Food Warming Equipment Buyers' Guide

Right Food Warming Equipment

It is rarely possible to cook every piece of each customer's meal to order, so most foodservice operations will need to have at least one piece of food warming equipment. It's important to find the right piece of equipment to preserve the food's fresh taste and retain the correct texture, whether that's moist or crispy. This guide can help you find the right equipment for your foodservice operation's needs, whether you need something versatile or require a food warmer for a very specific application.

Back-of-House Warming

Back of house warmers are meant to be used in the kitchen and usually have stainless steel exteriors for durability. In most cases, these units focus on function over form, as they will not be visible to customers.

A heated holding cabinet can be a useful piece of equipment for nearly any foodservice operation to have. These use heat with or without humidity to keep food fresh and warm. Most heated cabinets come on casters to make transportation simple and many are available with durable polyethylene exteriors for caterers who will frequently move the equipment around. Full-, three-quarter-, and half-size holding cabinets are available with pan slides or with shelves and are rated by how many pans or plates they can hold.

If you will be holding pizza, heated holding cabinets made specifically for pizza pans and boxes are available. Roll-in and roll-through units are also available for high-volume operations. Some have glass or polycarbonate doors to allow users to easily keep track of the food inside and many are insulated to ensure energy efficiency and minimal heat loss. Full-size holding cabinets can have full- or half-size doors, letting users find the right balance of accessibility and energy-efficiency to fit their needs.

Commercial microwaves get a bad rap in the restaurant world, but when used properly, they allow chefs to keep up with rush periods by preparing food ahead of time. This keeps customers happy by increasing the kitchen's output without sacrificing food quality. These microwaves are rated by light-, medium-, and heavy-duty, with each category designating how powerful the microwave is as determined by its wattage. The higher the wattage, the faster it will heat food and the higher throughput it can handle. Commercial microwaves are available in full- and half-pan sizes, and some have a shelf to accommodate two pans at once. Many models also offer the ability to be programmed, which can make them faster to use in a busy kitchen and easy to train new employees on.

Drawer warmers allow you to keep several food types warm at varying temperatures and without worrying about flavor transfer. These are available in freestanding and built-in configurations, and may have as few as one or as many as four drawers. Most models hold a full-size pan in each drawer, though the depth that will fit in the drawer varies and some allow you to insert two pans into each drawer. Some units also offer humidity controls to help keep food fresh and moist.

Heated Display Options

These food warming equipment categories include models that are made for displaying food to customers. While some of these categories may also include models meant to be used back-of-house, if you're looking for a solution to keep food warm where customers can see it, you'll find that here.

Hot food display cases allow you to display food products for sale while holding them at safe serving temperatures and are available in both floor and countertop models. Pass-through units allow customers to reach in from the front, while those with fixed flat or curved glass across the front protect food items from contamination in full-service and cafeteria-style eateries. The heat can be provided by heating elements from above or below the shelves, or a combination of the two. These display cases can have interior lighting and slanted shelves to make products more visible to encourage impulse buys, and some models provide storage in the base of the unit. Some specialty versions of display cases include pizza displays and pretzel display cases.

Countertop food warmers and warming shelves offer ways to display food on a buffet or in the back of the house while keeping it held safely at warm temperatures. Both types are available in countertop and drop-in versions. Warming shelves come in rectangular and round shapes in a variety of sizes, and are made of metal, stone, or glass. Countertop food warmers are made to fit full-size or fractional pans, and most require water to provide gentle, even heat to food in the pan.

Heat lamps are able to keep food warm temporarily but are not recommended for long-term holding, as the concentrated heat source can dry out or continue to cook the food. These are either permanently mounted above the food or suspended from a frame that sits on the countertop and is usually portable. Pendant-style heat lamps are best suited for heating individual dishes, and strip-style lamps are designed for heating larger areas. Some companies offer highly customizable lamps and allow you to mix and match bulb types, shades of varying colors and shapes, and mounting options.

Specialty warmers are available to help restaurants, C-stores, and concession stands keep specific products warm. A chip warmer can help keep tortilla chips crunchy and warm, and a fry dump station keeps fried foods crisp. Soup warmers are food warmers with round wells made to accommodate insets that vary in capacity from 4 to 11 quarts. These are available in basic stainless steel designs meant for use in back-of-house and kettle designs or models with graphic panels for merchandising.