Food trucks are essentially restaurants on wheels. When you stop and think about it, they need all the areas a restaurant has—dry storage, cold storage, prep, cook line, hot and cold food holding, staging, service, cashier, dishwashing and janitorial—all in a very compact space.
Since they’re mobile, food trucks also have to be self-contained. They carry their own water supply, utilities and infrastructure—plumbing, wiring, HVAC, gas lines, and safety systems. And, like a brick-and-mortar restaurant, food trucks have to meet local codes and standards.
Before you work up a list of the commercial kitchen equipment you need, do your homework to find out what local regulations require in food trucks, specifically; those regulations may have an impact on the type of equipment you choose for your food truck. In many areas, food truck regulations differ from restaurant regulations, so it’s critical to do proactive and specific research. Health code, fire code, and other regulations will likely require you to have:
- A three-compartment sink for washing utensils, pots, pans and dishes
- A separate hand-washing sink
- A Type I exhaust hood over your cooking equipment with a fire suppression system
- Mechanical systems (plumbing, fresh– and gray–water tanks, electrical wiring/panel, gas lines, etc.) installed to local standards
- A water heater
Many locations now require food truck operators to use a licensed commercial kitchen (a commissary or restaurant) to store and prepare ingredients as well as provide cleaning and sanitation support for the food truck. In that case, you may need less cooking equipment in your truck and more warming and holding equipment, like convection or speed ovens and hot boxes and hot food wells.
Food Truck Equipment & Supplies
As with any foodservice operation, your menu will dictate what kind of equipment you need. Selling burgers? You’ll need a griddle or charbroiler, and probably a fryer. Selling pizza? Obviously, an oven—wood-fired, deck or conveyor—is in your future along with a refrigerated pizza prep table. For sandwiches, you might need only a refrigerated prep table and a panini grill or sandwich press.
Think through your concept, menu and operations procedures carefully before you select equipment. Fryers, for example, are very dangerous in mobile kitchens and often require special safety measures to prevent grease spills and/or fires. You may decide a small combi oven is a better choice to prepare “fried” foods. Soda fountain beverages require an ice machine and storage for carbon dioxide tanks and syrup boxes, as well as cups, lids, and straws. Canned or bottled beverages may be less hassle.
Remember, too, that many types of equipment, such as refrigerators, need a certain amount of clearance from walls, ceiling or other equipment to operate properly and within warranty. And only certain manufacturers will warranty equipment used in food trucks, so be sure to work with an equipment expert like the product specialists at Central Restaurant Products.
It’s tough to design a food truck layout or even determine the size of the truck you need without first figuring out what equipment is essential to your concept and operation. Once you have the basics, food truck manufacturers are experts at helping you decide how large your truck should be and the most efficient layout. Most manufacturers have sample floor plans on their websites.
Here’s a basic list of food truck equipment to consider, depending on your concept
- Single-door reach-in refrigerator for cold food and ingredient storage
- Single glass-door, countertop, or undercounter refrigerator for bottled or can beverages
- Stainless steel prep table
- 36-in. or 48-in. flat-top griddle, versatile enough to cook everything from eggs to burgers
- 4- or 6-burner stovetop, or range with convection oven below
- 36-in. charbroiler for burgers, chicken, ribs, etc.
- Refrigerated sandwich/salad or pizza prep table
- Pizza oven
- Wok range
- Salamander (cheese melter)
- Sandwich press or panini grill
- Microwave or speed oven
- Toaster or bun warmer
- Hot food holding cabinet
- Hot food holding wells
- Soup well or warming kettle
- Rice steamer
- Stainless steel serving counter
- Induction cooking equipment
- POS system/cashier’s station/mobile credit card reader
- Check rail to organize guest orders as they’re being prepared
And don’t forget to sweat the small stuff. As far as supplies, you’ll need:
- Disposables (plates and bowls, utensils, napkins, containers, etc.)
- Utensils (knives, spatulas, spoons, tongs, serving utensils, cutting boards, etc.)
- Pots and pans
- Sheet pans and racks
- Hotel pans in various sizes
- Dry food storage bins
- Aluminum foil, plastic wrap, parchment paper
- Janitorial supplies (mop, broom, buckets, gloves, sponges, scouring pads, etc.)
- Janitorial chemicals (dish detergent, sanitizer, cleaning supplies, etc.)
- Condiment dispenser, spice racks, and shakers
Power in Your Food Truck
When it comes to powering a food truck, you may be required to or prohibited from using a particular fuel source, depending on local regulations—so again, research the rules in your area of operation. Other considerations are matters of both practical efficiency and operational preference.
To start with, you’ll need a generator for electricity to power lights, HVAC and kitchen exhaust, refrigeration, POS system, small appliances, and if you choose, your cooking equipment. How large a generator will depend on the load you need to generate. To figure out the load, total the maximum wattage of all your electrical devices and equipment, from light bulbs to cooking equipment. If you have a 3,000-watt griddle; 1,400-watt reach-in fridge; 1,200-watt microwave; 3,000-watt water heater and 600 watts in lights and small appliances, you need 9,200 watts output, so you should spec a 10,000-watt generator. (Read also: A Beginner’s Guide to Electricity.)
Generators can run on gasoline or propane, and many models can switch between the two. You might think that since your truck runs on gasoline you might as well get a gasoline-powered generator. But the fumes and noise might put off customers, and many locales have EVAP (Evaporative Emission Control System) standards to comply with that require gas vapor capture components on the generator, fuel tank, fuel lines, clamps and so on.
You also might decide you want some cooking equipment, such as a stovetop or broiler, to operate with gas, not electricity. In that case, you could be better off with a propane generator, since you’ll carry tanks for cooking equipment, too.
Equipment & Supplies for the Truck Itself
Finally, don’t forget that your food truck is exactly that—a truck. It must meet all commercial vehicle licensing requirements and pass inspections, including emissions standards tests. You’ll also need to service and maintain your food truck on a regular basis to avoid costly breakdowns. Just in case, you should have the following onboard.
- Spare tire(s)
- Extra fuses
- Fire extinguisher
- Engine oil
- Windshield washer fluid
- Transmission fluid
- Radiator coolant/antifreeze
- Distilled water (to top off the battery and dilute antifreeze)
The expenses to operate a truck are different—yet just as important—as those to operate a restaurant kitchen, so be sure to anticipate them in your planning process. For example, it could cost you about $120 to fill your truck’s 40-gal. gas tank, and at around 7 mi./gal., a tank may not last a week.
With some careful thought and attention to detail, you can equip your food truck to be a productive and efficient workspace.
Kelsey Moriarty is a Content Specialist at Central Restaurant Products. Her focus at Central is in the Food Prep and Furniture areas. Kelsey’s background is in technology and marketing with particular experience in SEO and E-Commerce. She enjoys helping customers make better decisions as well as working on her copywriting skills!