12 Effective Methods To Help Keep Food Warm For A Party

While planning a party, many boxes are ticked except one which could mess up every other thing: how to keep the food warm! No one likes to be served cold food at a party, especially not in a famished state.

Moreover, cooking ahead of time helps you to get food ready early and allows you to enjoy your party. If you are a caterer, serving cold food to hungry guests is not very likely to get you a good rating with your client.

This article is for anyone who is planning a party and is looking for effective ways to keep the food warm until the guests are ready to eat.

You will also get to know the methods that best suit some types of food and factors to consider when choosing a warming method.

How to keep food warm for a party

1. Commercial food warmer

commercial food warmer to keep food warm at a party - millenora

Commercial kitchens or catering services use commercial food warmers to keep food warm while they carry it across long distances. These food warmers do not only keep food hot, but they also keep them fresh and out of the danger zone.

The danger zone for food is between 40°F (4°C) and 140°F (60°C). Between these temperatures, bacterial activity will double within 20 minutes or less.

Commercial food warmers are available in electric and non-electric models. They can keep food above 150°F (66°C) for up to 4 hours (non-electric models) or longer (for electric models).

However, they are costly and not every home cook can afford them. If you run a catering business, the investment will be worth it.

2. Heat it at a low temperature in the oven

oven to keep food warm at a party - millenora

Another way to keep food warm while a party is on is to keep it in a preheated oven. You can set the oven to 160°F (71°C) to 170°F (76°C) and keep an eye on it so it doesn’t overcook or dry out.

Just keep an eye on the food and make sure the temperature does not come down to 140°F. Also, the temperature shouldn’t get too high, or you risk overcooking it and losing its moisture.

Don’t worry, the residual heat in the oven is enough to keep the food hot for a while before you turn it on again.

This method seems like the best for foods you need to roast or bake, not all of them though. Steaks, chicken, and brisket are more prone to drying out with prolonged heating in the oven. However, it is perfect for pulled pork.

3. Create a makeshift Cambro

faux cambro to keep food warm at a party - millenora

You can create your version of a commercial food warmer to sustain the temperature of your food until you are ready to serve guests. This method works best for cooked meat.  Items you need for this are an insulated cooler, tin foil, and towels.

Pour hot water into the cooler and keep it closed for 30 to 45 minutes. Afterward, pour out the water. The heat from the water preheats the cooler and makes it hot enough to keep food warm.

Then, line one or two towels on the bottom of the cooler. Wrap the cooked meat tightly in the aluminum foil and place it on the towel. Cover the meat with more towels and close the lid. You’ll be surprised to see your meat hot a few hours later.

Is there any risk? Yes. The meat could reach the danger zone if left in the cooler for too long. Do not leave meat in this makeshift Cambro longer than 2-3 hours.

4. Use a chafing dish

chafing dish - millenora

Chafing dishes are the perfect choice for buffet style. Chafing dishes are very popular with catering services and even home cooks. They are portable and effective too.

The pans sit over a tripod and hot water is poured underneath to sustain the temperature of the food.

Heat the water at intervals to keep it hot to keep the food warm before you begin and while you serve your party guests. Chafing dishes are worth the cost because they do not expire or go out of use.

5. Heating pads/blankets

heating blanket - millenora

Heating pads or blankets are easy and fast heating options. However, you must have access to a source of electricity.

Plug the heating pad into the socket on the wall and place the serving tray on it. They effectively spread warmth around large dishes like sliced ham or turkey.

6. Electric food warmer trays

electric food warmer tray - millenora

Electric food warmer trays are tray-like appliances that work with electricity. So, you should consider this if you choose to use this method. Confirm that you can get access to a source of electricity before you conclude.

These warming appliances work for all types of food. Place the plates of food you want to heat on the tray and adjust the temperature. You don’t have to leave the warmer running constantly. Keep an eye on the food and turn it off at intervals.

7. Insulated food containers and bags

insulated food bags - millenora

Coffee thermos, insulating dishes made with clay and ceramic, and insulating bags can also help keep food warm. You can store liquid foods like gravies, soups, and sauces in coffee thermos to keep them hot until guests are ready to take them.

Insulating dishes are best suited for casserole dishes, pasta, soups, and stews.

8. Heat the food in boiling water

double boiler - millenora

This is the simplest way to keep food at a party. You can only use this method if you have access to a heat source to boil water. Have the water ready and put bowls of food in it when the temperature dips.

Another thing to consider when using this method is the material used to make the bowl carrying the food.

