Serving cold food that SHOULD be warm is my ultimate fear when hosting a party. Keeping food warm for hours is NOT easy, especially when you have a crowd of people who are arriving at different times and eating throughout the party. You have temperature safe zones to consider plus the fact that food easily dries out over time.
But since the food, in my opinion, is the MOST important thing, I wanted to share some valuable advice with you that I have learned so you don’t make the same mistakes I’ve made!
Below I am sharing techniques caterers use to reheat foods and keep foods warm with and without electricity. Most are pretty simple and can be replicated at your next party whether its indoor or outdoor!
Keep in mind, many of these tips may require purchasing items or equipment so think about what makes the most sense to purchase, what is the best investment for your future parties and most importantly, what works within your budget!
How To Keep Food Warm At Your Next Party
You spend hours preparing food and because of poor planning, end up serving cold lasagna to your guests. But thankfully, something like this CAN be avoided! With the right equipment, proper tools, and some thought-out planning you will be ready to welcome your guests, wine in hand, anxiety free!
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Invest in Food Warmers!
If you have company over more than once a year, investing in a good set of durable food warmers is one of the BEST investments you will make! They will pay themselves in one party with the minimal stress and fatigue you will experience. Plus, they look nice and can allow you to set the food out way before the party starts!
What are chafing dishes?
There’s a reason this is the most popular type of food warmer! Chafing dishes are portable catering pans that are raised on a frame or tripod and heated using water and small flames. Similar to a water bath. They are the best because they provide enough heat to not just maintain the temperature of already hot food but will WARM UP cold food!
*Chafing dishes are best for ‘BUFFET STYLE’ parties.
These are top of the line. They look super fancy and have THE BEST LIDS! You know when you’ve tried to open one and realize you have nowhere to place it! Some chafing dishes have nowhere to put the lid which can cause your guests to be inconvenienced. Not these. They have retractable lids that easily open and close. If it’s in your budget, I would recommend investing in at least two.
These are more affordable and are very durable. You can split one large one into two smaller dishes if you want to warm two separate foods. The best thing is the frame folds up so they do not take up as much space as you think and they are easy to transport.
This set is made by Sterno and is pretty affordable. The set is ideal for casual parties or backyard BBQ’s. The set comes with 24 pieces all of which are reusable and/or disposable.
Chafing Dish Tips:
You want to get your food as warm as possible in a minimal amount of time! To do this:
- Use larger sterno cans. This will help heat the water faster!
- Start with warm or hot water in your water pans. If your water is already heated, your food will warm up much quicker!
Electric Food Warmers
Electric food warmers are awesome. They do not require any water or flames and are much easier to set up. The one negative is that they require electricity to run. So you have to take the cost into consideration as well as the location where you want to set them up. Extension cords are a must!
*Electric food warmers are also great for BUFFET STYLE parties.
Because of the small trays, this one is perfect for warming sides or appetizers. The lids are clear so you can see through them plus they have a stand to place the lids on while serving yourself.
My favorite thing is the warming tray itself. You can remove the buffet trays and expose one single warming tray. This is great for placing casserole dishes on or foods you want to slightly warm while crisping the bottom like breads.
This is awesome for serving dips or sides. I also use this for a taco bar or any food bar where you want to heat multiple sides or toppings at once. IT really is such a fun warming station!
Thermos’ are not just for your kid’s lunch! They are great for keeping food warm for HOURS without doing anything. Perfect for soups, stews or sauces. Best of all, they pour easily so they’re ready to serve!
Yes! Coolers can be used to keep foods HOT too!
You probably think of ice when the word cooler comes into mind but what we may forget is that coolers are great for insulating anything whether its cold OR hot. You can turn your cooler into a HOT BOX or a ‘Cambro’. Caterering companies use a Cambro all the time for weddings or large events.
How To Use A Cooler to Keep Food Warm For Hours:
You can keep food safely warm in a cooler for 4-6 hours if you take the proper steps to turn your cooler into a ‘hot box’.
What you want to do is heat water up in a large pot on the stove. Then add the water to an empty cooler and let it sit for at least 5 minutes. This will bring the cooler’s internal temperature up so when you place the food in, it wont need to steal heat from the food to warm itself up. Pour out the water when your ready to start insulating!
To insulate, line the cooler with heavy duty aluminum foil followed by a few towels. This will add extra insulation to the cooler. Then wrap your containers or dishes fully with more aluminum foil and a towel and place inside neatly with extra towels snuggled around the food so it does not shift or allow air flow.
*Keeping the lid closed until ready to serve will keep the heat in longer!
Three ways to add even MORE heat to your cooler next to your towels:
- Water Bottles: An extra way to maintain the heat in a cooler is to use water bottles. Just add very hot water to any water bottle you have in your house and close it up. Lay them around the sides, bottom and top of the cooler.
