What is a Chafing Dish & How to use a Chafing Dish and Chafing Fuel (2023)

A chafing dish is a form of indirect heat stove which uses chafing fuel to heat a large shallow pan of water which subsequently heats a pan of food above. Chafing dishes are perfect for heating food during buffet display. With small, portable containers of fuel available with burn times of two to six hours, chafing dishes provide an affordable, convenient and portable way of heating food.

Electric chafers and induction chafers are perfect for more permanent buffet installations and remove the potential hazard of burning spirit-based fuel. All chafing dishes (or chafers for short) have three main elements; a frame, a water pan and a cover/lid. Regardless of the type or size, chafing dishes use water as a medium to transfer heat from the heat source.

Chafers should not be used for cooking food, they are meant to keep food hot or warm. For best results, heat the food in an oven and use the chafer to keep the food warm.


Article: Chafing dishes are similar in design to bains marie. However, unlike chafing dishes, bains marie can be used for cooking. See our guide for everything you need to know about bains marie: What is a bain marie?

(Video) Setting Up a Chafing Dish for Buffet Service

What Are The Main Parts Of A Chafing Dish?

Chafing Pan Lid

The lid of a chafing dish is used to retain heat and help food retain its temperature better. The lid also keeps steam close to the food, keeping is moist. Opening the lid is a good way to prevent certain foods going limp or soggy, with lids coming in lift off, roll top, hinged and glass top varieties.

Food Pan

The food pan is the top dish of a chafing dish where food is placed. These come in a variety of Gastronorm sizes to fit your oven and fridge. As chafing dishes do not cook food but only keep it warm, it is recommended that you cook food in the food pan in your oven first and then transfer to the chafing pan.

Water Pan

The water pan of your chafing dish is deeper than the food pan, allowing the food pan to sit inside it and be heated by the steam generated by the heated water. The pan should only ever be filled about one inch full.

(Video) How to Setup a Chafing Dish ~ SUNCOO Chafing Dishes Set of 4 Unboxing ~ Amy Learns to Cook


The stand combines all of the individual elements of a chafer into one piece of equipment. It contains recesses or stands for the fuel and an upper rim which firmly holds the water pan.

Fuel with Damper

Chafing fuel comes in convenient portable cans with various burn times and can be gel or liquid form. Electric chafers will have a heating element which is much closer to the water pan.

What is a Chafing Dish & How to use a Chafing Dish and Chafing Fuel (2)

How to set up a chafing dish

Setting up a chafing dish is potentially dangerous, but can be done quickly and safely if you follow these simple steps:

(Video) DeliverThat Chafing Setup Tutorial

  1. Place the base in exactly the position which you intend to use it.
  2. Place the chafing fuel inside a holder and remove the can lid. Attach the dampening lid to the holder and place on the stand.
  3. Place the empty water pan in the stand and check that it is secure.
  4. Fill the water pan with approximately one inch of boiling water.
  5. Light the fuel with a stick lighter, taking care to keep your hand away from the flame.
  6. Place the hot food pan on top of the water pan and close the lid.

How to use chafing fuel

Chafing fuel is extremely simple to use, you just need to remove the lid and light the fuel! In order to maintain control over your burn, place the fuel in a holder with dampener before igniting. You simply rotate the lid to allow more or less heat to reach the water tray. As with all spirit based fuels, the fumes of chafing fuel are also flammable, so be extremely cautious and use a long stem lighter when igniting.

What’s the difference between liquid and gel chafing fuel?

The main difference between liquid and gel chafing fuel is consistency, with liquid being far less viscous and using a clean-burning compound called DEG. By comparison, gel is much thicker in consistency and is typically made using ethanol or methanol. Liquid fuel is difficult to ignite without the wick, meaning it is often considered safer.

Some wick-fed liquid fuels also have a resealable lid so that fuel can be reused. By comparison, users ignite gel fuel within the can itself, meaning that this product is never suitable for reuse. Gel chafing fuel typically produces a less tall flame than chafing fuel with a wick, meaning the different heights may suit different chafing dishes.

Using a chafing dish safely

Although efficient and practical, chafing dishes involve open flames, extremely flammable fuel and boiling water. It’s therefore vital to take these precautions:

(Video) 'How To' Operate a Chafing Dish

  • Always purchase fuel with plenty of burn time to prevent having to change canisters during the event.
  • Never transfer the water pan whilst water is hot. Fill with boiling water in situ and allow to cool before disposing of contents.
  • Always place fuels in a holder before lighting using a long lighter.
  • Open the chafing dish lid carefully and away from your body to avoid steam burns.
  • Allow fuel canisters to completely cool before removing from holders.
  • Store chafing fuel in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

TIP: Always supervise staff when they are assembling and lighting a chafing dish for the first time.

