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Keep Food Hot on a Buffet | Catering How-To with Chafing Dishes

Updated on June 17, 2014

Catering Dish - Chafing Dishes

This is a simple catering how-to involving how to serve and keep your hot foods hot at a home party, wedding or any event. Chafing dishes are one type of catering dish can give you the ability to keep your foods at a safe serving temperature as well as look elegant on your buffet table or, as we call it in the business -- buffetscape.

While the décor and set-up is important to creating a beautiful buffetscape, keeping the food at proper serving temperature to safeguard your guests should be the number one priority. Here, we will look at what is available to keep foods hot and look stylish at the same time.

Catering How To - Food Danger Zone
Catering How To - Food Danger Zone

The Food Danger Zone

Bacteria multiply best at temperatures between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F. This is referred to as "The Danger Zone". To avoid illness, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

  • Cold foods should be held at a temperature below 40 degrees F
  • Hot foods should be held at 140 degrees F or above
  • Cooked foods should be brought to a minimum temperature according to the list below:
    • Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts, and chops may be cooked to 145 °F.
    • All cuts of pork to 160 °F.
    • Ground beef, veal and lamb to 160 °F.
    • All poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.
  • When reheating foods, you should bring the internal temperature to 165 degrees F.

Additionally, casseroles, sauces and custards should be brought to a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees F.

Image Source:

Proper Holding Temperature

for Hot Foods is

140 degrees F

(60 degrees C) or above.

Winware 4 qt Round Chafing Dishes - with Gold Accents

Winco Winware 4 Quart Round Stainless Steel Gold Accented Chafer
Winco Winware 4 Quart Round Stainless Steel Gold Accented Chafer
This 4 qt chafing dish is perfect for any event at home or a rented venue. It comes with food pan, water pan, fuel holder and chafer stand and dome lid. Suprising how very affordable it is. This is a gorgeous addition to the buffet table. By using Sterno Fuel, your food will stay at proper holding temperature.

Where's Your Food Thermometer? - An Essential Tool of the Kitchen

CDN DTQ450X Thin Tip Thermometer
CDN DTQ450X Thin Tip Thermometer
An essential tool in any kitchen, especially if you host a buffet. Check to make sure your guests are safe as they partake from your buffet foods and that your catering dishes are doing their job.


Putting bricks in your oven and heating them up and then sticking them under your hot food dishes is NOT going to keep the bad bacteria at bay. The bricks will not get hot enough (in a conventional oven) to begin with and start cooling immediately. You have to keep the food on a constant heat source.

Round Chafing - Catering Dish - This One is MY Favorite! Used it for Years!

Excelsteel 4-Quart Heavy Duty Professional Stainless Chafing Dish
Excelsteel 4-Quart Heavy Duty Professional Stainless Chafing Dish
This is a 4 quart chafing dish. Most caterers and restaurants use the 8 quart size, rectangular shaped chafers to feed lots of people but this small chafer is perfect for home use or smaller parties. I love this design. The clear glass lid makes it easy to check on the level of food and for guests to see what's there without letting all the steam out. And, if you want the lids up during serving, simple place the glass lid on the lid holder. Simple! It comes with the stainless steel chafer stand, water/ice pan, food pan, tempered glass lid, glass lid holder, and fuel holder with lid.

Soup, Stew or Gravy Chafing Dish

Winco 207 Stainless Steel Soup Warmer, 7-Quart, Medium
Winco 207 Stainless Steel Soup Warmer, 7-Quart, Medium
This is a great catering dish! You can serve chili, vegetable soup, beef stew or sausage gravy to a crowd and not worry about the temperature of the hot food. It's made of stainless steel and holds 7 quarts. Included are the chafer frame/stand, lid, fuel holder, water pan and food pan. You will use this again and again! No need for electricity like a crock pot. Just use the canned fuel below.

Chafing dishes use a fuel canister to keep the foods hot. To set one up, you place water to the water level mark in the deep water pan and the food in the shallower food pan. Then, place the food pan into the water pan. The fuel canister is placed in the holder and then lit.

The fuel heats the water to a boil and the steam created allows the food in the food pan to stay at proper serving temperatures (though you should verify with your food thermometer throughout the party).

Did You Know...

There are 76 Million cases of Foodborne/Food Poisoning illness occur annually

in the USA

What's Available on eBay - For Keeping Food Hot While Serving

Lots of Restaurant supply and catering equipment companies as well as individuals will auction off unneeded chafing dishes. This can save you some money sometimes and is worth checking out!

Alternatives to Chafing Dishes

Slow Cookers

Crockpots/slow cookers are an alternative to chafing dishes for keeping hot foods hot. They allow for cooking and serving in the same dish.

The new, sleeker designs make them attractive on a buffet such as this Crock-Pot SCV700SS 7-Quart Oval Manual Slow Cooker in Stainless Steel.

