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Stuff for Keeping Food Warm


robyn
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Fingers crossed we are finished with hurricane threats. I'm looking foward to Thanksgiving. Big family gathering. I'm used to cooking a lot - but not for a lot of people (usually I have a lot of leftovers). This will be the first time. I'd like to put out a spread where things like veggies will stay warm. Any recommendations? I have a lot of catalogues - including professional cooking catalogues - and the chafers-small steam tables-etc. are expensive as well as ugly. The new All Clad line isn't ugly - but it's out of the ballpark in terms of expensive. I've been looking at the Maxim warming tray - price is right - but will it do the job?

What applicances do those of you with experience recommend? Robyn

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We have a Maxim warming tray. It works - even keeps the cheese all melty. The only problem is that even the large one is sometimes too small. Depending on how many items you want to keep warm you might need more than one.

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A cooler will also keep things warm especially if you line it with towels hot from the dryer! Or, if you have those warmer bags that you heat in the microwave for relief of pain - put em in the cooler instead of ice packs.

And think about a few garage sales before Thanksgiving - food warmer trays are almost always in evidence and you can pick up two or three for a few dollars each.

Thermos flasks/coffee carafes work fine for sauces.

A counter top oven, set at 200F, will also serve to keep things warm.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

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Keep in mind the logistics. Anything that uses electricity needs to be plugged in (and the cords are usually short); if you're serving buffet style, cords can really get in the way. Also, too many electric appliances can pop your circuit breakers.

In addition to the suggestions above (love the cooler one), I am a big fan of chafing dishes. They really keep hot food hot with no electricity issues. You can get them in stainless steel for as little as $35-45 at SAMs club or similar places, or for a one time event, use the disposable kind they sell in party stores for about $10. Even though they are aluminum and seem flimsy, they actually work surprisingly well. Just make sure you start with very hot water in the chafer bottom.

"Life is Too Short to Not Play With Your Food" 

My blog: Fun Playing With Food

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A cooler will also keep things warm especially if you line it with towels hot from the dryer!  Or, if you have those warmer bags that you heat in the microwave for relief of pain - put em in the cooler instead of ice packs.

Something to consider before using your best coolers. If your items are really hot, they could warp the inside of the cooler. We buy cheap styrofoam coolers dedicated specifically for holding boiled crawfish, thus keeping our more expensive coolers intact. (I realize that pouring food straight from a boiling pot directly into a cooler is less likely to happen for holiday dinners, but thought the point was worth considering.)

Dear Food: I hate myself for loving you.

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What applicances do those of you with experience recommend?  Robyn

My mom uses something like this:

Thermal Food Server

They also make one for gravy that she uses without fail for every holiday spread.

Another thought (besides electric food warming trays) could be:

Pyrex portables

With the carrier, there's a trivet-like pad that you put in the microwave to heat up. You're supposed to be able to put the pad in the carrier setting the Pyrex dish on top to keep warm. I'd think you could use the pad on a table (making sure you put a trivet under the pad) and set the dish on top of the pad to keep the items warm.

Of course, there are the roasters that have buffet inserts, too:

Rival Buffet server (roaster not included)

Kenmore Roaster with Buffet insert

You can also use your slow-cooker set on a low setting to keep veggies warm.

 

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These are all good ideas for various serving situations - although I don't think I want to put the cooler on the Thanksgiving table - no matter how well it works :smile:.

Since I've never used a chafing dish - I have a question. On one of the web sites I saw - it said remember to designate someone to check the water level every once in a while. That implies that the water evaporates - and when the water evaporates - you can wind up burning the food (or worse). So what exactly do you have to do if you're planning to leave a spread out for about 3 hours? We don't have these family gatherings too often - and - when we do - no one is that attentive (at the last one my SIL almost burnt down a wall when some candles started a fire).

FWIW - I do have a spot where I can plug in an electric warming tray that is "out of harm's way". Robyn

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I almost always have my chafing dishes out for three hours or more. If I fill the bottom halfway with water, I don't have any problem running out of water..

The other thing I have, which I forgot to mention, is a Rival Crockpot "Little Dipper" (I searched in vain to find a picture to link to). It is perfect for keeping sauces and gravies warm on a buffet.

Marlene

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Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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Robyn - the trick with maxing out chafing dish life, as Marlene says, is to use maximum water in the lower pan to start with. The mistake a lot of people make is to start with only a little water, and yes, it will steam out.

The trick is to get as much hot) water in the bottom tray as will fit without making the upper pans float. This may take a little practice, but not much - and you can always add or scoop out if you get it wrong - just try it with an empty upper pan the first few times until you get the hang of it.

"Life is Too Short to Not Play With Your Food" 

My blog: Fun Playing With Food

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I have several Hot Trays, some by Salton, others by other brands and all sizer from small to very, very large, the size of a sheet pan. Some I have had for 20 + years and they still work fine, others I have bought on eBay at very reasonable prices.

