How To Keep Food Warm For A Party? Here’s 16 Creative Ways

You’re a busy bee prepping for your upcoming party, but there’s only one problem. You are not sure how you will keep the many food dishes you are making hot enough to serve at the party. 

We understand how challenging it can be to keep multiple dishes piping hot before serving at party time.

We have 16 creative ways to keep your food hot before you get the party started as P!nk did in her music video from 2001. 

Pink Party GIF - Pink Party Started - Discover & Share GIFs

1. Wrap With Aluminum Foil Or Towels

Even if the food is sitting on a counter in a throw-away pan, wrapping it with aluminum foil or towels will retain the heat. 

Since the aluminum foil can maintain the food’s warmth because the hot temperature reflects into its vessel, you can keep your food warm for the long term as you prepare another dish. 

If you are a science nerd, Iowa State University Department of Agronomy explains how thermal energy from hot food is reflected from the tin foil to retain heat.

2. Place In A Cooler

Coolers are not just for keeping drinks cold at a barbecue. Placing your wrapped food in a cooler will also retain the heat just as long as cold temperatures if ice were in it.  

Depending on its size, you can keep about 4-6 wrapped-up containers inside a cooler to maintain heated temperatures. 

picture of a cooler that can be used to keep food warm for a party

3. Put In Oven On Low

Take a look at your oven dial or digital temperature gauge. There’s a warm setting where you can turn your oven on and keep about 4 to 6 dishes warm there. 

Two throw-away aluminum pans can fit per rack in the oven. If you have two oven racks, you can fit up to four dishes. Having three oven racks allows you to warm six aluminum containers simultaneously. 

picture of a man putting food in an oven on low

4. Use Chafing Dishes

Especially if you have ten or more foods that need to stay heated for a party, consider grabbing some chafing dishes and a Sterno. You can find them at department stores and party stores. 

Chafing dishes are metal that will retain the food heat the same as aluminum foil. The denatured alcohol inside a Sterno will burn right from its can. 

Place the food you want to heat in a chafing dish and affix the lid. Light the Sterno carefully and position it in the middle underneath the chafing dish. Regularly stir the food every 15-30 minutes for the heat to evenly distribute. 

picture of Chafing Dishes

Boston University Environmental Health and Safety have some stern safety tips to follow:

  • Do not move a chafing dish that already has lit up Sterno underneath it. 
  • Once the Sterno is no longer lit, give it time to cool off before you dispose of them and replace them with a new Sterno. 
  • Do not rub your eyes when handling a Sterno. The residue from the denatured alcohol could burn them.
  • Rather than a traditional match, use a butane lighter that is tall enough to light the Sterno safely without burning your hands. 

5. Use A Slow Cooker

Slow cookers or crockpots, much like ovens, have a warm setting on them to keep food hot and ready for the party. 

Whether you have chili for hot dogs or spinach artichoke dip for your chips, you can keep whatever dish you need warm inside of a slow cooker. 

picture of a slow cooker or crockpot

The University of Minnesota Extension has safety tips for when using a slow cooker:

  • Thaw out any meat that you will be cooking in a slow cooker. 
  • Add enough water to get the steam needed to cook your food thoroughly. 
  • Preheat for about an hour with water, broth, or another liquid to expedite cooking times. 
  • Vegetables should be at the bottom as they take longer to cook. 

6. Put Food In A Thermal Cooker

Thermal cookers utilize thermal energy to keep food warm. It is a high-tech spin-off of a hay box that has burning hay to retain food’s heat. 

The dish’s ingredients go into the thermal cooker’s inner pot. Your thermal cooker model may have two inner pots so that you can cook the main dish and a side at the same time.

Place the pot on an electric or gas oven range on simmer or low heat to keep your dishes warm.

picture of a thermal cooker


7. Use The BBQ Grill

Once the barbecue coals come to a simmering stage, you can keep food warm by putting the lid on the grill to retain the heat.

