So, you spent half the day cooking a marvelous meal and the phone rings. Everyone will be late for dinner, and you have to keep the food warm without turning into a pile of dry powder or cinders. What can you do?
Or maybe you just love to entertain. People come and go at all different times, and you have to keep the food warm, like an all day thanksgiving buffet. How do you manage?
Whether you are keeping food warm for your family and friends or a huge holiday crowd there are all kinds of ways to do it.
It’s easy, but there are some things you need to know, because it is far too easy to let food get too cold and make people sick, or get too hot and kill the food.
Many Kitchen Cooking Appliances Will Work:
Whatever you used to cook it would be your first choice, but really anything that makes steady heat will do.
Use Your Oven To Keep Food Warm Without Drying Out Or Overcooking:
Use your oven or its warming drawer. If you cooked in the oven it is still warm. It will keep your food warm for an hour or so without turning it back on. If you need longer, then setting it to 200° F (93° Celsius) will keep the food pleasantly hot without cooking it more. A bowl or pot of water on the bottom will help it retain moisture.
Don’t forget about the oven warming drawer either. Wrap your food to retain moisture and use a thermometer to check the temperature of the food.
Oven drawers were designed to keep food warm. Some ovens have a warming tray built in and maybe a keep warm setting also. Almost all have a drawer at the bottom we generally use to hold pot covers. Putting your food in here with the oven at 200° F (93° Celsius) will keep it warm nicely.
If you have used this space for storage you may want to wipe it down to remove dust before putting the food inside wrapped in foil or in covered dishes.
You should attach a probe thermometer and hang the reader outside so you do not have to open the drawer to check on it. This keeps the heat in longer. The same applies to the main part of the oven. Don’t let the heat out.
Your Toaster Oven Will Also Work:
A countertop toaster oven works as well, but it needs more attention. You need to watch it more closely. It heats its small space and the food in it faster, so you need to check it to keep the food from overcooking.
Slow Cookers and Other Electric Pots
A slow cooker, crock pot, rice cooker or multi-pot can keep food warm. You will need to know which for what kind of food. Whatever you cook in each can be kept warm in it. Ceramic inserts help retain heat also.
Casseroles and other one pot dishes, Tamale Pie and baked pasta dishes do very well in these. Just turn the heat to the lowest setting. Some even have a “keep warm” setting.
Foods not cooked in these can also be kept warm in them. Wrap them in foil or foil bags to retain moisture and use the same settings.
Rice cookers keep your rice nice for a long time, but you many need to add a little water if it is more than 3 hours, because the rice on the bottom may get crispy. (Some people will want that part most.)
For meat, meatballs, chops or poultry, you seal them to keep the moisture in.
Chafing Dishes, Buffet Servers and Ceramic Casseroles
If you entertain regularly you may even have a set of buffet servers or chafing dishes that are expressly for this purpose. They will usually keep food hot using water or candles or a Sterno burner. These work very well, as many caterers use them, but they are an investment. Corningware, Fire King and other covered ceramic dishes will work in place of foil or bags to trap moisture.
Electric Food Warmers
If you want to invest the money electric food servers are the best for keeping all foods warm. They are costly, but worth their expense if you have a lot of parties.
Picnic Coolers or Insulated Food Containers
Picnic coolers with solid sides seal nicely and can also be used to keep food warm. Just stack the hot food inside with the most robust on top and the most delicate on the bottom, because heat travels up.
If it will be a long time you can put in heated beanbags or rice, hot water in bottle or sealed bags and even small hot paving stones. Put the heated items in the bottom and wrap the food in a towel.
Soft-sided Travel Coolers can keep food warm up to three hours without damaging taste or texture.
Whatever you use the rules are the same
Keep the Food In Safe Temperature
Keep the food above 140° Fahrenheit (60° Celsius) to prevent bacteria growth, but not more than 160° Fahrenheit (72° Celsius) for pleasant eating.
Wrap the Food to keep it Moist
- Use aluminum foil and fold it tight for meat and larger and root vegetables
- Use foil bags for smaller items and delicate vegetables
Differently Cooked Foods Need Different Treatment
- For crispy skin and fried food, tent the food under the foil so it doesn’t steam and get soft. It can be stacked in a warm oven or tented on the counter and then reheated.
- Covered ceramic or cast iron dishes near to full don’t need foil.
- Wrap meat and seafood, but many vegetables are ok in covered containers without wrapping in a very low oven.
- Sturdy vegetables can be left out covered for up to an hour and then reheated in the microwave quite nicely.
- Anything with a crunchy crust can be removed from cooking before it is perfectly done and reheated nicely adding the last bit of crunch (or cheese) at the same time.
- Hot soup or stews are fine left in the slow cooker on the “Keep warm” setting. Meat may need lower temperatures to avoid additional cooking.
- Keep meat warm at 200° Fahrenheit (93° Celsius). Warmer will cook it more.
- Mashed potatoes work like this, but fish and seafood may cook a little, as they are more delicate.
- Pasta, rice and potatoes can also stay nice and warm.
- Most vegetables work well, but leafy vegetables may cook more. So, lower the temperature for them or take them out every ten to fifteen minutes for a bit.
- Puddings keep at low temperatures, in a rice cooker on top of an inverted ceramic saucer or bowls. They can be chilled and rewarmed in the microwave. Use the defrost setting that is on and off in 20 second intervals.
- Biscuits, pancakes, eggs and waffles can be stacked in a warm oven that is off an hour or more.
Use an Instant Read Probe Thermometer to Check Temperature:
- Be sure to push the thermometer into the thickest part of the food. Food is dangerous kept below 140° Fahrenheit (60° Celsius), but you also don’t want it to start cooking again. Turn off the oven a while if it gets hotter.
- Use the thermometer to check doneness and stop cooking before some foods are done and finish them later.
- The idea of removing the food from the heat while not quite cooked can be useful for many foods, but casseroles are not good candidates, as once they cool it is hard to restart the cooking without over cooking the outside. However, casseroles are easy to keep warm in the oven once cooked without overcooking.
Different Foods Need Different Warming Strategies:
- Poultry or Other Birds: These keep warmer than meat longer and are not as fiddly about their temperature once cooked. The texture is different, so it doesn’t overcook as easily. However, it can easily get dry if not covered.
- Fish and Seafood: Fish also stays warm a long time covered in a warm place due to texture and fat content. Shrimp, lobster, clams and scallops work well, and these are palatable at lower temperatures.
- Chunky Meats: Slow cooked meats will stay warm if their shape is like a loaf, as there is less outside surface to lose heat.
- Chops and slices: These should be individually wrapped and stacked to keep them warm individually. Sliced meats can also be purposefully undercooked after searing and be rewarmed. Steaks will get dry with other means, so take them out early if you know you have to keep them warm. You can use the defrost on the microwave to start them rewarming and then sear again on high heat just before serving. Few people like dry grey meat.
- Vegetables: Vegetables with high water content, such as squash, tomatoes, whole cabbage or eggplant will retain heat a longer time than root vegetables, but root vegetables can stand more cooking without becoming mushy. Keep oven roasted vegetables in their cooking vessel and cover them. Thin sliced vegetables should set out covered and be warmed as needed in the microwave. Some microwaves have a warming setting for leftovers.
Q: How long can I keep food warm in the oven?
Ans: You can keep food warm in the oven for 2 hours. If you keep the food longer than that time, your food will looses its freshness and becomes dry.
Q: Best/safest oven temp to keep food warm
Ans: According to the Food & Drug Administration of USA(FDA), the safest oven temperature to keep food warm is 140°F.