Hot plates, crock pots, ovens, stoves, and microwaves
can all be used to keep food warm at your party. They are not the best choice when it comes to a buffet. You want your guests to have easy access to a variety of hot food. The best way to accomplish this is with Chafing Dishes (also called Chafers).

Chafers have their own heat source which is used to heat water which in turn heats the food. There is no direct flame on the food pan so your food stays warm without burning. The heat is most often created by an ethanol (alcohol) based gel in a can (Sterno). The fuel can last two to three hours depending on wind and how much the adjustable sterno cover is opened.

The standard 8 quart Chafer is all stainless steel and consists of a base with at least two removable sterno cup holders and adjustable covers, a water pan, a food pan, and a cover.

Preparing your chafer for use is easy:

  • First, put about 2" of hot water in the water pan (the largest one).
  • Next, load the previously cooked food into the food pan (it will sit inside the water pan).
  • Then put the cover over the food pan.
  • Finally, pop the lids off the sterno fuel cans and put them into the sterno cup holders. Light the fuel and put the covers on the holders, adjusting them half-way open to a medium flame.

If your cooked food is not hot when you load it into the food pan you should start the sterno about a half hour before serving time. Otherwise you can light it just before. Periodically, the water level should be checked and added to as needed.

Chafer Hints:
  • Chafers will make your buffet table look more professional and inviting.
  • You can cook ahead of time and then enjoy mingling with your guests more.
  • No concerns about electricity (blowing circuits) since they use gel fuel.
  • Use foil pans to cook in and then place the entire foil pan into the Chafer food pan. This will save you from washing the Chafer and allows you to put the foil pan right into the fridge and then the oven for left-overs !
  • Get double duty out of an 8 quart Chafer by using two 4 quart foil pans with two different types of food.
  • Two 4 quart pans also allow you to "reload" the chafer while leaving one pan there for your guests.
  • Chafers are used to keep food hot but can also be used to keep food cold ! Just put water and ice in the water pan and it will keep the food chilled.
  • Always put the cover back on the food when not serving to keep it hot.
  • If you hear a sizzle noise - the water is too low & needs to be added to.
  • Always make sure you have a full size food pan covering the water pan to prevent steam from entering the food area - or your food will get soggy.
  • Extinguish the sterno flame by closing the sterno holder cover when the food service is done to prevent accidents.
  • In windy situations use foil around three sides of the Chafer Stand to allow the Sterno's heat to get to the pan above and conserve the Sterno Fuel.
  • Never use the Chafer without water in the pan - your food will burn and the Chafer will get super-heated and may be damaged.
  • The Chafer is designed for keeping food warm, not cooking it, so always pre-cook.
  • Chafer pans are not designed for open flame or stove use because they are thin walled. The pans will get damaged while the food burns.
  • Make sure to set up Chafers on a flat, stable surface to prevent mishaps.
  • Don't forget tongs, serving spoons, and spatulas for each chafer to serve the food with.
Download Chafer Instructions here: Chafer Instruction Sheet
2.6 oz. Sterno - Pack 3 40004Sterno Fuel Can, 7Oz, 2/Hr, Case Of 72 (STEHF03008) Category: Canned HeatCatering Essentials Half Size Deep Foil Steam Table Pan - 30 Count

Mark Saponaro Email me


  1. Amazing post! Chafing dishes are an ideal choice to keep food warm. This post has discussed many benefits of using Chafers. When it comes to party buffets, they are the best option to serve hot food. I used to Buy Gel Chaffing Fuel Online, because I think they are cheaper online rather than in stores.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Chair Layout Part 1 - How To Design A Layout To Fit Your Event Space

How to design a Poster Board Layout