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The fast food industry has spent years developing techniques and procedures that all work towards meeting their goals of faster, better and more efficient service. For example, a hamburger in a typical fast food environment can go from frozen solid to well-done in 30 seconds. Try doing that at home with your fresh ground chuck. French fries in most restaurants are impossibly crisp and brown, because they receive a light spray of sugar and water during their processing. These and many other tricks of the trade can easily be used by the average person to create meals more efficiently, or deal with heavier volumes of food that may be required for picnics or social events.

Here are some 'tricks of the trade' used by many fast food restaurants that you can try at home:

1. If you are planning on making batter-coated fried vegetables, such as mushrooms or zucchini, as side dishes, try a time-saving trick that many pros use. Dredge your prepared vegetables as usual in a milk and egg wash, then coat with a mixture of flour and cornmeal or packaged coating mix. When mealtime approaches, place the coated vegetables in a generous frying basket, and place them in the hot oil. DO NOT fully cook the vegetables, but pull them out of the oil after a minute or two has gone by. You want the coating to be light in color, not brown. The pros call this techique 'blanching', and it saves time in the long run by keeping the vegetables in a state of 'suspended animation'. When the time is appropriate to serve the vegetables, the basket should be put back into the oil until the coating is fully browned. This will take less time than usual due to the blanching, so you can easily time your side dishes to come out alongside your main course.

2. If fried battered fish is on the menu, an old standby trick is to use a quality ginger ale as your liquid for the batter mix. Beer works well, but ginger ale is cheaper and less troublesome for those who avoid alcoholic beverages. Another trick for getting a lighter textured batter: Use ice-cold water or ginger ale in the batter, and keep it as cold as possible. This is the trick that one major fast seafood restaurant uses to keep the batter from becoming too heavy. By keeping the batter near freezing, the oil does not penetrate the batter as well, but does continue to cook it. The result is a lighter texture for both fish and coating.

3. Hamburgers can be cooked from frozen, if you do some prep work. If you have a need for bulk hamburgers, say at a company barbecue, then you'll need to think like McDonald's. Their hamburger patties arrive at the store pre-formed and frozen hard enough to drive a nail. When placed in a double-sided clamshell grill, however, the meat is cooked to at least medium well in 30 seconds or less. This miraculous feat is difficult to reproduce at home, because few kitchens have double-sided grills and specially engineered beef patties. You can get almost the same results if you use a specialized two-sided electric griller, and keep your patties very thin. Perforate the meat with a fork, and the meat will cook faster. For bulk preparation of hamburgers, obtain a good supply of the best grade meat you can get. Contrary to popular belief, the fast food industry does not skimp on beef quality. For faster and more consistent results, obtain a meat ring from a kitchen supply store or improvise with a thin can with both ends removed, like a tuna can. Press the meat into the ring, which should be on wax paper. Cover your hands with vegetable oil, because the fat from the meat will eventually congeal on your hands and make the process much harder. Take the formed patties out of the ring and stack them on a tray, placing a layer of wax paper between each layer of burgers. The fast food restaurants depend on consistency, so your prep time spent making consistent hamburgers will pay off when you are cooking them assembly-line style. You won't want to stop and remake hamburgers with a hundred hungry guests waiting on your every offering.

4.If you've ever wondered how a fast food Mexican restaurant can serve an item with melted cheese so quickly, or how a hamburger place can keep their buns so fresh, the answer is steam. One luxury the fast food places have that you don't at home are commercial grade steamer units. Steam comes out of these devices at the perfect temperature and humidity to melt shredded cheese without burning it, or steam a hamburger bun to bakery freshness without making it too soggy to eat. They are not perfect, having to be carefully timed and adjusted constantly, but they are much better that what you could do at home. What you can do to freshen a hamburger bun or melt cheese without resorting to a broiler is place the food item in a bamboo steamer for a few minutes, or rig up a steamer situation using a raised platform inside of a generous pot of gently boiling water. Place a lid over the entire affair, and never walk away from the project until it reaches your goal. Steaming is a tricky proposition for the average kitchen, but the results can be worthwhile.

5. If you are serious about keeping your lettuce fresh, keep it in a tub of ice water. Many restaurants that keep a large supply of lettuce on hand for salads do not leave the unused heads wrapped individually in the refrigerator. Food preppers routinely clean the lettuce and core it by slamming the head stemside down on a hard surface. The core should fall right out, or at least be much easier to pull. Once the lettuce is clean and cored, the staff will place all the heads into a large barrel filled with ice and water and store it in the cooler. Whenever a fresh supply of lettuce is required, the salad chef will take a strainer and fish out the lettuce as required. If you have a need for a bulk supply of lettuce, such as a church spaghetti dinner, then you can do the same thing at home. Find the biggest container you have that will hold water, and place your lettuce in there with plenty of ice water. You'll extend the shelf life of your lettuce tremendously, and it will maintain its crispness until you finally use it.

6. Need onions in a hurry, but don't have the facilities to prepare them? Use the same dehydrated onions the fast food places use. Take a supply of dehydrated onions and soak them in ice cold water. The end results are barely different from 'regular' onions, and many people prefer the size and taste of the reconstituted onions.