To keep food warm

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From balancing the perfect Sunday roast to hosting a dinner party, we’ve all experienced the struggles of keeping food warm while cooking.

We asked Rakesh Nair, Head Chef at The Cinnamon Club, for his top tips on how to ensure your meal is kept piping hot to its core until the moment it’s served.

Use foil properly

‘If your square or rectangular dish doesn’t come with a tight-fitting lid, use tin foil instead,’ Rakesh suggests.

‘Cover the dish in tin foil tightly but ensure that that the reflective side is facing the food.

‘Using this side means that heat will reflect back on to the food,’ he says.

(Image: Getty)

​MORE: 11 CLEANING SECRETS TO STEAL FROM HOTEL MAIDS

Don’t put a ladle in

‘When putting food out on a table, people make the mistake of leaving a ladle inside the pot. Doing this lets heat escape and the food will quickly become cold.’

If you can’t put a lid on it, Rakesh recommends cling film as it’s easy to attach and peel off the side of your dish. Leave a plate next to the pot for guests to put the ladle on to once they’ve finished serving – this way they’re not tempted to leave the spoon in the food.

(Image: Getty)

Think about the material of your dish

‘Certain dishes are better at holding heat than others,’ says Rakesh. For example, a cast iron casserole dish effectively cooks the dish but also conserves heat for a longer time, he adds.

(Image: Getty)

Plan ahead

‘Plan your work in such a way that foods that can be kept warm or reheated easily are cooked first,’ Rakesh advises.

‘For example, if you would like to prepare a baked whole monkfish with a sauce and steamed rice, start with the sauce first and leave it on a very low heat.

‘Cook the fish next and while the fish is cooking in the oven, prepare the rice so that by the time the fish is ready, the sauce and rice are hot and ready to serve as well,’ he says.

MORE: EASY PARTY FOOD IDEAS

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3 Foolproof Tips for Keeping Food Warm at a Tailgate

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If you’re bringing cooked food to a tailgate party, you’ve got to keep it warm. Here are three different ways to do it:

“Hot” Cooler

Coolers aren’t just for keeping food cold; they can also be used to trap heat. Keep tailgate dishes like chili, chicken wings, and cheese dip piping hot by placing them a cooler designated for hot food. To keep the food nice and warm, try this trick: wrap bricks in heavy-duty aluminum foil and heat them in the oven at 300˚ for about 20 minutes. Line the bottom of the cooler with dish towels and carefully place the bricks in an even row inside the cooler. Place the food containers on top of the hot wrapped bricks and keep everything in place with more rolled up towels.

Pro: Keeps food hot for the entire length of your tailgate.
Con: You’ll have to find some bricks.

Insulated Food Carrier

The easiest way to keep food warm at a tailgate (or potluck) is an insulated food carrier, or portable hot food bag. There are many options, from simple, lunchbag-like carriers to more elaborate carriers with multiple compartments and zippered pockets. MIER’s Double Casserole Carrier can fit a 9- by 13-inch casserole dish with an expandable design that allows you to transport cold and hot items at the same time. Make sure your dish is very hot when you place it inside the carrier to trap as much heat as possible.

Pro: Lightweight and portable; easy to use.
Con: Keeps food hot for a few hours, maximum.

WATCH: The Only Barbecue Sauce Recipes You’ll Ever Need

Portable Oven

If your tailgating spot has a power source, you can bring a small portable oven, an insulated carrier that plugs into the wall, providing a constant heat source. HotLogic’s Mini Personal Portable Oven warms up food and keeps it at a steady 165˚ without overcooking it—all you have to do is plug it in. The oven can accommodate a 6.75- by 8.75-inch food container.

Pro: No need to worry about food safety or whether the dish is hot enough.
Con: Requires an electrical outlet.

However you choose to store hot cooked food, remember that it must be at or above 140˚ to prevent food poisoning.

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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!

**This electric warmer shown below is my FAVORITE! Everyone that comes over my house tells me how much they love these. (Then they end up buying one.)

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!

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!

Chafing Dishes

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.

Deluxe Stainless Steel Chafing Dish:

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.

Stainless Steel Chafing Dish:

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.

Disposable Aluminum Party Set

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.

Stainless Steel Warming Tray & Buffet Server

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.

Electric Slow Cooker With Triple Mini Crock Pots

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

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!

Cooler

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.

What the pro’s use:

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!

Use Thermal Insulated Bags

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

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.
  • Triple mini crock pots are so great for warming sides, dips or sauces! These are beautiful!