If you have a propane grill, keep it on a simmer or low heat to maintain your steak, ribs, or grilled vegetables at a proper temperature. 

picture of a bbq grill

8. Use A Double Boiler

Use a double boiler and keep it on a simmer for your food to remain warm. Boiling water stays at the bottom as a heat source. Your food will be at the top part of the double boiler to remain heated. 

If you do not have a double boiler from a department store, you can make one yourself. Making your double boiler is best if you make sauces such as queso dip for nachos, chocolate sauce for strawberries, or melted chocolate for candy-making. 

Take a saucepan and fill it up with some water halfway up. Place a heat-safe glass bowl on top of the saucepan. Be sure the bowl is large enough to fit on top of the saucepan but not small enough that it caves inside the pan where it could come in contact with the boiling water. 

Keeping the bowl properly elevated over the boiling water will mimic how a true double boiler works. As with a double boiler from a department store, keep the pan on a simmer so the food does not burn as you keep it warm. 

9. Use An Insulated Thermos

An insulated thermos keeps broths, sauces, and other liquids nice and warm. Have a few on hand if you want to do personal servings of soup at your party. Your food storage can also double as serving vessels to save how many dishes you are doing during clean-up. 

Insulated thermoses usually come in 8-ounce to 32-ounce sizes. 8-ounce thermoses are great for the personal soup serving idea. 16-ounce insulated thermoses store personal hot chocolate or coffee servings for a winter party. 

picture of an insulated thermos

10. Trap The Steam

Trapping the steam is as easy as placing a lid over your cooking pan or pot. Keep your dish inside the pan or pot and place its corresponding lid on top to trap in the steam. You can keep this on your oven range, kitchen counter, or dining area. 

If you are afraid that the steam will not keep the food adequately warm, especially if you still have a couple of hours until the party, you can put the pan back on the stove on a simmer to maintain the steam. 

Professor Hiroshi Kobayashi invented a pan called the Hakase Nabe that helps trap the steam when keeping your foods warm. 

picture of a tray of food that has steam from being hot

11. Use Hot Water Bottles or Hot Stones

Hot water bottles or hot stones work proficiently in heating food as well. 

Hot water bottles are almost like thermoses in that they are made of an insulated metal to retain the heat from hot dishes.

When you use hot stones, you should use chef’s heat-safe gloves so you can properly handle your hot stones after they have preheated. 

Hot Water Bottles

Because of how narrow hot water bottles are, keep soup or sauces inside of them. If it’s a sauce, you can add more on top of the dish before serving. 

For example, you can keep gravy inside of a hot water bottle until you are ready to serve mashed potatoes by pouring the gravy on top. 

If you are serving soup, you can keep it in the hot water bottles until it is time to pour it into bowls for serving. 

Ceramic or Hot Stones

Hot stones can retain their temperature for about a half-hour to 45 minutes. If you pair it with another heating source, the hot stones can last longer once you turn off the second heating source.

Place the prepared food on a hot stone inside a turned-off oven or an oven in a warm setting. Keeping the oven on the warm setting while having it lay on a hot stone will be heating your food from two angles to reassure it’s the proper temperature. 

Ceramic baking stones are great for pizza while hot stones are great for steak and other meat dishes. Talk about prehistoric pizza cooking.

You can keep a pizza on top of a ceramic baking stone in the oven whether on or off to maintain its temperature. Plus, the side of the ceramic acts as a sharpening agent for your chef’s knife or pizza cutter so that pizza or whatever dish on top of the ceramic stone can be cut easier and quicker. 

picture of hot stones

12. Preheat Your Cooler

The best way to prepare a cooler to heat hot food is to get it warm with hot water for at least a half-hour. You can leave the hot water in the cooler for up to a couple of hours. 

Dump the water out and dry the inside. Line your cooler with tin foil. Then, you can place your food containers or wrapped-up throw-away pans into the cooler to keep it warm until the party starts. 

13. Start With The Food Extra Hot

Keep your food at a higher temperature so that you can start with it being extra hot. The higher the temperature, the longer that it will stay as it cools down. 

