Tis the season of Holiday parties. And where there is a party, there is often a chafing dish. For those who are unfamiliar with chafing dishes, they are used to keep food warm (typically in a buffet line). At Satchel’s we use them all the time for catering events. If used properly, they are a reliable, portable (no electricity needed) way to keep food warm when you are serving a meal to a crowd. But beware. These seemingly innocent looking tools can wreak havoc on your party if not used carefully.
Over time, chafing dishes can kill food. I know that sounds dramatic and disturbing, but it’s true. If left in a chafing dish for a prolonged period of time, food will dry out and look very unappetizing. For that reason, always put food into your chafing dish at the last possible moment, and try to organize your event so that it doesn’t sit there for too long. How long is too long? It depends on the food. Baked beans can last for well over an hour. Meats and mac-and-cheese will dry out quickly, usually in about an hour. They will still taste good, but it’s not the same as eating it fresh at arrival. You can always try to freshen it up by stirring in a bit of water from time to time (or in the case of mac-and-cheese, milk), but this trick will only buy you so much time.
Also, never use chafing dishes where the fuel (the flame below the pan of food) is directly heating the food. This will burn your meal in a fairly short period of time (less than one hour). The fuel should always be heating a pan of water which in turn will then heat the pan of food (like a double-boiler on your stove). You can easily make your own system by simply purchasing an empty foil pan and using this pan to hold the water. Then, when the food arrives, carefully place the pan of food into the pan of water. Will you inevitably put in too much water and make a mess? Yes. Relax. Get a rag. It’s only water.
So keep your food warm for the Holidays. Just make sure you don’t burn in the New Year!