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!

Don’t want to worry about keeping food warm? Check out these COLD appetizers instead!

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!

If you’re serving food BUFFET style, here are some recipe ideas you may love!

Check out these easy appetizers you can make in your crock pot!

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My Secret Weapon to Keep Food Hot or Cold

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No, I’m not talking about a chafing dish or a warming oven, or even a crockpot. I’m going to share my secret that costs under $12 and you can use it over and over again. You can even take it with you to a potluck or covered dish dinner. Curious yet?

Here’s the deal. You’re invited to a potluck dinner. You’ve slaved for hours (okay, maybe an exaggeration) but, you’ve made this dish you just know everyone is going to love. You take it right out of the oven and head off the party.

Then you have time to travel and when you arrive there’s a stinkin’ social “hour”, or somebody is late. By the time the dishes are uncovered and everyone eats, your (previously delicious) contribution is cold slop, right?

The First Line of Defense: But this is not exactly my secret…

If you don’t have one of these you need to get one. This is mine. It’s made by Pyrex and has been well loved.

It’s an insulated casserole carrier and comes with a 9″ x 13″ covered baking dish and a hot and cold pack that you heat in the microwave or freeze according to your needs. These are awesome and there are some really cute ones out there now.

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I found this one from Rachel Ray in two colors and it’s definitely a notch above mine in looks.

This one from Amazon is similar to mine:

But, here’s the thing…

These are great for getting to the party, but, at their cutest, these things are not really elegant sitting on a buffet table. And besides that, you’ve always got some well-meaning “helper” who takes everything out of their carriers 30 minutes before the meal is served. That’s when the cold mush happens.

Or, maybe you have something that just doesn’t hold heat well or would get soggy all covered up tight. Like my sausage balls I make every Christmas, for instance. Or, delicious rolls like these

Okay, the Secret is:

That hot pack that comes with your casserole carrier? It holds heat for a long time… maybe an hour and a half to two hours. Pull it out and slip it under your casserole dish on the buffet table.

Seriously, no one will be the wiser. And, the other cooks now serving cold mush will be green with envy when you rake in all the compliments. The truth is, your dish may be no better than theirs, but yours stayed HOT!

Here’s what I do with the sausage balls or rolls. Just slip the hot pack in a basket and then line it with pretty napkins. I’ve got this great basket that’s the perfect size and shape.

See the hot pack hiding under there? Sneaky, huh?

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To be honest, I haven’t used the cold pack nearly as much as the hot one, but I have used it, and it works great too.

I see now on Amazon that they have these combination packs that can be either heated or frozen. I’ve not tried them, but if you have, leave a comment and let us know if it works well.

One Last Tip…

for using your casserole carrier. Use it at home! Really. Do you ever have more dishes to bake than you have oven space? Or, guests who come with a casserole that still needs to bake when they arrive? I like to have one of my dishes already done and zipped up tight in my carrier. It frees up oven space and cuts down on hostess-stress, and that’s a big deal for me. I want to be as relaxed as possible when having people over.

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If you’ve read our tips on hosting a stress free dinner party, you will know that when it comes to dinner party planning, I am not a laid-back person. I also obsess about keeping food warm. I have researched this to death and thought I’d share my best tips from many years of entertaining.

Plan, Plan, Plan

I know this is easy for a planner (like me) and not so easy for a fly-by-your-pants person. I plan the menu so that I don’t have to reheat or finish off everything right before serving. Plan some room temperature or cold dishes and dishes that can be successfully kept warm until serving or reheated. It’s pretty awful to realize an hour before guests arrive that you don’t have enough oven and stove space to accommodate your menu.

Serve buffet style if possible

If you have the space, buffet style in the kitchen or elsewhere is almost always a better option for keeping things warm. You can set out food in covered dishes (or covered with tin foil), on warming trays or in chafing dishes which will all keep things warm until serving. If you’re using disposable or other chafing dishes, be sure to put your food in piping hot. Chafing dishes maintain temperature. They don’t heat up food.

Make ahead and use a caterer’s instructions for reheating foods

Caterer’s put out baking and reheating instructions for their foods that we can all use to guide us in reheating our own dishes. Here’s a very comprehensive list of reheating instructions I found online from Bakers’ Best Catering and, specifically,their Thanksgiving reheating instructions. Here’s another from Balduciis for BBQ reheating instructions and general reheating instructions. And if you want to slip in a few prepared foods to your meal, here is Whole Foods Cooking and Reheating Instructions. I find these can really help with how-to’s and timing.