This method is best used in conjunction with the trap-in-the-steam method. First, keep your food at a medium temperature for up to 5-10 minutes, being sure to stir regularly to not burn it. The medium temperature will maintain the heat without ruining the food. 

picture of hot food

14. Use a Heating Pad or Electric Blanket

Using a heating pad or electric blanket is great if you are hosting an outdoor party far away from home at a park or another venue. Purchase a heating pad or electric blanket that fits into your food serving vessel. 

Heating Pads

Heating pads usually last up to two hours to keep your food adequately warm. Have a few extras on hand in case one of the heating pads expires. Do not activate them until you are ready to heat a dish. 

Simply grab an aluminum food container and place one of the two=hour heating pads at the bottom. Place your food that’s in another aluminum food container on top of the one with the heating pad. 

Your food will stay warm even though you are not near a stove or other electric appliance that usually heats your food at home. 

Electric Blankets

The electric blankets you use to keep warm in the winter do not have to be put away come springtime. Grab that baby out of storage and use it as another heat source for your party. 

Plug the electric blanket into a safe outlet in your kitchen or dining area. Have it on its highest setting for optimal effectiveness. Place it on a heat-safe surface such as your countertop or serving table. 

Let the electric blanket heat up for 5-10 minutes. Place an aluminum throw-away pan on top of it. Put some tin foil on top so the food’s steam can stay trapped in the pan. Stir your food occasionally to redistribute the heat throughout the dish. 

picture of an electric blanket

15. Put In Your Dishwasher

Your dishwasher can be used for more than washing dishes. Make sure it’s empty before your party in case you need more space to store food to keep it warm. 

Place your wrapped food containers inside of the dishwasher and be sure it clicks closed to maintain the heat. 

Just be sure that no one accidentally thinks there are dishes in there and turns on the dishwasher or your whole feast could be ruined!

picture of a dishwasher

16. Reheat Food As You Need It

When all else fails and you may not have access to most of these other heating methods, reheat the food as you need it. 

Say that you only have access to a Sterno and a microwave. Replace a Sterno as the denatured alcohol in them runs out and the flame goes away. Once a Sterno expires, you can use a microwave for reheating. 

Even if you do not have a microwave, having extra a Sterno on hand will reassure you that you can reheat your food as needed. 

This is a best practice at barbecues and birthday parties. Keep all your food in throw-away aluminum tins with tin foil affixed on the top. Cleaning up will be super easy when storing leftovers and cutting on how many dishes you are washing at the end of the party. 

picture of a microwave to reheat food

FAQs on How to Keep Food Warm for a Party

Here are some of the most common questions.

  • How can I keep food warm without ruining it?
    Warm food without ruining it by keeping it on very low heat if you are using a slow cooker, crockpot, or the simmer on the oven range method. Watch how long you keep your food in the warm setting to not ruin the food. For example, pasta heated for too long can eventually become mushy. If beans are in your dish, they could become too mushy as well. For example, you can keep a chili or pasta dish in a warm setting for about an hour or so. Remove it from the heat source and place it in a cool area with a lid over the top of the dish to trap the steam. Do this about 15-30 minutes before the party to keep the food warm enough to serve the food immediately as guests arrive.
  • How do you keep food warm for hours?
    Slow cookers and crockpots have just the right thermal temperature emitted from them to keep food warm for hours. To be above the danger zone for food, the dish’s temperature should be at least above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service states that hot food is in the danger zone if the temperature is anywhere between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Most heating products can keep your dishes warm up to 170 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid the danger zone. Warming trays can be another option to keep your food warm for hours. Depending on the warming tray you purchase, it may be electrical or you could need a Sterno as a heat source.
  • How do chefs keep food warm?
    Chefs have cooked many dishes in a restaurant repeatedly so that they can work quickly to cook them and keep them warm until serving simultaneously. They utilize hot water baths to keep a dish warm or heating lamps with a temperature above the food danger zone to keep food warm.