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May 10, 2011 10:43 AM

Chafing dish help

So, I am having a party this weekend and using wire chafing stands with sterno to keep food hot. I am ordering all hot trays and making a few myself and using the large size pans. Do I need to buy a second large pan to put water in and then put my pan in it? Wont the water be pushed away? I heard I am supposed to use half trays, but the food I am getting catered comes in the large ones. Tips for keeping hot?

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  1. I'm a little confused, so please bear with me. Is your food being catered in the large aluminum pans? Aluminum is thin and will lend itself to the food sticking to it. Virtually all the events I've catered on that scale have involved half-pans set over water in fullsized pans, which of course you calibrate for displacement, but a full hotel pan will fit inside another full hotel pan if you use balled-up tinfoil to keep it from nesting in the bottom and again, use water. Make sure your sterno's a proper distance; enough to heat, but not close enough to scorch.

    1. A little confused as well. But - if you are using "grocery store" type wire chafing dishes - they usually come as a kit. There is one deep pan that holds the water and then one shallower pan that holds the food. The deep pan is deep enough to hold a fair amount of water without the top pan displacing it.

      You absolutely need the water pan under the pan that the caterer is giving you or the bottom of your food will burn!

      Also - to keep everything warm, be sure to fill the bottom water pan with hot/near boiling water. The sterno will keep that water hot but if you put room temp water in the pan it will take forever before you heat it up enough to keep the food warm.

      The use of 1/2 trays can help keep food warm for a different reason. Usually two of these 1/2 trays will fit over the one large water pan on the bottom. This way you can keep 1/2 of the food in a low oven, rather than having everything in the chafing dish the whole time. Depending on how long your party is and how much re-stocking you want to do during the party, that is a judgement call.

      Hope that helps a little. The harder of the two pans to find is the deep bottom pan but my grocery store stocks them (usually - not always). They are always included if you bought a chafing dish kit. If you did - keep the large bottom pan (it shouldn't have had any food in it) as a "just in case" for the next time . . . . .

      1. Your food, regardless of who prepares it, should be in half trays, which are shallow, perhaps three inches at most, or full trays, which are equally shallow. Sounds like yours will be in full trays. Under each of these should be placed a deep, full sized aluminum water tray. Place about one inch of water in each tray (not enough for the food pan to "float") and heat water for up to 45 minutes with two large sternos (buy them at a warehouse club or party store, don't use the small ones) and place your food trays over the water trays. If you don't use water trays, you run the risk of the sternos burning through the bottom of the food trays and also of scorching your food. It doesn't really matter what your caterer uses -- full size or two half size, but they all need to go over a nice, deep water tray. I have found that party stores, Sam's Club and Costco have these supplies at great prices. You do not need to buy the party catering "kit" if you already have the wire racks. These are all standard sizes.

        BTW -- the water does not get pushed away because water pans are nearly four inches deep. The food trays are shallow. Just make sure to check that the caterer isn't providing the water trays too.

        Tips: It takes at least 45 minutes to get water hot, so start the trays up early. Cover your table or counter with a double thickness of heavy duty aluminum foil to avoid burns, or heaven forbid, accidental spills of the sterno fuel (can be gel or liquid). Use a large plant watering can to fill water pans while in the rack. Also, food has to be covered as long as possible to avoid drying out. Use foil or the covers your caterer gives you.

        You can also use water pans with ice in them to keep cold things cold, like shrimp cocktail or salads.

        Finally, only use large sternos. They last up to six hours, so they can be reused if sealed when you are finished. Small ones are meant for little chafing dishes and won't generate enough heat to keep your food hot enough to be safe if left out for a while. Extinguish the unused sternos by using a pair of metal tongs to replace the lid. When it cools, screw to tighten. Piece of cake.

        Have a great party.