Think beyond the stove and oven to keep food warm

When I have a larger crowd and lots of dishes with insufficient stove top and oven space, I expand my tools for keeping foods warm. Here’s a few I’ve used successfully to keep foods warm:

  • Crockpot – perfect for keeping stews, soups, stuffing and mashed potatoes warm
  • Thermos – perfect for keeping gravy and soup hot. I use a coffee thermos if I need to hold a litre of gravy. If I’m serving a butternut squash soup or lobster bisque as an appetizer in mini cups, for example, I heat up the soup and put it in a thermos well ahead of time – and pour it straight out of the thermos.
  • Microwave – perfect to warm up side dishes and other foods that don’t need to be crispy.
  • Toaster oven – I use this very often as a small oven. Or to warm up bread.
  • Heating pad – I’ve used this in a pinch on a side board to keep a serving plate of food warm after it’s served initially e.g. turkey. Tuck it between towels or place mats and hide the cord.
  • BBQ – this can be used as a second oven, particularly if you are able to keep the temperature fairly steady. You can also turn off one side of a gas grill or turn off the heat completely (after the BBQ is preheated), put your dishes in covered with foil and keep the lid closed.
  • Cooler – this can effectively keep many foods warm, even hot for a couple of hours. Using hot wet towels inside adds extra insulation. Coolers are also good for transporting hot foods covered in foil.

Use heat-insulating serving dishes and warm your plates

Generally, heavier dishes like ceramic will keep foods warm for longer. And use lots of tin foil if your dishes don’t have covers. A great way to keep food warm – and a nice touch – is to warm your plates before serving. Here’s a few options:

  • use a warming drawer if your oven has one;
  • heat plates in a 150F oven for 15 minutes;
  • some plates like Earthenware can be warmed in the dishwasher – run the cycle 2 hours before you’re serving – plates will stay warm.

Serve hot gravy or sauce

Gravy or sauce can be a real savior when serving meat, chicken or turkey. If the meat is baked right in a sauce, there’s no need to worry. Those types of dishes can keep warm in a 150-200F oven for up to an hour usually. If, however, you’re slicing meat or poultry at the last minute (after resting it), it tends to get cold quickly. I heat the gravy or sauce on the stove or microwave about 15-20 minutes before serving and pour it into an insulated coffee or gravy thermos which keeps it hot for hours. The hot gravy/sauce can make a big difference.

Try the sous vide cooking method

sous vide veal chop

The Sous Vide method cooks food in a specially-controlled water ‘bath’ to the exact temperature you set it for. The food can be left in the water bath for a couple of hours after it’s done in most cases.

In terms of stress-free, I give it a 100% rating. You can be totally confident that the meat will come out exactly as you intend (and super tender too). You do have to finish it off on the BBQ, broiler, pan or oven for a few minutes to get some color on the meat, but in my opinion, that is a very reasonable trade off. And because you’re applying some high heat at the very end, the meat tends to come to the table at the right temperature.

This method will not work for everything, but it’s certainly a new option in the tool box that wasn’t available in the not-too-distant past. Sous vide is particularly excellent for flank steak, pork chops, pork tenderloin, duck breast, chicken breasts, turkey breast. Make Ahead: In fact, all of these have a window of 1-2 hours where this additional time will not affect the texture and moistness of the meat.

How to keep specific foods warm for a party

Here are some tips for a few common dinner party foods. A general rule of thumb if you are refrigerating foods then reheating them: first bring the food to room temperature (30-90 minutes) before reheating. See reheating instructions above from caterers.