- Rice or Beans: Add some rice or beans to some large socks and tie them in a knot. Place them in the microwave for a few minutes or until hot. Place under and around your food. Rice and beans hold heat very well and are a cheap alternative to adding more heat to your cooler.
- Hot bricks: Go to your local Home Depot or Lowes and purchase 4-6 unglazed bricks for super cheap. Then, wrap them in sturdy aluminum foil and heat the bricks in the oven at 400ºF for 30-40 minutes. Carefully remove them and place them on top of some moist towels on the bottom of your cooler. The moisture will help to maintain the heat better and the bricks are awesome at retaining heat.
Be careful stacking your food in a cooler! If you want to warm multiple dishes, you’ll need to stack your food. To do this, use an empty cardboard box and cut a piece of cardboard as wide as the cooler. This will be a make-shift ‘shelf’ to place the food on. OR, you can purchase these oven-safe casserole dishes which have sturdy lids allowing you to stack them easily without a mess!
These are great for both at home and traveling! They are easier to carry then large coolers and do a great job insulating food! You can use the same strategies I mentioned above to help lock in as much heat as possible.
Wrap your lasagna, vegetables meat, etc. in a few casserole dishes and wrap in tin foil. Stack them on top of each other and place them inside a bag. Your entire dinner will be nice and hot for when you (or your guests) arrive at the party!
Heat lamps are used in all restaurants! Once the food is ready, chefs will place it under a heat lamp until the server comes to take it away. It does a great job at keeping food warm especially food that is meant to stay crispy! It is really great for appetizers!
Use Your Slow Cooker To Keep Food Warm
Most of us have slow cookers (or crock pots) already however we don’t think about using them to keep food warm for parties.
You can use your slow cooker to keep for warm as long as the temperature of the food stays above 140 degrees F. Here are some tips for using it for a party:
- Preheating it important! Do this before you add your food so you can get a jump start on the process. This way, your food wont sit at room temperature while waiting for the slow cooker to heat itself up first. This could take over an hour or two to bring the food up to the proper temperature so be careful. Especially if your slow cooker is filled with food.
- Add WARMED food to your slow cooker. This way, the slow cooker wont need to spend time or energy heating itself AND the food. Warm the food up BEFORE adding it to your slow cooker if it was made prior to the party.
- Set your slow cooker to the ‘WARM’ setting so the food does not over-cook or dry out.
- Other tip* Have a place to put that lid! We all know how much condensation forms on the inside of those lids so if guests are helping themselves, have a set place for them to pit it. A clean, dish towel is a great option.
Keep Form Warm Using Your Home Appliances!
Using Your Oven To Keep Food Warm
This is probably one of the most POPULAR ways we like to keep food warm! It’s free and does not require too much added effort! The ‘warm’ setting is about 200ºF. If you don’t have a ‘warm’ setting, just set your oven’s temperature to this setting and wrap food in tin foil before you place it in your oven. Don’t set the temperature too high, or leave your food in too long or it will dry out! Aluminum foil will prevent the food from drying out too much so make sure to use some.
Tip* The warm setting temperature for your oven in Celsius is about 93ºC.
Using Your Toaster Oven To Keep Food Warm
Toaster ovens are great because they heat up much quicker than a regular sized oven! If your using one, set the temperature to the lowest ‘BAKE’ setting. This way your food wont burn or dry out. Toaster ovens are perfect for keeping items warm like bread, small appetizers or even dips!
Plan In Advance What Time Food Will Be Served
Time and food can be enemies especially when warming foods for long periods of time. You don’t want your food to dry out. You also want to make sure your food never drops into the “danger zone” which is between 40ºF and 140ºF. Once it does, you have TWO hours before bacteria will start to grow.
With that said, it is important to determine how long your food will be left out without heat. Two hours is not a long time so if you’re serving a sit-down dinner, you want to keep the food over 140ºF until last minute and serve from the oven straight to the table.
If you’re serving food buffet style, you may want to have to food out for several hours so everyone can continue to help themselves throughout the duration of the party. If that’s the case, you will need to make sure your food has time to heat up before guests help themselves.
Some chafing dishes can take over an hour to heat the food all the way through so make sure you take this time into consideration! TIP* Starting with HOT water underneath your dish and using larger sternos are both smart tricks to get your food warmers ready faster!
Invest In A Quick Read Thermometer
If you are keeping food warm for longer than 2-3 hours, I highly recommend using a quick read thermometer to help you stay on top of the temperature of the food. This way if you see something dropping too close to the danger zone, you can throw it in the oven or add another sterno to bring the temperature back up to the safe zone.
How To Keep Food Warm For Your Next Party
As you can see, there are a ton of ways to keep your food warm. I suggest choosing the option that works best for your party and budget. Whatever you decide, keep in mind that most of what you purchase is an investment and will pay off in lack of stress alone! Knowing your food is being served warm at a safe temperature is worth every penny in my opinion!
If you have other ways YOU keep food warm at your parties, I’d LOVE to hear them below!
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