Sterno Fuel for Food Warmers?
Ask-a-Caterer Replies to:

Al from Grass Valley, Oregon who asked:

Al writes: “How does this work? What kind of sterno fuel should we use in the Food Warmers? There are several different kinds and sizes. How long before serving do we light them, and can we use the warmers to thaw food right form the freezer? Thanks a lot“

Ask-a-Caterer Replies: Hello Al - Nice to hear from Oregon!

We’ve got a good section about Food Warmers on the site:

Food Warmers come in many different shapes and sizes, and with different kinds of functions.

This Winware 8 quart warmer is unit we recommend for home use. It’s definitely not the heavy duty version you see in restaurants and such, but for occasional home use - it’s just fine. And the purchase price is less than the total cost to rent it.

Basically a large double boiler, the big advantage with this type is the wet heat. Water is heated under the pan of food. That hot water heats evenly, doesn’t burn, and works quickly.

“Sterno” is to ‘fuel’ as “Jello” is to ‘gelatin’. Originally developed by S Sternau in 1902 and called “Canned Heat”, it is an odorless combination of ethanol, ethanol and a gel - hence the pink color. Now sold by Sterno and several other companies, it is widely used in food service. It burns hot and clean with a nearly invisible flame.

We use the 7 oz size, not a candle wick style - just the open fuel. These will burn for 2 hours at least. We usually have only one of the two fuels lit at a time, using both to get up to temperature, and one to hold temp. Save the fuel. Get a couple extra, more than you think you’ll need. This isn’t your last party, right?

You can heat the food pan directly above the fuel - but we don’t. It’s killer hot - way easy to burn. We heat water under the food pan instead - this gives an even, wetter, cooler heat.

If you’re using a wire frame, disposable or “portable” warmer, or, if you chose the heavier aluminum or stainless ones, they both use the same kinds of fuel.

We always add boiling water to the pan under the food. This really saves a lot of time.

How warm is warm? Read all about Food Safety and how to use thermometers. All reheated food should reach 165^f, and be held above 141^f during your party. Get a thermometer and use it!

If the food is thawed, right from the fridge, it might be fully warmed in 35-45 minutes, or more, based on what it is. Frozen solid? Might take 90 minutes. But let your thermometer make the decision!

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