  • Rice: I use a rice cooker where the rice will stay hot and moist for an hour or more. Alternatively, rice reheats very well in the microwave, covered, for a few minutes It’s also fine to keep it warm in the oven, covered. I suggest adding a tablespoon or two of water to keep the rice moist when reheating.
  • Mashed potatoes: I use my warming ring on the stove top for up to an hour. I put a bit of extra milk/cream on top, let it sit, then fluff the potatoes up just before serving. I often serve potatoes right out of the pot. Mashed potatoes also reheat very well in the microwave for a few minutes (stir half way through). Or, they can be kept warm for hours in a slow cooker on low.
  • Roasts: I let my roasts sit on the counter for up to 45 minutes with lots of tin foil covering them loosely, then I slice just before serving. You can keep them warm in a 150-200F oven or on “warm” if you have this setting, but keep checking with an instant read thermometer to make sure the temperature is not rising. I’ve also used a pan with hot water under the roasting pan which worked quite well. I never reheat meat in the microwave as it can become gray and rubbery. Serve with hot gravy.
  • Turkey: (you can do this 1-2 days ahead). Once roasted, loosely cover with tin foil and let rest for 40-60 minutes (a must to retain juiciness). Slice and add to a pan, pressed close together to maintain moisture. Cover with plastic wrap pressing it all around the turkey. It can be refrigerated at this point. When ready to use, bring to room temperature for an hour. Set the turkey slices in one layer, with a bit of overlap. Drizzle hot broth over the turkey – covering about 1/8 inch of broth on the bottom of the pan. Reheat tightly covered with foil for 20-30 minutes (just until heated through) at 350F. Alternatively you can flash heat it at 450F for 7-10 minutes. Transfer to a hot plate and drizzle a bit of the broth from the pan over the turkey.
  • Steaks (at least an inch thick, 1 1/2 inches even bette): Season and sear steaks on the grill or in a pan on high for just 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a wire rack sitting over a pan (this will keep them from steaming and cooking more). A half hour before ready to serve, put the steaks in a 325F preheated oven and cook for about 10-20 minutes (depending on thickness) or until an instant thermometer reads 130F for medium rare.
  • Vegetables: If roasted, keep warm or reheat in a 35oF oven for a 5-10 minutes uncovered. For beans, broccoli and asparagus, for example, early in the day I blanch them in the microwave or in salted boiling water until tender but still have a bite. Then drop them into ice water to stop the cooking, drain and leave them sit until dinner. Just before serving, I stir pan fry them with oil, salt, pepper, garlic and/or lemon for 2 minutes. And, there’s always the option of serving them at room temperature (not a crime!).

Assign people to help

Guests are usually happy to help. With you orchestrating, let people carry things out to the table and help serve. If you have someone you trust to be a sous chef, take the plunge and assign something bigger. I know this is hard for perfectionists!

Cut yourself some slack

The best tip I read recently – not really a food tip – is to cut yourself some slack . I definitely need listen to myself on this one. I mean no matter what you do, carrots or asparagus and numerous other foods are simply going to get cold in minutes once they hit the table. Let it go (I tell myself) and good luck!

Please let us know (in a comment below) if any of these tips worked for you or if you have other ways to keep foods warm that you’d like to share. We’d love to hear from you.

This post on keeping foods warm was updated from April 2017.

When it comes to dishing out delicious food for the masses, one of the problems many caterers encounter is how to keep their produce warm over an extended period of time. Whether you’re a chef plating up food in a kitchen, a deli worker knocking out tasty morsels, or a street vendor playing up irresistible snacks, there are a few tried and tested ways to keep your food warm as well as safe. Here are some of the best…

Aluminium Foil

Often overlooked, aluminium is one of the best and simplest ways to keep food warm. Because you can wrap up the food, it can protect against light and oxygen and will retain heat for long periods of time. One of the best advantages of aluminium foil is that you can use it again and again across the same food type, making it a very economical and flexible purchase.

Foam Containers

A favourite among street vendors and delis, these are perfect for quick trips or for customers who want to buy and eat on the move. For added heat retention, you could always wrap the food in foil first, before placing it into the foam container. They are a one use only deal, but Styrofoam is a good thermal insulator and is easy to handle. Excellent for deliveries or eating whilst travelling.

Thermos Containers

You can get special thermos containers for kitchens that you can serve right out of. They’re also exceptionally good for transporting food; perfect for soups, stews and winter broths. These containers can keep food warm for a very long time and are very mobile, so if you move around a lot or sell food outside for short periods of time, then these are a perfect choice.

Portable Stoves

Portable stoves are great for keeping food warm and even cooking whilst on the go. They’re ideal because they allow you to control the temperature and all but eliminate heat loss entirely. You can get one ring or two ring stoves which are perfect for serving huts or temporary service areas. Other makes include non-gas varieties, specifically designed for usage in cars and vans.

Thermal foil bags

All the convenience of the thermos, but less space consuming. You might decide to portion of food into separate small thermal foil bags and pack them all into a box, making dishing up a breeze. They’re also a lot cheaper than full thermos flasks or containers, though they can’t really be re-used. The bags also are more suitable for food that’s in solid form.

Got a takeaway? Pop it in the microwave but don’t turn it on…

It’s a lot easier than warming the oven up and just as effective for short bursts. If your takeaway arrives early and you’re not quite ready to eat it, popping your purchase in the microwave and closing the door is a great way insulate it and keep it warm. Microwaves are designed to keep heat in (obviously), so you can use that to your advantage without even having to turn the machine on. It’s cheap, energy efficient and a lot less hassle than using the oven.

