Cooking is HARD! The pots and pans and timers going off left and right. It’s a nightmare! On top of all that, you have to try and arrange everything perfectly, so it all finishes at the right time. How do those people on your Instagram make it look so easy?
Short of taking a culinary course, there are a few things you can do to keep food warm after you cook to ensure everything is delicious once it is time to plate. So, whether you are trying to make a delicious photo-worthy meal for yourself or just trying to keep dinner hot for your family, we have you covered.
Hot Stuff, Coming Through! Keeping Food at the Right Temps
Without the help of a fully staffed kitchen, keeping all your food warm can feel like spinning plates. Ditto for keeping cold foods cold. But before we dive into all the options for serving food at optimal temperatures, we should address how long food can safely stay out.
Leaving food out too long can cause it to enter the “danger zone.” Not the fun Kenny Loggins song but a temperature where dangerous bacteria can grow. Food safety rules dictate that food should be refrigerated below 40 degrees Fahrenheit or kept hot above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. So, if you are serving food at a party or leaving it out for the family, food should only be left in that middle zone for up to two hours before being refrigerated.
Cold Hands, Warm Food: Keeping Meals Warm
It doesn’t take long to get overwhelmed by all the side dishes and courses when preparing a big dinner. As you finish each portion of your meal, you can use quite a few options to keep your food warm before serving.
Use the Stove Top
If your recipe calls for any sauces, soups, or beans, you can use the stovetop to keep them warm before serving. If you have enough stove real estate, turn a burner on the lowest setting, keep a cover on the pot, and stir the contents occasionally so they don’t stick or burn. This will keep food tasting fresh for a long time.
Maybe you have finished cooking your delicious turkey dinner and are still trying to whip up all your scrumptious side dishes. If this is the case, you can still use the oven to keep food warm while you finish the rest of your cooking.
Food can successfully be kept in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes. It’s important to remember that you don’t want to do this in an oven that is set to cooking temperatures like 300 or 400 degrees Fahrenheit and risk roasting your roast.
Preheat the oven to as low a temp as you can, usually around 150 degrees Fahrenheit, and check regularly. If you’re still running behind schedule fifteen minutes, turn off the stove and leave the door closed until it is time to serve to keep the heat contained.
Some foods you can easily keep warm in the oven include:
- Takeout food in an oven-safe dish
- Stir-fried foods
- Pancakes or waffles on a baking sheet
- Mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes
- Meats that have finished cooking. Make sure to check these periodically with a meat thermometer to ensure they stay above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Appetizers like jalapeno poppers and shrimp tempura
Remember that keeping food hot on the stove for more than a few hours may affect the quality.
Additionally, you can also try putting food in the oven drawer. Many people use this compartment to store pans, but if you plan ahead and empty this area, you can use it to keep food warm. When you finish a dish, place it in the oven drawer to keep it from getting cold while you finish preparing the rest of your meal.
Microwave, Macro Results
You’ve obviously used the microwave to heat up food, but you can also use it as a warming oven of sorts. When it comes down to it, your microwave is just an insulated cabinet that makes loud beeping sounds.
If your micro is empty and you need to keep things warm for a bit before serving, throw your hot food in there and close the door. The food should stay plenty toasty.
Keep It Toasty
If the oven is full and you have a small dish, you can always throw it in your toaster oven. Rolls and desserts are perfect fits here since space is at a premium. The top of the toaster oven is also a perfect space to put a dish while you wait for the kids to settle down at the table or company to file in.
Use an Electric Blanket
Okay. You have come this far. It is only going to get weirder from here, folks! You know that electric blanket you have stored away for the winter months? Well, whip it out and plug it in, baby! That blanket can do so much more than keep your toes warm. Well, at least ONE more thing.
Take your pot or pan off the stove, cover it, and wrap it in a toasty heated blanket. It will keep the food nice and toasty while you finish up cooking. Don’t let it get too cozy, though. You don’t want it to fall asleep!
Use the Dishwasher?
You read that right. We have lost our minds, folks! Crazy, but it works. The dishwasher (despite its name) can do more than clean your dishes. Pop that sucker open, shove your food on the top rack, set it to DRY cycle so you don’t get damp (but clean!) casserole, and you are good to go.
Hey There, Hot Stuff (We’re Talking About Your Food)
All the food has been prepared and is piping hot. But how do you keep it that way as everyone serves themselves and comes back for seconds? There are a few options you might want to check out.
All My Friends Know the Slow Cooker
To the Tune of Low Rider by War
Slow cookers are a sure sign of a good time! Usually, it means pulled pork or fresh gumbo, but they can also be used as simple warming devices. Keep the temperature set to warm or low (depending on the device) and keep your food covered. You can also find party slow cookers if you’re hosting larger groups.
Chafing dishes are much better than chafing swimsuits. If you are a serial party-hoster, then you might want to invest in one or a few of these fancy, buffet-style serving trays. Set these up on a table and fill them with all your fresh food. Close the tops and light the Sterno to keep it nice and warm for the duration of the catered event.
They may seem like an over-the-top luxury, but if you are hosting more than once a year, they are worth the investment! And they are surprisingly affordable.
Double Double Boiling Trouble
If you have a side like mashed potatoes or gravy, you can keep them at the perfect temp with a double boiler. This is also a great way to make Italian zabaglione.
You can buy a double boiler or make one by bringing a pot to a boil then placing another smaller pot or skillet on top of it. The steam from the bottom pot will keep the food warm. Just remember to stir occasionally and keep the heat on low!
Keeping Food Hot on the Go
Keeping food hot while at home is a little easier than doing so on the go, but there are still many ways to make sure your special homemade lasagna arrives at grandmas at the desired temperature.
Insulated carriers are great ways to keep food warm both on the go and at home. These dishes or insulated bowls are great for travel and can also be used if you’re staying in.
Coolers are also a sleeper hit of insulated carry. Sure, you know them from boats and summer parties as the happy place where the beers live, but you can also use them to keep food warm. “It’s a CoOLeR and I want to keep it WaRM.” Yes! But coolers are insulators. Just toss your food in, and you’re good to go.
Insulated grocery bags are another good option for keeping things toasty. As the name suggests, they are insulated, and they are grocery bags. You have probably been using them to keep frozen food cold when coming back from the grocery store, but these can keep food warm for a short period of time, too.