Or, choose your own favorite designed CrockPot/Slow Cooker.


They do present some problems, however. You need to make sure there is a power source close enough to use, ensure that cords are safely tucked away and that other buffet items aren't too close to the sides of the Cropckpot since they do get quite hot.

The newer Crockpots usually have a "warm" setting that is designed to keep your foods at an acceptable holding temperature which is quite nice. However, always verify this by using a food thermometer.

Slow Cookers as Catering Dishes - Alternatives to Chafing Dishes

Hamilton Beach Stay or Go Portable 6-Quart Slow Cooker With Lid Lock, Dishwasher-Safe Crock, Silver (33262)
Hamilton Beach Stay or Go Portable 6-Quart Slow Cooker With Lid Lock, Dishwasher-Safe Crock, Silver (33262)
The Hamilton Beach Stay or Go slow cooker is great for transporting and serving hot foods. It uses a clip tight, seal lid to make sure there are no spills. It's also attractive enough to use on a buffet. The 6 quart size is great for gatherings!

Damask Pattern Crock-Pot - Stylish Chafing Alternative

Crock Pot 4.5 Quart Manual Slow Cooker, Damask Pattern
Crock Pot 4.5 Quart Manual Slow Cooker, Damask Pattern
I love the damask pattern on this original Crock-Pot brand slow cooker. It is 4 1/2 quart in size and comes with lots of recipes for you to try at your next party!

KitchenAid Slow Cooker - With Flip Lids to Keep Food Hot

KitchenAid Slow Cooker, 10.6 x 17.5 x 11.6 inches, Stainless Steel
KitchenAid Slow Cooker, 10.6 x 17.5 x 11.6 inches, Stainless Steel
Excellent piece to cook and serve from. The flip lids allow the food to stay piping hot during serving times. This one is on my wishlist!

Chafing Dishes How To

Using Chafing Dishes to keep Foods Hot

Now you know how the professionals do it! This simple catering how to shows you how to use a catering dish to keep your foods at a safe serving temperature.

How'd you do on the Quiz - for this Catering How to?

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    • DecoratingEvents profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @easyequipment: Yes, they do concentrqate the heat in one spot but that is no different than a burner on a stove. The water in the bottom pan is made to boil and the heat and steam from that is what keeps the food warm. There are different brands available for the fuel, try them out!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Im still not convinced about the burning of chafing fuel gel to keep food warm. the smell and gases are not great for health, and the heat is targeted to once place. In any case chafing dishes appear to be the best and most cost effective way to keep food warm at a hot buffet.

    • sheilamarie78 profile image


      7 years ago from British Columbia

      Important points, Mandee. Thanks. On the quiz, I misinterpreted the "minimum cold temp" to mean the lowest temperature to keep foods cold without freezing. 40 degrees is the minimum temp where food is in the danger zone, no? I must have read the quiz wrong.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      It is not only the quality of food which matters. The way it has been served is equally important. This page is quite informative in this regard.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great info, thanks for sharing it. Awesome tips on temperatures!

    • BuckHawkcenter profile image


      8 years ago

      Hey, not bad on the quiz! At least, I do know a few things :-).

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 

      9 years ago

      More by luck than judgement, I suspect, I cleaned up - thanks for the fun

    • hayleylou lm profile image

      hayleylou lm 

      9 years ago

      I love my Slow Cooker and wouldn't be without it :)

    • rlivermore profile image


      9 years ago

      As usual, a very helpful lens!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Yes, I did learn some new tips I really like the food thermometer. I can actually read the thing lol. I also like the slow cooker selections.

    • DecoratingEvents profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      @KathyMcGraw2: True Kathy. With slow cookers you have to watch putting anything too close and with chafers, there is a flame to keep things clear of. Thanks for the visit!

    • DecoratingEvents profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      @dustytoes: So true Pam. I have heard horror stories from other caterers when I was in the business. Precaution is the key!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 

      9 years ago from United States

      I love these chafing dishes! Not only are they practical, but they are pretty on the table. I like the stainless crockpot too. My crockpot is yellow and not nearly as pretty as the ones you have featured.

    • DecoratingEvents profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      @Sylvestermouse: They are gorgeous! And affordable. I don't think everyone realizes how many years of use you will get from these. Lend them to family and friends and you get double the use for the small investment!

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 

      9 years ago from California

      I bought one of the newer slow cookers...and the problem I have is the aluminum outer part gets very hot. Once I figured this out I was OK with it, just have to caution visiting kids :) I love the tips you gave here as well as the choices.

    • dustytoes profile image


      9 years ago

      I could have used these in my previous life when I threw lots of parties, but still very good advice. I always worried when I lived in Florida about keeping food cold at parties, especially out around the pool. This page is full of great advice - no one wants to get sick from eating spoiled food! (and I love those stainless crockpots!)


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