Make sure the food is in a thermal conductor like stainless steel. This facilitates the transfer of heat from the water to the food. Also, make sure the food is eaten quickly or it will get cold again. You can also achieve this with a double boiler if you have one.

9. Thermal cookers

thermal cookers - millenora

Thermal cookers are a perfect choice if you need a non-electric appliance to keep your food warm before you serve party guests. They are made with insulating materials that help to sustain the temperature of food.

They are best suited for soups, sauces, and stews. Thermal cookers are easy to use, and they keep your food fresh and hot.

Preheat the inner pot with hot water before you pour the food into it. Afterward, transfer the food into the pot and close it tightly. Place the inner pot in the outer one and leave it.

10. Heat lamps

food heat lamps to keep food warm at party - millenora

Restaurants use heat lamps to keep appetizers warm until they are ready to be served to customers. If you can get heat lamps to your party venue, it will be good. More so, they are worth every cent for commercial food vendors.

11. Aluminum tins

aluminum food tins - millenora

You need aluminum tins, plastic wraps, or aluminum foil and the lid of the tins. Transfer the food into the tins cover each tin with plastic wrap or foil and close the lid. Afterward, wrap the tins of food in towels or blankets to keep them warm.

This method is also good for moving packs of food from one place to another.

12. Cook on the spot and serve fresh

grilling outdoor - millenora

This is the best way to serve hot and fresh BBQ at any party. Serving hot dogs, hamburgers, steaks, chops, brisket, and any other meat off the grill will surely please your guests.

You can make the cooking and serving easier by having all sides ready before your guests arrive. Have your meats seasoned and ready for the grill as well. You can also grill potatoes and leafy grills alongside the meats.

They will be available and ready for your guests to eat hot and fresh. The best meats to work with are quick-cooking cuts like hot dogs and steaks.

Briskets and pulled pork take a long time to cook. If you choose to grill these meats, you may not enjoy the party because you will be busy cooking.

The importance of keeping food warm for a party

  • The warmer the food, the better it tastes. It is easier to assess the flavor, aroma, texture, and consistency of warm food than cold food
  • Warm food is safer and least likely to be in the danger zone
  • There is less risk of food poisoning and foodborne illnesses
  • Keeping food warm retains its moisture, taste, and appeal
  • Warm food gives your guests a better dining experience

Factors to consider when choosing a method for keeping food warm

The size of the party

The size of the party and the expected number of guests will not only inform you about the quantity of food but can also help determine the best food-warming method to use.

Types of dish

Different types of dishes require different kinds of warming methods and appliances. For instance, baked goods will require a higher temperature than dishes with meat.

Duration of the party

How long the party will last will determine the type of warming methods you will employ. A party that will last longer will require that you keep your food very hot, unlike a brief party.

Distance from the point of cooking to the venue

If the party is not being held at your house or you are not cooking at the venue, you should consider this too. You will need a stronger warming appliance or equipment if you will be moving the food over long distances.

Extra tips to keep in mind

  • Do not keep hot and cold foods together
  • Each warming equipment has its limits. Use them with that understanding
  • Always keep an eye on the food you are keeping warm. Check it at intervals to be sure it is not staying hot but going bad
  • Do not fail to examine the food for signs of spoilage


How do restaurants keep their food warm?

Most commercial kitchens use warming ovens or holding cabinets to keep food warm until they are ready to serve customers. Restaurants use this equipment to maintain their temperatures and keep them fresh.

Some restaurants also keep food directly under heating fans or in sealed containers to keep the food from drying out. The steam that stays in because of the lid keeps the food moisturized.

Will food overcook while keeping it warm with a warming appliance?

The longer food stays in warming appliances like toaster ovens and slow cookers, the more likely it is to come out overcooked or drier (for roast).

However, you can control this by heating the food at intervals instead of keeping it constantly on heat.

How can you keep veggies fresh for a party?

Wash the veggies, remove damaged parts, and cut them into your desired sizes. Wrap them in a damp paper towel and place them in a ziploc bag. Make sure you squeeze out all the air in the bag before you seal it.


If you served lukewarm or cold food at your last party, your guests are about to be wowed at the next.

With any one or a combination of these methods for keeping food warm for a party, you get to preserve the flavors and taste of your meals. Moreover, it’s goodbye to stale or spoiled food!

Remember to use the method that suits the food you intend to serve. If you can, invest in heaters, warmers, charcoal grills, and any food-warming equipment you can use outside for an outdoor party. If you run a catering business, it will be worth it.

Also, here’s a list of food storage mistakes you should avoid from now.

Thanks for reading.