How To Keep Food Warm For A Party Or Large Group

Keeping Food Warm Before Serving For a CrowdWhen making food for a big group you often have to cook so that some dishes are ready early, and then keep them warm for serving later.

Maybe you are going on a picnic and need to keep the food warm while transporting it – or perhaps it is simply “keeping thanksgiving dinner warm“.

We have our top tips for 2024 on how to KEEP FOOD WARM.

Some tips are better for a short time while others keep food warm for hours we show you how to do it, without the food looking sad and tasting as good as hot food straight from the oven.

See How A Professional Cater Warms Food

Picture This

Your guests are here, the food is ready and the drinks are cold –

(see how to keep food and drinks cool)

You have the dinner table set.

People are looking hungry – and it is time to serve all your dishes – they are cooked – but are they warm?

How to keep food warm with no electric power?

We will show you

  • how to keep food warm all day
  • can you use a slow cooker to keep food warm
  • what is the oven temperature for warming?

And then back to the above – no stress you have 11 top tips on food warming techniques mastered and your important July 4th bbq is served with every side dish ready and warm – you are a winner.

Do Not Use A Hairdryer To Keep Food Warm
Do Not Use A Hairdryer To Keep Food Warm

In this article, I’ll outline some ways you can execute a perfect way to have warm food for lots and lots of people all served at the correct time, you can use these methods to solve the question “how to keep a roast warm” we will. give you heaps of ideas.

In the end, I will reveal my top tip that works with pulled pork to baked beans!

When serving a large group you often have no choice but to cook in advance (see our article on foods you can make ahead of time).

If you do prepare meals in advance then learning and mastering how to keep food warm like a master chef is a key skill.

How to Keep Food Warm Before Serving

Here are some of the tips about warming the food that you can follow for keeping food warm for potluck and weddings, picnics, and many more events

1. Use a Cooler

Use the insulation that Coolers have to trap heat inside keeping your food nice and warm.

Put the food in the cooler in layers and cover the food with aluminum foil (or plastic wrap) and even a clean towel with a little boiling water tip over them if your warm food is in waterproof containers. When the cooler is full of hot food there is no air space and the insulation stops the heat from escaping and so your food stays hot. You can also get some wheat packs and warm them in the microwave and use them as a hot pack to add another warming heat source. For desserts like apple pie, you can also use a baking sheet between the layers of pies.

These are often used in deliveries that follow food safety and safe temperature – and it is best to have a food thermometer to check all is safe.

Using a cooler to keep food warm is a great way to keep food warm for a party.

This method works well with foods like mashed potatoes, baked beans, and similar foods that will not get stodgy.

Top Tip – How To Keep Food Warm with a cooler– Preheat your cooler by filling it with very hot or boiling water and leaving it for 30 minutes (with the lid shut) allowing the insulation to absorb all the heat. Then tip out the water and quickly put it in your dish. This is a great way to have hot food at a picnic or on the beach without any power or gas.

container for keeping food hot
Cooler is a great container for keeping food hot

2. Chafing Dishes

How Do you keep food warm without electricity – use a chafing dish.

These are one of the most commonly used forms of food warmer. These are portable pans that sit atop the frame or tripod and need no electricity.

See a full explanation of Chafing Dishes on How Professional Caterers Keep Food Warm

These insulated dishes come in different types and sizes such as stainless steel and disposable aluminum. The most common one is the stainless steel chafing dish like the Sterno Foldable Frame Buffet Chafer Set.

It is an 8-quart stainless steel set that comes with foldable frames, a lid, a fuel holder tray, fuel holders, a deep water pan, and deep food pans. It is very affordable and made with high-quality stainless steel construction, which is great for outdoor and indoor use for a crowd. 

How to keep food warm for a wedding – A chafing dish is one of the best ways because when used properly it will not let the food dry out too quickly.

3. Use an oven

Make use of your oven to keep the food warm before serving. This method is convenient since almost everyone has it in the kitchen.

What is the oven temperature for warming?

Most folks use a setting of 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Your oven may have a warming option of 200 degrees Fahrenheit, keep your cooked food warm without cooking it further to prevent burning or overcooking.

The oven drawer or small compartment area would also be a great place to store the casserole dish, food containers, or pies while you are cooking other meals in the oven.

The best way to warm a casserole is in the oven.

Another way is to set your oven temperature at 200 degrees Fahrenheit and wrap the food in tin foil before you place it in the oven. That way perishable food will not dry out.

Your toaster oven appliance could also be used to keep the food hot. This would heat the food quicker than the oven. Just set it to the lowest temperature and “bake” setting. Toaster ovens are perfect for keeping the food hot conveniently such as bread, pizza, dips, and small appetizers.

best way to keep food warm in oven
The Best Way to Keep Food Warm in The Oven- Set It at 200 F

4. Use A Rice cooker

Though its name might give everyone an impression of how it should be used, a rice cooker can also work well as a warming appliance. Its warm settings are ideal for keeping leftover food warm without overcooking it. The great thing about rice cookers is that they can be left on for a long time, and provide gentle heat above room temperature.