Place a casserole dish in a water-filled pan

One of the problems with keeping food warm is stopping it from drying out. If you keep food on low temperature in the oven for an hour or more, you’ll usually notice a bit of drying which can lead to problems and see you needing to add water. This can be avoided by putting your food into a covered casserole dish and placing it in a shallow pool of water within the oven. This will keep the oven moist and keep your food from drying out as a result.

For official government guidance on food safety and temperature control, download this PDF.

Use these simple tips and tricks to keep hot foods hot while you’re still cooking, on a buffet table, at a potluck, or while you’re on your way to the party!

How to Keep Hot Foods Hot

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One of the biggest challenges with a big meal, a buffet-style dinner, or a potluck can be making sure that all the hot foods stay hot. (Keeping cold foods cold is another challenge; you can read about how to do that here.) Keeping your main course and all the sides hot until it’s time to eat can be done using some of the things you already have in your kitchen!

How Long Can You Leave Food Out?

Before we jump into the different ways you can keep hot foods hot, we need to talk about how long you can keep food out. Food safety rules say that food should be refrigerated below 40 degrees F, or kept hot above 140 degrees F. If you have food out at a party, chances are the temperature will end up somewhere between 40 and 140 degrees. (Keep an eye on the temperature with a thermometer like this.)

Food can only be kept at that “middle zone” temperature for up to 2 hours. When you hit that two-hour mark, leftovers should be refrigerated.

How Do You Keep Food Warm Before Dinner?

If you’re making a big dinner, or one with a handful of side dishes, it can be tough to get everything cooked on time and keep it warm until it’s time to eat. As you finish each recipe, you can use your oven, stove, or even the microwave to keep everything warm until you’re ready!

Use the Oven to Keep Food Warm

You don’t want to keep food in your oven with the oven temperature turned up to 300 or 350 degrees F. The food will keep cooking and will get overdone and dried out. But you can use your regular oven as a warming oven!

Preheat your oven to the lowest temperature you can set. (Mine will go as low as 170 degrees F.) Turn the oven off, and stash a few recipes in there with the door shut to stay warm until it’s time to eat.

Use the Stove to Keep Food Warm

Using the stove to keep dishes warm is great for soups and sauces. Turn the burner on its lowest setting, keep a cover on the pot, and stir it occasionally. This will help keep things from burning or sticking to the pot.

Use the Microwave to Keep Food Warm

No, not to heat the food up – use the microwave as a warming oven! Your microwave is basically an insulated cabinet. If you aren’t going to need the microwave, pop a couple of hot dishes in there and close the door. The heat will stay in and your recipes will stay warm!

How Do You Keep Food Warm at a Buffet?

Now that you’re ready to eat, how do you keep everything warm while people are helping themselves? What about keeping leftovers warm for second helpings? Slow cookers and chafing dishes are great ways to keep everything hot.

Use a Slow Cooker to Keep Food Warm While Serving

If you can use the stove to keep things warm, you can also use your slow cooker! Keep the temperature set to warm (or low if there isn’t a warm setting), and keep it covered. A party slow cooker like this one keeps more than one dish warm at the same time.

Use Chafing Dishes to Keep Food Warm While Serving

If you want to get really fancy, or if you’re getting ready for a big party with lots of food, you might want to invest in a few chafing dishes. Set these up buffet-style, and keep the food covered until everyone is ready to eat.

How Do You Keep Food Warm While Traveling?

It’s a little easier to keep food warm when you’re staying in one place. But what about when you’re traveling? How do you keep that casserole hot while you drive to your family’s party? Use insulated carriers, coolers, or insulated grocery bags to help!

Use Insulated Carriers to Keep Food Warm While Traveling

Insulated carriers for casserole dishes are great for travel, but you can also use them to keep food hot if you aren’t going anywhere! Just pop a casserole dish inside and zip it up until you’re ready to eat. Carriers like this fit one 9×13 pan; carriers like this one fit two 9×13 pans. These insulated carriers can also be helpful to keep food warm while it’s on a buffet table.

If you need to take a whole meal on the road, try this insulated carrier!

Use Coolers to Keep Food Warm While Traveling

What? Coolers?

Yes! Coolers are insulators. We usually fill them up with ice and use them to keep foods cold. But you can also use them to keep foods hot! (Without the ice, obviously.) Coolers are also great for transporting large dishes (like a cooked turkey) to parties.

