While hostess trolleys may have fallen out of fashion, there’s a lot to be said for having a small, heated tray as a practical solution as a food warmer to keep side dishes warm until it’s time to serve.
On Christmas Day when dishing up can be fraught and complicated, this could be a simple solution.
And a food warmer could be utilised for a festive buffet on Christmas or Boxing Day.
Here, the Christmas.co.uk team look at what a food warmer is, why you didn’t know you needed one and what to look out for when buying one.
What is a food warmer?
Christmas is a time of joy, celebration and, of course, delicious food. Whether you are hosting a big family feast or a cosy dinner for two, you want to make sure that your food stays hot and fresh until everyone is ready to eat.
That’s where a food warmer comes in handy.
A food warmer is a device that keeps your food at a safe and optimal temperature for serving.
It can be a simple tray with a heating element underneath, or a more sophisticated appliance with multiple compartments and temperature controls.
Some food warmers can also double as slow cookers, hot plates or buffet servers, making them versatile and convenient for any occasion.
Essentially, food warmers are used to prevent your food from drying out, overcooking or spoiling. And from going cold as you wait to seat everyone at the festive dinner table.
They can also help you save time and energy by allowing you to prepare your dishes in advance and keep them warm until you need them.
You can use food warmers for a variety of foods, such as roast turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing and (lots of) pigs in blankets.
Why do I need a food warmer at Christmas?
A warmer can be very useful at Christmas for several reasons. Here are some of them:
- A food warmer can help you keep your food hot and fresh until everyone is ready to eat. This can prevent your food from drying out, overcooking or spoiling, and ensure that your guests enjoy a satisfying meal.
- A warmer can help you save time and energy by allowing you to prepare your dishes in advance and keep them warm until you need them. This can reduce the stress and hassle of cooking on the day and give you more time to spend with your family and guests.
- A food warmer can help you serve a variety of dishes, such as roast meats, mashed potatoes – without crowding your kitchen surfaces. They act like the ‘pass’ in a professional kitchen where food is kept warm under hot lights until needed.
- A warmer can help you create a festive and elegant presentation for your food. You can choose a food warmer that matches your event’s theme or setting and impress your guests with your warm and tasty dishes.
How to use a Tower Food Warmer
Still not sure about whether you need a food warmer at Christmas? This video from MGTracey highlights just how useful they can be.
The presentation looks at a buffet server and a plate (or tray – which also doubles as a plate warmer).
Putting together the buffet warmer is straightforward – though you need to keep the metal lips in the right place – and it heats up quickly to keep food warm for a long time.
There’s also a demonstration of the buffet server in action with stuffing balls in one and a drop of water in another to keep the veg fresh and hot.
What types of warmer are available?
There are different types of food warmers available, depending on your needs and preferences. Some of the most common ones are:
Buffet server: A buffet server is a food warmer that has multiple trays or compartments that can hold different dishes. It usually has a heating element underneath or around the trays, and a temperature control knob to adjust the heat level. Buffet servers are ideal for serving large groups of people, such as at parties, events or family gatherings. They can keep food warm for hours and allow guests to serve themselves.
- Baine Marie or chafing dish: A chafing dish is a warmer that consists of a metal pan that holds the food, and a water pan underneath that is heated by a fuel source, such as a candle burner. The water pan creates steam that keeps the food warm and moist. Chafing dishes are often used for catering or buffet-style service, as they can keep food warm for a long time and create an elegant presentation.
- Drawer: A drawer is a food warmer that is built into a cabinet or a counter and has one or more sliding drawers that can hold food. It usually has an electric heating element inside the drawer, and a thermostat to regulate the temperature. Drawers are convenient for storing and warming food in kitchens, especially in restaurants or hotels. They can keep food warm without drying it out or changing its texture.
- Electric Lazy Susans: These are rotating trays that can be used to keep your food warm while you serve it. They come in various sizes and can be used for keeping food warm for hours.
- Electric warming tray or plate: These are flat, rectangular trays – sometimes called plates – that can be used to keep your food warm while you serve it. They come in various sizes and can be used to keep your food warm for hours.
How to choose the perfect buffet food warmer
There are a few things to consider before buying a buffet food warmer, and they include:
- Size: The size of the food warmer affects how much it can hold. Think about how many people you are expecting and how many dishes you want to offer. Choose one that will meet your needs.
- Quality: Invest in a quality food warmer is important for using long-term. Opt for those made from durable materials such as stainless steel or aluminium since are strong and resistant to corrosion.
- Heat source: The heat source for a warmer can vary from traditional electric coils to – if you want to be fancy – infrared and induction heaters. There are also warmers that use candles and hot water. Each heat source has its own benefits, so pick one that matches your budget and preference.
- Style: Consider the style of the food warmer, whether you like a modern or sleek look or a timeless classic design, there are plenty choices.
- Heat adjustment: Make sure the buffet food warmer allows adjustment of the heat level for the food. Some models come with thermostats or a digital display so you can control the temperature.
- User-friendly: You will need a warmer that is easy to operate and use so it has clear instructions, simple controls and accessible compartments will help when dishing up on a busy day!
- Energy consumption: Choosing a food warmer that is energy efficient will save money on electricity bills but also deliver reliable performance. Look for models with features like auto-shutoff and have insulation to reduce heat loss.
- Flexibility: Opt for a buffet food warmer that can hold various sizes and shapes of dishes, and you might want one with adjustable racks or shelves.
- Portability: If you are hosting an event in various rooms, consider a food warmer that is portable and light – that means having a compact design and built-in handles, so it is easy to carry and set up.
- Safety Features: Obviously, safety is a priority when choosing a buffet food warmer. Look for models with features like cool-touch surfaces, stable bases and sturdy handles to prevent accidents.
- Compatibility: Opt for a warmer that will hold different types of food, and it has adjustable heat settings.
- Cleaning: Choose a warmer that will be easy to maintain and clean. Having removable and dishwasher-safe parts will simplify the cleaning process.
- Transparent lids: Make the warmer has transparent lids to enable diners to see the dishes on offer without lifting the lid – this will let the heat escape.