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Using Chafing Dishes??

How long (approximately) does it take to reheat prepared food in chafing dishes, assuming the food is at room temperature when I light the sternos. I'm making sausage & peppers, stuffed shells, chicken picatta & another baked pasta dish. Thanks!

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  1. You usually control the heat with sternos, so I would give the dish high heat and keep an eye on it, stirring frequently. It should only take 5 min. or so. They're really hot.
    Turn heat down after you get it up to temp.

    6 Replies
    1. re: monavano

      I just noticed your post, and I think you are probably answering assuming that the sternos are going to heat the food tray directly, and not use a water pan. In that case, I would agree with you, but I was assuming the standard catering set up with large water trays and either two half trays of food, or one large tray of food. The food trays rest over a water pan with about one to one and a half inches of water, creating a steam tray. I guessed this based on the number of dishes the OP is preparing, so maybe she can tell us what the set up is so that she won't hear such conflicting information. Our advice is very different if she doesn't clarify.

      1. re: monavano

        I'm catering my first outdoor wedding and there will be no hot water for the chafing dishes. How long does it take to heat tap water in an 8 qt. chafing dish? The steros I have are 7oz cans. Any tips on outdoor wedding will be much appreciated!!!

        1. re: Qvictoria

          you'd better make/find some hot water to START with, because it'll be a VERY VERY LONG TIME to heat in the pans from the sterno beneath.

          Have you googled info on this?

          1. re: alkapal

            I've tried googling and no luck finding any info on how long it will take to heat up the water. My husband suggest bringing our propane tank & burner and heating the water that way.

            1. re: Qvictoria

              your husband is right -- you need to start with hot water in the chafing dish. the sterno isn't designed to bring it UP to the necessary heat -- but to maintain it.

              you'd better be sure that you are maintaining safe temps in your food, too (thermometer tests frequently). liability looms large if you're not diligent there.

          2. re: Qvictoria

            I'd get an electric kettle and use that to heat the water before pouring it in the chafing dishes.

        2. Sounds like a nice menu. If you use two large sternos per stand (one full tray or two half trays of food), and wrap the food tightly with heavy duty foil or use covers that come with the water trays, it may take up to an hour if you start with cold water. You can get a jump on it by heating the water ahead of time, in which case a caterer friend of mine insists that 45 minutes will allow chilled food to heat through. Make sure you use the large sternos, not the small ones, and light them both.

          1. Food should never be heated this way over sterno in a chafing dish. It should be heated in an oven before being placed in a chafing dish. The sterno is not a safe way to heat food, you can't get the food product up to a safe (above 140*) temp quickly enough and you run the risk of pathogens and spoilage. Your dishes should be heated to at least 160* before being placed in the chafer.
            Holding hot food in a chafing dish is fine, although you should temp the food to make sure the minimum safe holding temp of 140* is maintained throughout service. Sterno below a water bath in the chafing dish will keep the food adequately hot.

            3 Replies
            1. re: bushwickgirl

              I have only once had a caterer tell me to heat cold food this way, i.e, over a chafing dish with hot water in the pans, starting with cold food and hot water. The food seemed to get steaming hot in about the 45 minutes or so my friend recommends. In fact, it was very hot. It may have something to do with the size of the sternos, as there seem to be two sizes out there. I had a house full of people waiting to eat, so I remember watching the clock carefully (long story). I don't remember thinking that it took too long,or that the food did not seem piping hot when I removed the covers. It may be true if you are starting from cold water and have cold food that it may take too long and is therefore unsafe, so you have a good point that should be noted. I think the hot water start is one way to really shorten the heat up time. Forty five minutes is not a problem according to food safety info out there, but if it doesn't get hot enough (140 degrees or more), that is a problem, and I agree with you.

              I use chafing dishes quite a bit myself, and we have several parties a year here. I usually have the large six hour sternos on full blast for at least an hour, which heats the water. I put hot food into the chafing dishes right off the stove or from the oven, as I complete each dish, so we have never had an issue. That would always be my recommendation for best texture and flavor. Even food fresh off the stove will dry out in steamer trays after a while, but I don't think this is a safety issue, just an esthetic one.

              1. re: RGC1982

                Well, those six hour sternos are really intended for soup tureens or coffee urns, as a buffet service doesn't tend to last that long. I know they crank, heat-wise.
                I used to cater alot and in house we placed the food from the oven into the pre-lit and heated (with waterbath) sternos. For off-site, the food was heated and transported in cambros, then placed on preheated chafers. We were very concerned about maintaining a safe temperature range. It was our livelihood and I didn't want to chance making anyone ill.
                I realize you can heat food over sterno to above 140* , I know how hot food over sterno can get, but I just don't think it's a safe practice to place cold, or even room-temp food into a chafer and expect a small two-hour can or two of sterno to bring the heat up to temp in a minimal amount of time. The less time food spends in that 40-140* range, the better.

              2. re: bushwickgirl

                bushwickgirl's right on the money!

                Reheat refrigerated/room temperature food in an oven/microwave/steamer until it's past the danger point. Then transfer to a chafer filled with boiling hot water. Use sterno to keep warm.

              3. I cater alot but worked in restaurants for years..everyone I've ever worked for has heated food in chafers. The food was cooked prior then (if it had to be transported) placed in coolers or cambros, which kept it warm or at least room temp. They were then put in chafers when arrived at the destination over hot water tightly wrapped or covered with the chafer lids. It depends on what the food is that will determine how long it takes to warm up. Ice cold food will take longer.

                1. Ok, then to answer the OP's question:

                  1. Assuming a water bath, your food should be hot or kept warm, and you need to put it over heated waterbath.
                  2. Use big sternos and heat the water first.

                  If no waterbath, I have no idea what this group would tell you to do in order to keep your food safe. I have no experience with waterless chafing dishes. Maybe the caterers and former caterers can offer some advice.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: RGC1982

                    1 and 2 are what I would do, hot food going into the pre-heated chafer.
                    The only time I didn't have/use water in the chafer was when whomever was setting them up would forget that step. Without the water, the chafer gets very hot and dries out the food quite quickly and can burn in the bottom of the pan.

                    There's an old kitchen adage: "Keep hot food hot and cold food cold."

                    1. re: bushwickgirl

                      Ok to clarify-I have the hot water baths for the chafers, the sternos are the 2.5 hr sternos. The problem is that 1) my oven is curently broken and will only bake at 350 and 2) the food needs to be ready within a 1/2 hour-1 hour from when guests arrive, and I am arriving at my house when the guests are, so even though the food is fully cooked, I need time to reheat.

                      My thought was that as soon as I get home I would turn the oven on at 350 (with everything inside) and then 15-20 min into appitizers I would move everything into warm chafing dishes so food would be ready within the hour. Does this seem reasonable?

                      1. re: Teraesa22

                        Yes it does, which is what I indicated (of sorts) in my post..you should be okay. Hope everything turns out well!