Some fancy rice cookers have more settings that allow you to choose the desired temperature while warming. Make sure that you have a large one to make space for a large quantity of food for a crowd. 

5. Use slow cookers or crock pot

Slow cookers or crock pots are best for warming dips or side dishes. These appliances have very low-temperature settings to keep everything warm for several hours or throughout the party. The dishes are amazingly well-insulated using the multiple heat settings that you can choose. The pots can also be removed from the cooker and used for serving, especially when you have a taco bar. 

If you do not have one in your kitchen, you can buy the SUNVIVI Stainless Steel Slow Cooker which I find a good one. It comes in a buffet set with three 1.5 quarts removable crocks. Each crockpot has its own heating element with three settings—High, Low, and Warm—to keep dishes at their optimal temperature when warming. Each pot has a glass lid with a glass handle for easy viewing of the food. They can also be used to slowly heat up cold food and of course cook a raw meat dish like sloppy joes, while warming it after it has finished.

6. Warm Plates

Warm the serving Plates – This is an underrated tip that everyone should know makes a huge difference. If you have ever been to a “high-class restaurant” then you will know that they always serve the main on warm plates.

One way to do this is to place all your plates that you plan to use and store them in a dishwasher with a drying setting turned on.

Warming Serving Plates
Warming Serving Plates

You can also warm the oven-safe plates on a microwave, toaster oven, or oven. This will allow the food to take on the heat from the plates; hence, it will be served warm even while eating. 

Disposable plates are not recommended for this warming method. 

7. Instant Pot

The Warm setting on the Instant Pot will maintain the temperature between 140-172 degrees Fahrenheit, this is direct from the Instant Pot manual. I have used my instant pot many a time to keep my mashed potatoes warm after I made them.

Also note that it has three Keep Warm levels, which you can adjust depending on if you want the temperature to be on the low, medium, or high end of that range

8. Use a Heating Pad

How Do I keep bread rolls or hamburger buns warm for 20,50 or 100 people? Use an electric blanket or heating pad!

Yes, that’s right you can have really warm garlic bread (wrap it in foil first). If the meals are covered with plastic wrap first you can also use this electric blanket method for them as well. This allows you to heat a lot more food and when serving garlic bread for a party it is a great way to keep it warm. See how much garlic bread you need for a big group.

Heating Pad
Heating Pad – A heating pad can be used to keep garlic bread warm for a potluck

9 Dishwashers

What is the kitchen appliance that you forget to use at a party to keep food or serving platters warm?

It is your dishwasher! Most dishwashers have a drying cycle that you can select without having a wash first (

they have their own heating elements and the inside can get quite hot.)

– if yours is one – then this is a great way to keep food wrapped with aluminum foil warm. Of course, you can also use it to warm up your plates before serving.

But do test it first because the last thing you want is to have your cooking spoiled when the dishwasher accidentally wets everything.

Heating Food For Lots and Lots Of People
Heating Food For Lots and Lots Of People

10. Electric Griddles and Fry Pan

Kitchen appliances with heating elements can be a great source of food warming solutions. Wrapping pancakes in foil and putting them inside an electric pan with the lid on, and the heat on low can be a great way to keep them warm.

11. Use A BBQ or Smoker

Putting the hood down on a BBQ can get food warm if you turn down the gas settings, same on a smoker.

What Is a Safe Temperature to Keep the Food Warm?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends maintaining an internal temperature of 140 °F or warmer. Eggs and egg dishes like quiches or soufflés should be reheated to 65 °F before serving. Furthermore, some food warmers or warming trays only have 110 °F to 120 °F. It is better to check the product label to make sure that it has the capability to safely keep the food warm and prevent any accumulation of bacteria. And Always use a food thermometer to make sure food is in the safe zone.

How Do You Keep the Meat Warm While Resting?

To keep the meat warm while resting, you can opt to use a warming plate set on low so it does not cook while warming.

Letting the meat rest first off and away from the heat. This will let the juices spread throughout with the meat becoming more tender and juicy. To rest it correctly allow five minutes before you keep it warm again. 

How do you keep food warm for hours?

The best way is to use a chafing dish as you can replace the fuel and they are designed to keep food hot for a long time. How do you keep food warm for a dinner party – I would use a crock pot if there we only 10 people.

What is the thing called that keeps food warm?

It is probably a chafing dish – which kind of has a funny name – but you will have seen it everywhere in hotels and big buffets.

How to keep food warm when transporting

My top way here is to use a preheated cooler – see tip 1 above for a method on how to do this. This is how to keep food warm for a picnic and how to keep food warm while traveling also.

So hopefully this answers How To Keep your dinner party dishes warm, with these quick and easy tips.

It may be difficult to know what to serve when to serve it, and what to serve it in. One option is to have a buffet, where guests can choose what they want to eat. A buffet is a great option for people who are on a budget. It has the option of hot or cold food, and guests can choose whatever they want.

I suggest choosing the option that best suits your party and your budget. Whatever you decide, keep in mind that most of what you purchase is an investment and will pay off with less stress alone! 

Knowing your food is being served warm is a great comfort, for more tips on feeding lots of people, see our catering for a party article.