most useful items I've purchased at restaurant supply stores are plastic serving utensils.
                I love the miniature clear plastic tongs - they are great for a cheese of vegetable platter. They are cheap enough where I don't worry about loosing them at a pic-nic or potluck. Same with larger serving spoons. The clear plastic blends with just about any casual serving dish and are machine washable. There are times when I don't want to have to keep track of my nice stainless utensils, but still want something which does the job well and looks decent.

                Instant read thermometers are usually much less expensive at these stores.

                Cambro makes food safe clear plastic bins in a variety of sizes and are great for pickling/brining/etc. They nest together so storage is not so bad.

                Ice wands are great if you cook large batches and need to cool the food quickly to store (stock, etc.)

                Bus bins are very handy. I've used them in small kitchens to wisk away dirty dishes and stash elsewhere until later. I've also used them for a variety of messy craft and household projects when I needed something larger than a dishpan.

                2 Replies
                1. re: meatn3

                  I'm writing a shopping list as I read these posts...
                  *Ice wand
                  *Plastic bin for making "health salad"
                  *plastic tongs

                  1. re: meatn3

                    meatn3, you know my dirty little secret. I love me some bus bins - especially when I have a dinner party and I don't want to be in the kitchen cleaning while guests are about. Throw everything in them and put them in the laundry room for later!

                    I love restaurant supply stores: years ago, before I could afford good cutlery I bought cheap steak knives - if they got dull I just bought more of them. Kitchen gadgets I couldn't find in any store - this was before Wm Sonoma, Different Drummers Kitchen, and other shops popped up locally. I love the Cambro storage, hotel pans, etc.

                    Years ago, I told my husband that basically I'm a wanna-be chef and my kitchen is my restaurant - ha.

                  2. There are tons of things to buy really. In part, it really depends on what you like to cook. In addition, you should focus on what you don't have. If you already have a frying pan you like, then buying another one isn't really saving you any money -- even if it is cheap. I will focus on utensils because most people already have the pots and pans they need, but restaurant supply store often offer unusual utensils. A rubber cutting board is also something unique -- if you like that kind of thing. Some people like it, while some don't. Neverthless, it is one of those things you will hardly see in a regular store.

                    http://www.nytimes.com/1999/08/04/din...

                    Kitchen knives are always nice -- focus on Dexter-Russell or Victorinox or higher quality brands. Don't buy low quality ones.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Funny you should mention those knives -- it was my search for a Victorinox slicing knife that first alerted me to these stores.

                    2. One "bargain" that shows up at commercial supply stores is a full range of Dexter-Russell knives. Meant to be essentially disposable in commercial settings, they aren't "great quality", but they are well-made in their price class and quite cheap compared to the big consumer brands. You might want to spend more on a better chef's knife that gets a lot of use, but it's good way to get speciality items like ham slicers and filleting knives that home cooks generally use infrequently. In a restaurant, they might last a few months before being replaced, at home, they can last for years.