Catering with Chafer Alternatives

Beyond the Chafer

Chafers have long been the go-to for caterers who need to keep food warm while serving large crowds. There is a wide variety of chafers available, from basic wire stands holding aluminum pans over a fuel can to elegant, highly polished chafers with easy-to-access roll-tops and gold accents. However, chefs and caterers are beginning to turn to chafer alternatives to serve food on-location, using pieces that break up the line of chafer racks and keep food warm while adding character to the buffet line.

Butane Stove Frames

Butane stoves provide an easy way to cook food when an electric power source isn't available. Caterers have traditionally used these for on-site cooking, but butane stoves have recently been making their way out to the serving line. Stove frames add a decorative element to these utilitarian pieces, while also adding a way to suspend serving vessels over the heat to help keep the food warm.

Butane burner frames can be made of metal or wood. Metal frames often have decorative cutouts, while wooden frames are solid and available in multiple finishes. Both materials have openings to allow access to the burner's controls, and a metal grill over the top for holding a heat-resistant serving vessel. The grills are not intended for cooking on, as that would allow grease and food particles to drop directly into the burner. Unlike chafers, these units don't use a water bath to help even out the heat, so you will need to stir products regularly to prevent burning.

Chafer Grills

Chafer grills are another way to keep food warm in locations where access to power is not readily available and can even allow you to cook food fresh on the line. Like chafers, chafer grills and griddles use chafing dish fuel, candles, or electric chafer heaters to produce heat. The grill or griddle has a stand that holds the plate over the heat source, allowing you to cook or heat food as needed.

These units employ either a flat griddle or a textured grill that adds appealing grill lines to food. These are available in both cast iron, which does not distribute heat well but holds it for longer, and stainless steel, which can provide a more even heat across the cooking surface but is not as efficient when it comes to heat retention. Most options have handles on either end, and are available in lengths as long as 25 inches. These griddles are often used for breakfast items like pancakes and eggs, and are ideal for heating various meats.

Induction Cooktops

Induction is gaining popularity among chefs who value the technology for its accuracy and energy efficiency. Because induction is so accurate, it is easy to adapt it to warming applications, with models available that allow users to adjust the heat by level and by temperature. Only ferrous, or magnetic, steel cookware can be used on induction warmers, which can limit its uses, but using induction equipment has many benefits.

Because induction uses magnetic fields to create heat directly in the magnetic cookware being used, there is no flame or hot surface for customers to accidentally touch or knock over, dramatically reducing burn and fire risks. When induction burners are used on a buffet line, they can be recessed into the counter if it's a permanent installation. A more mobile solution is to use decorative frames for holding the equipment, though some models developed for buffet use are so sleek they can be used on their own. However, induction requires electricity, so these cannot be used in remote locations where generators are not available.