Use Insulated Grocery Bags to Keep Food Warm While Traveling

Yes, those insulated grocery bags can be used for things other than just bringing frozen foods home from the grocery store! These have less insulation than a cooler, so don’t plan on using these as your primary way to keep hot foods hot. But they will work for a short time!

Go one step further, and use an insulated delivery bag like this one for a little more insulation.

Which one of these tips will you use for your next party?

Enjoy!

3 Ways to Take the Fear Out of Your Kitchen

  • How to Keep Cold Foods Cold
  • How Long Can You Keep Leftovers in the Refrigerator?
  • Do You Need to Refrigerate Butter?

3 Recipes to Try

  • Crockpot Chili
  • Slow Cooker Turkey Tetrazzini
  • Slow Cooker Tacos for a Crowd

Shared on:

How Restaurants Keep Hot Food Hot and Cold Food Cold

In the restaurant business, temperature is essential for both quality and safety. To preserve flavor and minimize the risk of food poisoning, hot food should be kept hot and cold food should be kept cold.

For restaurants that offer take-out or catering, maintaining the appropriate temperature can be challenging. Fortunately, there are tools and supplies that can help. But it’s important to understand the appropriate holding temperatures for hot and cold items.

Proper Hot and Cold Holding Temperatures

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has temperature standards for hot and cold foods.

According to the FDA Food Code, hot foods must be maintained at 135 °F or above. When the temperature dips below 135 °F, bacteria can grow rapidly. The temperature “danger zone” for food is between 41 °F and 135 °F. The most rapid bacteria growth occurs between 70 °F and 125 °F. The longer food is allowed to sit in the “danger zone,” the greater the risk of bacteria growth and spoilage.

What temperature should cold items be kept at? These items should be kept at a temperature of 40 °F and below.

Restaurants have a duty to ensure that all of their food is held at a safe temperature.

How to Keep Food Warm

When serving hot dishes, it’s important to remember that hot holding equipment is not designed to reheat dishes. Rather, it’s designed to keep already-hot items at 140 °F or higher.

In addition to using the right equipment, you can help keep dishes at the right temperature by:

  • Keeping food covered (this will also keep contaminants out)

  • Stir frequently to ensure that heat is evenly distributed

  • Discard items that have been sitting below 140 °F for more than 2 hours

  • Use a thermometer to monitor temperatures

Restaurants have a number of different tools and equipment at their disposal to keep hot foods at just the right temperature.

Warming Oven

Warming ovens, or holding cabinets, are found in most restaurant kitchens. They play an integral role in keeping extra food product warm until it’s ready to be moved to a steam table or a customer’s plate.

Virtually any type of food can be held in a warming oven, from rice to vegetables and meat.

Steam Tables

Steam tables are used for front-of-house warming. They’re similar to holding cabinets in that they hold pre-cooked at safe temperatures. They’re not used to cook food or to bring temperatures back up to safe levels.

Steam tables have heated serving trays, and are generally used for self-service or buffet stations. They may have one of two types of wells: open or sealed.

Sealed wells have a covered heat source and built-in drain system. With this type of well, there’s no need for a spillage pan, so cleanup is much quicker and easier. The main drawback is that these steam tables only offer moist heat, which isn’t ideal for crispy items.

Open wells can be used for both moist and dry heating, so it’s a versatile option. However, you will need spillage pans for moist heating.

Catering Warmers

Also known as a tabletop warmer, catering warmers are designed to be portable and typically use chafing dish fuel to keep food warm.

There are also food warmers for parties that are portable versions of steam tables. They have heated trays with electronic temperature controls.

Round Warmers

Better known as soup warmers, round food warmers are ideal for keeping liquids at safe temperatures. Although they’re primarily used for soup, they can also be used to melt cheese for nachos.

Rethermalizer

Most warmers are designed to keep already-hot foods at safe temperatures. A rethermalizer is actually designed to bring cold food up to a safe warming temperature and keep it out of the danger zone.

Caterers love rethermalizers because they can quickly heat foods, saving them time on preparation.

Drawer Warmer

A drawer warmer is a versatile piece of equipment that can keep dishes hot and ready for serving. They’re commonly used for dinner rolls, baked potatoes and tortillas. They come in both single and multi-drawer options. Most will also allow you to control the temperature as well as the moisture level.

How to Keep Food Warm Without Electricity: Food Warmer Container

If you need to keep items hot without electricity, insulated containers are the ideal choice. These are containers that keep food hot for hours.

