Countertop Buffet Warmer Buyers' Guide
In order for cooked food to remain safe and meet regulatory standards, it must be kept at or above 140 degrees F, even when kept on a buffet for several hours. Countertop buffet warmers, which include portable food warmers for caterers, come in a variety of styles so you can find the perfect option for your foodservice operation to use to keep food safe.
Portable food warmers use one of three heat source options. The most common is electric heat. These models can only be used where they can be plugged in, but are great for providing even, uniform heat across the bottoms of food pans. The heat is usually transferred to the food pan through a stainless steel or aluminum base. The electric heat models give the user control over the temperature with heat levels or thermostatic controls.
Another option for heat is chafing fuel cans. The buffet warmers that use these are usually round or square, with room for one or more chafing canisters. These canisters can use liquid or gel fuel to produce a flame. The food warmer will usually include built-in wind guards to prevent the flame from being extinguished accidentally when used outdoors.
Electric chafer heaters can also be used in the buffet warmers made for chafing fuel cans. Electric chafer heaters must be plugged in, and are able to provide heat without the fire hazard that comes with the traditional fuel-powered canisters. These are available in sizes similar to traditional chafing fuel canisters as well as in larger sizes for more heat coverage. Most electric heaters also provide the ability to adjust the heat either between power levels or with thermostatic controls.
Countertop buffet warmers come in several designs to allow foodservice operators to find the perfect food warmer to meet their needs. Some units are made in a box-like style that have food pans recessed into the top. These are very stable and provide a more even heat, but users are restricted to using the pan sizes the units are built for.
Another available style, often called warming trays, features a heated flat surface. Warming trays allow for a little more size flexibility, as they are able to accommodate multiple plates, bowls, or pans, or one pan as large as the warming tray's surface.
There are several special features available that can make a countertop buffet warmer easier or more convenient to use. Some models feature sneeze guards angled over the base to protect food from germs and debris. Because this setup requires a hood over the food, some of the models that have sneeze guards also have built-in lights to help with visibility and merchandising.
Portable food warmers that do not have sneeze guards sometimes have lids. These lids may be made of stainless steel or clear plastic, and may lift off, swing open on a hinge, or roll back.
Countertop buffet warmers might include storage options, like a recessed utensil bin on top beside the heated tray or an elevated unit that accommodates a shelf underneath. On some of these models this shelf will also be heated, often with separate temperature controls.