How To Clean A Chafing Dish

The water pan and food pan of a chafing dish can be pre-rinsed and cleaned in a commercial dishwasher. These dishes are made of stainless steel and are just like the other gastronorms which you have in your kitchen.

TIP: The food pan is like all stainless steel and should not be submerged in water or left wet for prolonged periods. For more information, why not look at our how to clean stainless steel article.

The food pan will come in direct contact with food and should never be cleaned or polished with chemicals which are not safe for use in the kitchen. To renew the appearance of the rest of your chafer, polish the stand, fuel holder and top of the lid with Jantex stainless steel cleaner and a microfiber cloth. Never use flammable cleaning chemicals anywhere on a chafing dish.

What types of chafing dishes are there?

There are a range of affordable, traditional chafing dishes available such as the Milan chafing set which utilise conventional gel or liquid fuel for an affordable and simple buffet heating solution. Away from the traditional, induction chafers like the Olympia Induction Chafers sit directly on electric induction plates and have an inbuilt water return system to move condensation away from food and into the water tray.

(Video) SDSBBQ - Catering Pans, Chafing Dishes, Warming Racks, and Gel/Liquid Warmers

Electric chafing dishes can be safer to use than traditional fuel chafers. They have no naked flames and also negate the need to purchase additional fuel for each usage. Olympia electric chafing dishes also have simple to use variable controls, giving you the ability to precisely control the heat which your food is exposed to. Electric chafing dishes are safer for use around children and in lively environments due to their enclosed stand and lack of burning fuel.

Chafing dishes are the perfect addition to an indoor buffet, or a great way to keep food warm at an event like a fete. Their unrivalled portability and even distribution of heat means they are a vital part of catering for any buffet or event.



What is a chafing dish used for? ›

A chafing dish is a form of indirect heat stove which uses chafing fuel to heat a large shallow pan of water which subsequently heats a pan of food above. Chafing dishes are perfect for heating food during buffet display.

Do you put water in the bottom of a chafing dish? ›

1. Set the chafing dish on a flat stable surface and pour hot water into the base until it is approximately 2 inches deep. 2. Test the water level by lowering in the empty food pan insert and lifting it back out.

What is chafing fuel? ›

Chafing fuel is a fuel used for heating food, typically placed under a chafing dish. It is usually sold in a small canister and burned directly within that canister, with or without a wick.

Why are they called chafing dish? ›

Chafing dish comes from the French word chauffer, which means to make warm. As such, chafing dishes use gentle, indirect heat to keep their contents warm in a large and shallow pan.

How long can you keep food warm in a chafing dish? ›

This means between the hotbox we bring the food in and the chafing dishes we can keep the food hot up to 8 hours after it has been cooked!

What goes under a chafing dish to keep it warm? ›

Using a chafing dish is very easy. Simply heat a water pan underneath the dish using chafer fuel or an electric source. The heated water keeps the food warm throughout your catered event.

What can you use instead of chafing fuel? ›

An alternative to using chafing fuel is to use induction chafers with induction warmers. Induction warmers are great because they heat the food within the induction chafer, but stay cool to the touch on their flattop surfaces.

Can you use a crockpot as a chafing dish? ›

Instead of using a warming oven, turn your slow cooker into a chafing dish. Fill it a third of the way with hot water, keep on a low setting and place a heatproof dish or bowl that sits steadily on your slow cooker, then pop your food in until you're ready to serve and cover loosely with foil.

Will chafing fuel boil water? ›

Canned heat may be conveniently used in a small Sterno stove, chafing dish, fondue pot, EcoQue portable grill, or in an EmberLit wood stove. We have even used it in a portable charcoal grill with great success. Canned heat fuel produces enough heat to boil water.

How hot should the water in a chafing dish? ›

The water should be hot enough to scald (so take caution while pouring) but not boiling. Pour 1–3 inches (2.5–7.6 cm) of hot water into the base, depending on your chafing dish's instructions. Most chafing dishes require a minimum of 12 inch (1.3 cm) of water into the base.

How do you dispose of Sterno fuel cans? ›

A: Once the gel burns out, the can will be empty, except for a slight bit of residue that is no longer flammable. I put the lid back on and wrap/tape them in a plastic grocery bag before disposing of them in the normal trash. Helpful?

What is the cleanest burning liquid fuel? ›

Liquid Fuel Options

White gas/petroleum Naphtha: the standard and most recommended choice, white gas burns cleanest; it is also available under brand names, for example MSR SuperFuel, Coleman Fuel, Primus Gas.