How to Keep Food Cold

It’s far easier for restaurants to keep foods cold, particularly if they don’t offer catering or self-service stations. The kitchen’s refrigerators and freezers should keep foods at safe temperatures. But what if you have a salad bar, buffet or offering catering services?

Here are a few tips for keeping food cold:

  • Never place directly on ice (exceptions include vegetables, fruits and molluscan shellfish)

  • Keep covered

  • Discard any items that reaches a temperature of 70 °F or higher

The right equipment and tools can help keep your items cold.

Catering Coolers

Coolers act as cold containers. They’re insulated, and they’re designed to keep foods cold for hours. Caterers may also use a portable meat cooler to keep meats fresh until they’re ready to be cooked.

Cold and Ice Buffet Stations

Refrigerated and ice buffet stations are available to restaurant owners who want to offer cold salad bars or buffet items.

These stations typically have insulated wells that help maintain cold temperatures for longer periods of time.

Cold Chafing Dish

Chafing dishes can also be used to keep foods cold. The bottom portion of the dish can be filled with cold water and ice to chill foods.

Serving Bowls that Keep Food Cold

Delicate dishes, like salads, can be difficult to keep cold without compromising the quality and texture of the food. There are commercial bowls with ice chambers that can keep these kinds of foods cold for long periods of time.

Maintaining the appropriate food holding temperature is essential for safety and flavor. Investing in the right equipment for warming and cooling is just as important as your investment in cooking equipment.

Your guests are here. Drinks have been had. You have the dinner table set, and all the sides are ready.

You told your friends to be ready to eat around 5:30, but now it’s quarter past six, and the tribe is getting restless. “Another 15 minutes” you assuredly tell-all, but even you don’t believe yourself.

This scene has played out many times for me, and I’m sure it’s happened to many of you too.

As the adage says, the problem when it comes to serving barbecue is “it’s done when it’s done.” A 10-pound pork butt might take 9 hours to cook, or it might take 13.

This makes planning a time to serve your guests difficult.

In this article, I’ll outline some ways you can avoid making your guests wait for their supper, while at the same time ensuring you serve a hot meal.

You need to cook way ahead of time, and learn how to keep food warm for hours. You cannot predict when a huge joint of meat will be ready from your BBQ, so take heed of the following advice instead.

Time Your Cook to be Ready Hours Early, then Keep it Warm

Essentially what you want to do, is make your food WAY ahead of time, and then keep it warm for when they arrive.

As an example, a brisket can take anything from 12 to 16 hours to cook, so set aside 18 hours to cook and rest it.

This way, if it takes the full 16 hours, you can rest it for 2 and serve. If it finishes in 12, you can rest and then keep it warm for 6 hours.

Problems arise when you start your cook 14 hours before guests arrive, and unbeknown to you – because we cannot reliably estimate these things – the particular brisket you have requires 16 hours to cook.

In this scenario, you would have to serve it 2 hours late, and that’s without any resting time, reducing the quality of your meat.

Alternatively, you could cook your meats a day or more before, and then reheat on the day? We have guides on how to best reheat brisket, and how to reheat pulled pork. But honestly, although still damn good, it’s not as good as fresh cooked on the day now is it?

Keeping Meat Warm for Hours Isn’t Easy – But It’s Possible

Keeping your meat warm for anything up to 6 hours isn’t easy.

The main danger you face is your food drying out, becoming tough, and hence being of severely lower quality compared to when you’d finished cooking it, and it was initially ready to eat.

But fear not, we have solutions!

Following are recommendations on how to keep your meat warm for hours on end, without sacrificing quality. Some professional solutions may be quite costly. However, we’ve something economical for everybody too.

Commercial Food Warmer

Restaurants and professional caterers need to be able to keep food hot, especially if the food they’re cooking needs to be prepared for some time before they expect it to be served – i.e., cooked in one location and transported to another to be served.

The reason for this is two-fold, obviously, they need to be able to serve hot food, and they need to keep food out of the “danger zone” between 40°F – 140°F. At this temperature bacteria can multiply, doubling in as little as 20 minutes.

While there are many different options for commercial warmers, the most popular would be the Insulated Food Transport Carriers made by Cambro.

Available in both electric and non-electric models, they’re able to keep food above 150°F for up to 4 hours in the non-electric models; longer in electric models.

While these units are indeed costly and impractical for the home cook, you can find them used on sites like eBay and Craigslist.