Check in eBay, there are several listed now. Small Appliances. Type warming tray in the search window and search or search using "Salton" "Devon" or "Morgan" all manufacturers of these appliances. They are usually listed in "Other Small Appliances" but sometimes are in another category so search in all Small Appliances.

The hot trays use very little electricity I use a multiple plug block that has 8 outlets, a heavy duty cord and is white. I secure it to the underside of the table with the heavy duty Velcro patches made for holding tools to a wall. The block has a switch on it so I can plug the trays in and turn them on all at once as generally they are on when plugged in, with no on/off switch.

I also have several large buffet servers, all "vintage" appliances, that have a bottom that holds water at a certain temperature and with one to 4 serving dishes that fit into the unit to keep things at a serving temperature.

There are new ones available also, but if you can find the old ones in good condition, they are much more attractive.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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If you don't want to invest in chafers for your first event, most party rental places have several types to choose from.

Tobin

It is all about respect; for the ingredient, for the process, for each other, for the profession.

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Andie hits it right: look for the old Salton Hot-Trays. They are great, and last and last (unless you drop something on them, oops :shock::sad: ) I've been through 2 Maxims, both of which self-destructed, but the Salton just keeps going and going . . .

As for chafers, you can probably get "disposables" -- frames that hold aluminum roasting pans -- but those don't necessarily have doubles for water. They'll work all right for wet stuff, though. Kinda ugly, though.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Andie hits it right: look for the old Salton Hot-Trays. They are great, and last and last (unless you drop something on them, oops  :shock:    :sad:  )  I've been through 2 Maxims, both of which self-destructed, but the Salton just keeps going and going . . .

As for chafers, you can probably get "disposables" -- frames that hold aluminum roasting pans -- but those don't necessarily have doubles for water.  They'll work all right for wet stuff, though. Kinda ugly, though.

They are "kinda ugly". I'm not sure this spread will be the most beautiful I've ever put out - but I'd like to avoid "ugly". I think I'll poke around a little - and see what I can come up with. Robyn

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This might be a little too far out, but you can use granite squares or maybe slate and set them on something (I've seen bricks used) and a candle like they use for chafing dishes under it. Also, I think you can heat rock salt and set dishes in it and it will help keep things hot.

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I went to Costco the other day to pick up some things - and they were selling the disposable chafers for $3.50 each. Huge packs of Hefty water and serving pans (15 water pans and 30 1/2 serving pans) were cheap too. So I bought 3 chafers and a pack each of water and serving pans. Think the whole thing cost about $20-25.

No one would ever confuse these for All Clad chafers - but they're not terrible looking either (perhaps because the finish is a matte finish - not shiny). And you can prepare the food in advance - dish it into the Hefty pans - maybe reheat in the oven - and then serve. Don't know if I'll wind up using these things for Thanksgiving - but for $25 (excluding fuel) - what do I have to lose? Robyn

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Rent them if you can! Rent them! You can also rent the dishes, cutlery, and stemware and you don't have to clean them. Just scrape em off and place them in the boxes they came in. You will end up buying more than one chafer, and you have the problem with storage in the off season. I made a last minute chafer with a heavy ceramic plattersitting on a wok with water, the wok sitting on a the wok ring, and small tea candles on spare ceramic tiles underneath. Works great if you just need one meat platter. Disposable is just plain wrong, we can't keep chucking stuff into land fills.

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Rent them if you can! Rent them!  You can also rent the dishes, cutlery, and stemware and you don't have to clean them. Just scrape em off and place them in the boxes they came in. You will end up buying more than one chafer, and you have the problem with storage in the off season. I made a last minute chafer with  a heavy ceramic plattersitting on a wok with water, the wok sitting on a the wok ring, and small tea candles on spare ceramic tiles underneath. Works great if you just need one meat platter. Disposable is just plain wrong, we can't keep chucking stuff into land fills.

Apart from the fact that TPTB will probably quarantine our messages if we get into a food fight about trash and recyling - I'll say that just because these chafers say they're disposable - doesn't mean I'll throw them in the trash right after using them. I'll stick them in the attic - and then - when I find them 5 years from now when I'm looking for holiday decorations - I'll throw them away :wink: . Actually - the biggest problem with "disposables" is they're so cheap they have no resale value on Ebay (which is where I get rid of most of the stuff I don't use anymore).

And just for future reference - I'm a terrible person to talk with about this subject. I read 3 (frequently fat) newspapers a day. So I am probably personally responsible for the destruction of a couple of forests and the construction of a couple of Mt. Trashmores (which is what we call our landfills here in Florida).

