Chafing Dish Instructions

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Things You'll Need

  • Fire extinguisher

  • Hot water

  • Sheet pan (optional)

  • 2 Sterno or alcohol burners

  • Lighter

Keep each element of the buffet at the ideal temperature throughout service with a chafing dish.

Chafing dishes heat foods evenly and keep them warm for hours without burning. Chafing dishes use a double boiler system to transfer heat from the burners to the food with steam. This heat transfer method reduces hot and cold spots that cause foods to overcook and dry out. Chafing dishes can keep a large dish hot and ready to serve for the duration of a dinner service. Feed hot food to a crowd outside or indoors by safely setting up and using one or more chafing dishes.


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Step 1

Check that you have a working fire extinguisher withing a few feet of the chafing dish.

Step 2

Set the chafing dish on a flat stable surface and pour hot water into the base until it is approximately 2 inches deep.


Step 3

Test the water level by lowering in the empty food pan insert and lifting it back out. Remove some of the water until the bottom of the food pan insert comes out dry.

Step 4

Twist the Sterno or alcohol burners down into the round openings between the feet of the chafing dish. Place the burners on a sheet pan to protect the surface below if the chafing dish does not have these slots that hold the burners up. Space the burners on the sheet pan so each is centered under half of the chafing dish.


Step 5

Adjust the burners according to the manufacturer's directions to attain medium heat. Alcohol burners have a wick that is pulled out or pushed in to adjust heat. Sterno burners have lids that can be opened or closed to raise and lower heat output.

Step 6

Light both burners and cover the chafing dish with the lid for approximately 10 minutes.


Step 7

Remove the lid of the chafing dish to slowly lower in the pan insert that has been filled with food.

Step 8

Replace the lid of the chafing dish and check on the fuel level in the burners and water level in the steam table every 60 to 90 minutes.


Block the wind from blowing out the burners on an outside chafing dish by covering three of the sides surrounding flames with a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil.


Alcohol and Sterno flames can sometimes be nearly invisible. Test for a lit flame by holding your hand a couple inches away and to the side of the burning area to feel for heat.