Pros

Easy to use and can keep temps for hours.

Frequently these devices are meant to be portable to accommodate caterers. That means they’re great if you want to cook at your house, then transport the meat to your final destination and still have it be piping hot when you dig in.

Cons

As mentioned, these devices run into the thousands of dollars brand new and aren’t necessarily easy to come by second hand.

Hold at a Low Temp in the Oven

While not ideal, many dishes can be kept warm in the oven. According to Alice Henneman, MS, RDN with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, you can keep foods hot in a preheated oven set to 200°F – 250°F.

Personally, I prefer between 160f and 170f as an oven temperature to keep food warm. This is way above required food safety levels, yet isn;t so high that it keeps the food cooking.

If you’re going to be keeping your food hot for an extended period, check your food frequently to make sure it stays above 140°F. If your food is getting too hot and is at risk of drying out you can turn your oven off for a period of time and then turn it back on; your food will stay hot while the oven is turned off due to residual heat in the oven.

I find this method works best for something like pulled pork. Remove your pork shoulder and let it rest before pulling then placing in a covered roasting pan with a little braising liquid – i.e., the dripping’s reserved from the meat, and place in your preheated oven.

Since most anyone would have an oven and a roasting pan in their home, this is a great standby when you don’t have a better option available to you.

The most obvious con is this method will continue to cook your food as it hot holds. A no go for foods like steaks, chicken, and brisket that will dry out and become tough. Pork though is far more forgiving.

How to Keep Food Warm in a Faux Cambro

This method, made famous by Meathead from AmazingRibs.com, involves utilizing a standard, highly affordable cooler to mimic an expensive commercial food warmer – i.e., a Cambro.

Coolers are highly thermally insulated, the very property they are designed for to keep things inside cool. However, this property also works the same for keeping warm, hot foods placed inside.

A cooler is actually good at maintaining ANY stable temperature inside, be that cold or hot. And this is what makes them so great at keeping food warm for hours.

How to Keep Food Warm in a Cooler – The Method:

In order to use the ‘faux cambro method’, you need a few items: A soft sided cooler, some tin foil and a two or more towels.

Shortly before your meat is cooked, add a couple of gallons of hot tap water to the empty cooler. Close the lid for at least 30 minutes, then ditch the water. This preheats the cooler; it brings it up to a good warm temperature ready to receive hot food. Without this step, the food you place inside would initially lose some heat bringing the cooler up to temp.

Next, remove your meat from the cooker and wrap it tightly in aluminum foil, if not already done.

Now place a clean towel or two in your cooler, place your wrapped meat on top of the towels, and place a couple more towels on top and close the lid.

Your meat will stay hot for hours using this method.

I’ve taken pork shoulders out of the tinfoil after being in the “faux Cambro” for 4.5 hours, to still see steam rising off the meat it’s that hot!

Have a cooler? Towels? Access to hot water? Good, you have all the tools necessary to build a faux Cambro.

Will not work indefinitely. Eventually, your food will reach the danger zone.

You COULD Bail Out of Low n Slow: Just Cook Fresh, Serve Hot

This isn’t a joke. Lots of times I’m asked what I would do if I had a large number of people coming to my home for a good BBQ?

I would mostly steer clear of unpredictable cuts of meat like pulled pork and brisket and instead opt to grill steaks, chops, even hot dogs, and hamburgers.

How would I serve 20+ people and not serve them cold food? Easy, I’d serve it right off the grill.

Before your guests arrive, have all your sides ready. Have your salads made and in the fridge. Have anything like mashed potatoes or glazed carrots in the oven or on the stove, and ready to eat. Have your meat seasoned and ready to cook and your grill hot and ready.

Then all you have left to do is grill these quick-cooking cuts of meat and serve it as your guests take their seats.

Obviously, the most significant advantage to cooking fresh is that all of your guests will be able to enjoy their food hot, while it’s at its ideal stage. As an added benefit, your guests can enjoy the show as you effortlessly cook them their dinner.

This isn’t an option for something that is going to take hours to cook – i.e., brisket, but it will work for foods that can cook in 20 minutes or less like steaks, chops, hamburgers and hot dogs.

You’re not going to be able to enjoy the beginning of the party because you’re going to be busy cooking.

Conclusion

How do you keep your food warm? Have you ever been in a jam and had to come up with your own way to keep your food from going cold? Did you use a method similar to one of the ones listed above? Do you think it worked better than our methods?

Leave us a comment below telling us all about it so we can all learn from each other.

Happy grilling!