Buffet style meals are handy for special events with large numbers of people, from receptions to holiday gatherings to business luncheons. One of the very best ways to keep buffet foods warm is with Sterno and chafing dishes, freeing up the host or hostess so they can spend more time with their guests.
Using the Sterno and Chafing Dish Properly
Chafing dishes come in oval, round, square and rectangular shapes, and can be either stainless steel or disposable aluminum. They come with a water pan and wire or chrome rack. The water pan is first placed on the rack then filled with hot water, with the chafing dish placed above the water pan. Sterno cans are then placed under the pan and lighted. Sterno can be purchased from hardware stores and party supply stores.
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For safety, never light the Sterno before putting liquid into the water pan and never use the chafing dish and Sterno without the water pan. A low flame will be sufficient to maintain proper heat. Do not put the chafing dish or Sterno on a hot stove or an open flame. Remember to use an underlying tray with Sterno burners to protect linens and the serving surface.
Stir the food in the dishes occasionally to make sure the bottom doesn't burn, and the food remains evenly heated. The lid should stay on the chafing dish while the food isn't being served. If your chafing dishes are outside, wrap aluminum around at least three of the sides to block any wind from blowing out the Sterno flame.
One can of Sterno should last from 60 to 90 minutes. If you need to add more Sterno, the old units may be hot, so use tongs when taking them out to avoid burns. If you think the food is getting too hot, use only one Sterno can.
Preparing Foods Used in Chafing Dishes
To prevent food poisoning, thoroughly wash your hands before and after handling food, and make sure the chafing dishes and utensils are also clean. Cook all foods thoroughly before placing them in the chafing dish. Beef roasts should be cooked to at least 160 degrees F (medium), pork chops and roasts should be cooked to a minimum of 160 degrees F (medium), and poultry (turkey/chicken) should be cooked to at least 165 degrees F. Keep the food hot in an oven set at 200 to 250 degrees F until immediately before serving. All hot foods should ideally be kept at 140 degrees F in the chafing dish, but not exceed 160 degrees F to prevent overcooking.