Is chafing fuel hazardous? ›

Signal word Danger · Hazard statements H225 Highly flammable liquid and vapour. H319 Causes serious eye irritation. Precautionary statements P101 If medical advice is needed, have product container or label at hand.

What do Indians use for fuel? ›

Indians collect fire wood from forests. Sometimes even green trees are cut to obtain fuel. Destruction of forests is harmful to environment and wildlife. They also bum dung as fuel.

What size pan fits in a chafing dish? ›

Great Value Pack: Includes 5 full-size (21 x 13) water pans and 10 half-size (9 x 13) food pans. Dimensions: Full-Size: 20 ¾” top length, 12 ⅞” top width, 17 ¾” bottom length, 10” bottom width, and 3” height. Half-Size: 12 ⅝” top length, 10 ⅛” top width, 10” bottom length, 7 ⅜” bottom width, and 2” height.

How do you clean chafing dishes? ›

The chafing dish frame and cover may be cleaned with warm, soapy water. Occasionally, they may need polishing with stainless steel cleaner or a glass cleaner without ammonia. Never immerse the frame in water.

What is the 4 hour rule? ›

Food held between 5oC and 60oC for less than 2 hours can be used, sold or put back in the refrigerator to use later. Food held between 5oC and 60oC for 2-4 hours can still be used or sold, but can't be put back in the fridge. Food held between 5oC and 60oC for 4 hours or more must be thrown away.

Can you put cold food in a chafing dish? ›

Cold Chafing Dish

Chafing dishes can also be used to keep foods cold. The bottom portion of the dish can be filled with cold water and ice to chill foods.

What foods support rapid bacterial growth? ›

Potentially Hazardous Foods (PHFs) are foods which support rapid growth of microorganisms. Examples of PHFs include all raw and cooked meats, poultry, milk and milk products, fish, shellfish, tofu, cooked rice, pasta, beans, potatoes and garlic in oil.

What is the cheapest way to keep food warm for a party? ›

How To Keep Food Warm For A Party? Here's 16 Creative Ways
  1. Wrap With Aluminum Foil Or Towels.
  2. Place In A Cooler.
  3. Put In Oven On Low.
  4. Use Chafing Dishes.
  5. Use A Slow Cooker.
  6. Put Food In A Thermal Cooker.
  7. Use The BBQ Grill.
  8. Use A Double Boiler.

How long does chafing fuel last? ›

What is the shelf life for chafing fuel? Sterno recommends using within 2 years from the date of purchase.

Can you cook with chafing fuel? ›

You can use this flame to keep food warm or fry, while you do your main cooking on the gas stove. The gel in the proper gel stoves burns hotter, which is to be expected as these are designed to keep food warm and could begin to burn the food if they burned hot enough for boiling water.

Does Sterno give off carbon monoxide? ›

It is apparent, therefore, that poorly ventilated Sterno can produce severe carbon monoxide poi- soning.

Can I use alcohol instead of fuel? ›

Pure ethanol – 100% ethanol or E100 – could theoretically be used to power cars, but generally isn't, for numerous reasons: Ethanol is bad for cold-starting, because it doesn't burn as quickly as gasoline. (It has a higher octane, if you're interested.) Pure ethanol would be useless as fuel in the winter months.

Can you reheat food in a chafing dish? ›

Not Recommended: Slow cooker, steam tables or chafing dishes. Reheating leftovers in slow cookers, steam tables or chafing dishes is not recommended because foods may stay in the "Danger Zone," between 40 °F and 140 °F too long. Bacteria multiply rapidly at these temperatures.

How do restaurants keep food hot? ›

Warming ovens, or holding cabinets, are found in most professional restaurant kitchens. This type of commercial food warmer equipment plays an integral role in keeping extra food products warm until it's ready to be moved to a steam table or a customer's plate.

How do you keep food warm at a buffet? ›

If you have the space, buffet style in the kitchen or elsewhere is almost always a better option for keeping things warm. You can set out food in covered dishes (or covered with tin foil), on warming trays or in chafing dishes which will all keep things warm until serving.

How much water do I put in the bottom of a chafing dish? ›

  1. Fill water pan with about ¾” to 1½” of water. Insert the food pan(s) ...
  2. • Occasionally stir the food to make sure the bottom does not burn and ensure even cooking. • When it comes time to add more sterno, the old burners may be hot so use tongs to take them. ...
  3. Do not leave an open flame unattended.

Do Sterno cans get hot on the bottom? ›

Give the Sterno cans plenty of time to cool down before you touch them directly. 2. Discard the food. Make sure it's cool to the touch before you move it, keeping in mind that the underside of the pan may be hotter than the edges.

