Chafing Dishes

Is there anything worse at a brunch than a cold omelet? With the broad range of chafing dishes on the market, your next buffet can feature hot, appetizing food. Whether you are serving a casual buffet or catering an event, there are several points to consider before you buy a chafer.

What are they used for?

Chafers are portable food pans raised on a stand over a heat source to gently cook foods or to keep them warm. Double walled stainless-steel chafers with water between the food pans are called bains-marie and are used to keep foods like souffles, custards and fish warm for an extended time without overcooking them.

What are chafers made of?

They come in several materials.

  • Stainless steel is the most common material; brass, gold and chrome trim options are available. Stainless-steel chafers also come with your choice of mirror, satin or matte finishes.
  • Hammered copper over a stainless-steel base adds elegance to your event.
  • Disposable aluminum sets for casual table service make cleanup a breeze. They come with food pans, stands, fuel cans and utensils.
What heat sources can be used?

Fuel, electric and induction heat sources can be used.

  • Fuel chafing dishes are heated by gel or wick fuel cans filled with diethylene glycol, propylene glycol, ethanol or methanol. These cans can keep food heated for up to 6 hours.
  • Electric heating is preferred in settings where open flames are not allowed. Electric chafing dish warmers accommodate the whole pan and allow for temperature control. Some electric heaters fit into traditional gel can holders.
  • Induction dishes allow for precise temperature control for extended periods of time. They are either part of an induction set or sit atop a separate warmer.
Do chafers come with lids?

Permanent chafing dishes come with lids. Disposable chafer kits do not include lids. There are several chafing dish lid styles available.

  • Dome and lift off lids can be completely removed using a handle in the cover. Cover holders are often included in the chafing dish's design.
  • Roll top and retractable covers open to 90 or 180 degrees using a front-mounted handle. This style allows guests to access food pans without lifting lids.
  • Hinged lids look like lift off covers when closed, but can stay open at 45 or 90 degrees for serving. Soft-close hinges are an option.
  • Glass tops incorporate a window that allows guests to peruse buffet offerings without releasing heat.
  • Nylon-coated heat-resistant handles are included in some lid styles.
How much do chafers hold?
  • Full size chafing dishes hold 8 to 9 quarts; they are usually rectangular.
  • Half size chafers hold 4 to 5 quarts and can be square or rectangular.
  • Two-thirds size chafers hold 5 to 6 quarts and are usually round or square.

Taking into consideration the uses, materials, heat sources and styles available will help you select the right chafer for the job.