By the way - we are renting tables - chairs - linens - etc. Our attic isn't that big! Using disposable plates - and our own glasses/cutlery. Not perfect I'm sure from your POV - but not 100% hopeless either. Robyn

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Robyn, just in case no one has said it yet (although I'm sure you know this): do NOT expect the heat of the chafers to warm your food sufficiently and fast enough to keep it out of the danger zone for the necessary safe amount of time. As I'm sure you are aware, you should heat the pans in the oven and THEN put them into the water bath in the chafers. And it's easier to heat the water in your tea kettle and pour it in, rather than wait for the puny chafer heat source to bring it up to temperature.

And one more caveat: if you store the cooked food in "disposable" aluminum pans, don't cover them directly with foil, but use plastic wrap. Too many foods will cause a chemical reaction that eats through the foil and leaves little gray "droppings" on the surface of the food. :sad: Only cover with foil when you put them into the oven to heat.

But, sigh, don't you wish you could buy the AllClad chafers? Aren't they gorgeous? :wink:

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Robyn, just in case no one has said it yet (although I'm sure you know this): do NOT expect the heat of the chafers to warm your food sufficiently and fast enough to keep it out of the danger zone for the necessary safe amount of time. As I'm sure you are aware, you should heat the pans in the oven and THEN put them into the water bath in the chafers. And it's easier to heat the water in your tea kettle and pour it in, rather than wait for the puny chafer heat source to bring it up to temperature.

And one more caveat: if you store the cooked food in "disposable" aluminum pans, don't cover them directly with foil, but use plastic wrap. Too many foods will cause a chemical reaction that eats through the foil and leaves little gray "droppings" on the surface of the food.  :sad:  Only cover with foil when you put them into the oven to heat.

But, sigh, don't you wish you could buy the AllClad chafers?  Aren't they gorgeous?  :wink:

What I was planning to do was make as many "do-ahead" dishes as possible - reheat them in the oven - and then put them in the chafing dishes. And boiling the water in my tea kettle like you mentioned.

Thanks for the tip about using plastic wrap. I usually don't cook for this many people - so I'm used to storing/reheating in things like Corning dishes with glass covers.

If I only needed one chafer - I might be tempted by the AllClad. Since I need about 5-6 - and only for this one time in about 30 years - the idea was a non-starter :smile: . They are really pretty though. Robyn

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I don't know why I didn't think of this before. I have used my electric griddles for keeping foods warm when the hot trays were not enough. The lowest temp is usually just right for keeping things like rumaki warm.

Go to Amazon (through the eG link if possible)

Presto 07039 professional griddle

Price: $34.95

Availability: Usually ships in 24 hours

Quantity: 

This is an 11 x 22 inch griddle (cooking surface) at a very reasonable price. You can set pyrex casseroles or baking dishes directly on the griddle.

They are dark so will be unobtrusive. Two should give you plenty of space and they can be put to good use later.

They are sturdy enough that they don't have to be handled with kid gloves and cheap enough that you can lend them out if needed by friends and family, without worrying about them.

You also don't have to worry about fire, which can be a problem with sterno heated chafers. I know I always worried about it which is one reason I got the hot trays and similar things.

When my kids were small, one of them took the sterno pot out from under one of the servers and was running around with it, chasing the other kids. I almost had a heart attack when I saw him. His dad took the thing away from him and he was sent to his room to think about what he had done. If you have a lot of kids around and they can't be watched every second, it is better to not have something that is so fascinating as a little fire in a pot.

West Bend made a larger one at one time but although occasionally I see one on ebay, they are pretty scarce. It was 15 inches wide and 30 inches long. A real monster, made for big families.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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One last safety note about "disposable" chafers, etc. - in the food safety class I took, we were taught to never re-use aluminum pans that food was cooked/served in. The reason is that with all of the nooks and crannies, it is impossible to properly clean and sterilize those pans for subsequent food service. What you do for your own household, however, may not be as rigorous as what you do when feeding others. Still, I thought I should mention it.

In our community, aluminum is recylable and that is where the pans go when we are done with them.

"Life is Too Short to Not Play With Your Food" 

My blog: Fun Playing With Food

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One last safety note about "disposable" chafers, etc. - in the food safety class I took, we were taught to never re-use aluminum pans that food was cooked/served in.  The reason is that with all of the nooks and crannies, it is impossible to properly clean and sterilize those pans for subsequent food service.  What you do for your own household, however, may not be as rigorous as what you do when feeding others.  Still, I thought I should mention it.

In our community, aluminum is recylable and that is where the pans go when we are done with them.

[People who are fanatics about recycling please skip this message!]

I think the 30 "half pans" I bought at Costco were maybe $6-7. So I can't imagine trying to reuse them. And I sure wouldn't do anything at home that isn't reasonable in terms of food service (I mean - is it any better to give yourself food poisoning than to have a restaurant give it to you!).

By the way - I live in a small county which doesn't recycle much. It can't afford to subsidize the recycling. Abolished recycling glass this year. Robyn

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