How do you clean up spilled Sterno fuel? ›

How to Remove Sterno Fuel Stains From Clothes
  1. Blot, don't rub, away any remaining Sterno fuel from the garment using a paper towel. ...
  2. Apply detergent to the stain. ...
  3. Remove the item from the washer and check for the stain. ...
  4. Apply a heavy-duty detergent to the pink dye spot.

Does Sterno get old? ›

A: Sterno never expires under standard temperature conditions from about 76*degrees and below. Above 76* it will not be "Quite" as effective over long terms = 25 years + and will decrease a little bit for every 1… see more.

What is the most toxic fuel? ›

The most poisonous substance currently used as a rocket engine propellant is hydrazine (N2H4) and its variants (the most commonly used being Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine, or UDMH).

What is the most harmful fuel? ›

Coal, again, is the dirtiest fuel. It emits much more greenhouse gases than other sources – hundreds of times more than nuclear, solar, and wind. Oil and gas are also much worse than nuclear and renewables, but to a lesser extent than coal.

Which liquid fuel burns the longest? ›

Re: Longest burning liquid fuel/gram? Diesel has the highest energy density per mass (J/g) of fuels suitable for camping stoves.

How hot does chafing fuel get? ›

Methanol gel chafing fuel cans create a high and consistent heat output. Burns up to two hours and produce a maximum temperature of 175 degrees Fahrenheit. They are ideal for full-size chafing dishes and great for use with hot boxes.

Does chafing fuel smell? ›

Apart from fire, another reason to avoid chafing fuel is the harmful fume it produces. The fume has a foul smell that causes nausea among the caterers.

Can you use chafing fuel indoors? ›

Many lives have been greatly effected by chafing fuel accidents. This needs to stop! Chafing fuels are not safe, indoors or outdoors!

Why is Native American gas cheaper? ›

American Indian reservations offer the lowest gas prices because reservations are exempt from most of the state and federal fuel taxes that gas stations not located on a reservation are required to pay.

Do Indians that own gas stations pay taxes? ›

Indian tribes do not pay the state gas tax and therefore cannot overpay a tax they do not pay. Payments given by the State to Indian tribes should therefore not be considered as “tax refunds.” They are simply transfers of money from the public treasury to a private Indian-owned business.

Which is the most commonly used fuel in rural areas? ›

3.8 Rural and urban wood energy consumption. Fuelwood consumption tend to be higher in rural areas, with more households in rural areas using fuelwood. Fuelwood tends to be the dominant fuel for rural household energy end use, particularly cooking.

How do you use a chafing dish fuel holder? ›

How to use chafing fuel. Chafing fuel is extremely simple to use, you just need to remove the lid and light the fuel! In order to maintain control over your burn, place the fuel in a holder with dampener before igniting. You simply rotate the lid to allow more or less heat to reach the water tray.

How long before service starts should chafing dishes be switched on? ›

To ensure hot food quality, this pre-heating should be done, approximately 20 minutes before placing the hot food pan in position. Note that using cold water in the pan will add to the pre-heating time.

Can you clean silver plate with Coke? ›

If you don't have any chemical cleaner, you can use Coca-Cola, or Coke, as a simple cleaning substitute for sterling or plated silver. The acid in Coke works to cut through any grime or rust on the silver's surface. Once you soak the silver in cola, you can have a piece that looks good and new!

Whats the difference between a bain marie and a chafing dish? ›

The chafing dish could be used at table or provided with a cover for keeping food warm on a buffet. Double dishes that provide a protective water jacket are known as bains-marie and help keep delicate foods, such as fish, warm while preventing overcooking.

Can you use a chafing dish indoors? ›

Chafing fuels are not safe, indoors or outdoors!

How do you keep food warm in a chafing dish? ›

Using a chafing dish is very easy. Simply heat a water pan underneath the dish using chafer fuel or an electric source. The heated water keeps the food warm throughout your catered event.

What is an another name for chafing dish? ›

What is another word for chafing dish?
bain-mariefood warmer
double boilerwater bath

Can chafing fuel be reused? ›

Both fuels offer environmentally friendly options, deliver high-quality heat for reliable chafer warming, and are odorless. Plus, most are resealable so leftover fuel can be reused for more than one event.

How much water do I put in a chafing pan? ›

Fill your water pan with about one inch of water. The water creates the steam that will keep your food hot.

Can you put aluminum foil in a chafing dish? ›

Yes works perfect! I moved aluminum foil from my oven right into the chafer.

How hot should a chafing dish be? ›

Serve or keep food hot in chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays. Be aware that some warmers only hold food at 110 °F to 120 °F, so check the product label to make sure your warmer has the capability to hold foods at 140 °F or warmer. This is the temperature that's required to keep bacteria at bay!


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