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How To Keep Food Warm For A Party – The Ultimate Guide

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Cold buffets are nice enough, but if you’re throwing a party (especially in the chillier months), it is a much better idea to give your guests some hot food to snack on.

However, this does present a challenge when it comes to keeping the food at the right temperature!

So, what is the best way to keep food warm for a party? This depends on the type of food and how soon it will be eaten. A hot casserole can be kept warm in a crockpot for several hours, and buffet snacks can be wrapped in foil in a low oven. If your party is outdoors, you can keep food warm using heat packs and insulated containers.

These are just a few ways you can keep food warm for a party, but there’s plenty of other ways to keep your delicious snacks perfectly heated!

Let’s take a look at how to stay safe when serving warm food and find the best ways to keep your food warm and tasty for your party guests.

Safety Tips For Serving Warm Food

It is important to be aware that there are risks involved with keeping different types of food warm for extended periods. Bacteria will multiply rapidly in food kept at the wrong temperature for too long.

This vastly increases the risk of a stomach upset or food poisoning—definitely not a gift your guests will appreciate!

Food safety advisors recommend that food should be kept at the following temperatures:

  • Chilled—40°F or below
  • Hot—140°F or above

This means that anything between 40-140°F is the danger zone for bacterial contamination.

Food safety experts advise that food should not be kept at temperatures below 140°F or above 40°F for more than 2 hours. After this time, it will no longer be fit for human consumption.

So, what does this mean in real terms? Well, you can cook your hot food, but as soon as it leaves the oven or stovetop it will start to cool.

Your food must be consumed within 2 hours from this point unless you have a means of keeping it at the correct heat.

If you are planning on serving hot food in any place where the temperature might be a concern, consider investing in a food thermometer. This will help to give you peace of mind that your food is hot and safe to eat.

And of course, most food tastes much better when served hot! Your guests will not be overjoyed to be eating lasagna or soup which has cooled to room temperature.

So, to keep your food safe and in its best possible condition, we need to find a way to keep it at the right temperature! Let’s take a look at the best methods to keep food warm for a party.

How To Keep Different Types Of Food Warm For A Party

The best method to use to keep food warm for a party depends on how it was originally cooked, how soon you intend to serve it, and where you are going to serve it.

There are many variables to take into account here, so you will need to plan ahead to decide the best option for you!

How To Keep Food Warm For An Indoor Party

These methods will all work perfectly you are expecting to serve your food within a short period of time. So, if your guests are due to arrive in less than an hour, you can keep your food warm with minimal hassle.

Food Cooked In The Oven

If you are cooking a sumptuous buffet for your guests in the oven, you might be wondering how to keep it warm?

We’ve all made the mistake of leaving something in the oven too long, coming back to a dry and crispy dinner! This is the last thing you want for your guests, so what is the best technique to use here?

The optimal temperature to use to keep food warm in the oven is 200°F.

At this temperature, food will not continue to cook but will keep at the perfect temperature to eat. Your oven may even have a warm setting, in which case use this instead!

To stop food in the oven from drying out, you need to make sure it is well covered. if you are using a casserole dish, keep the lid snugly in place; an extra layer of foil under the lid can be beneficial here.

Food cooked in baking trays should be tightly covered in foil as well.

Food Cooked In A Crockpot

Keeping food cooked in a crockpot warm for a party is one of the easiest methods to use! This is because most crockpots have a “keep warm” setting, so it does all the work for you.

This setting can be used in one of two ways. If you are cooking your food the day of, simply change the setting to “keep warm” once your food is cooked.

It will then stay at the perfect temperature to serve whenever your guests are ready to eat.

If you prefer to prepare your food in advance, then all you need to do is reheat it in the crockpot before selecting the “keep warm” option.

The only thing to bear in mind with this method is that food will start to dry out over time, particularly if the lid is removed frequently. If this happens, you can add a splash of hot water to bring your food back to life.

Food Cooked On The Stove

Food cooked on the stove is easy to keep warm—simply drop the heat down to the lowest setting, and it will stay at the perfect temperature until you are ready to eat.

However, this only works well for foods with plenty of liquid, such as soups or casseroles.

If you are frying food on the stove, the best way to keep it warm is to transfer it to a baking tray in a warm oven. Make sure it is covered in foil to prevent it from drying out.

Best Methods For Keeping Food Warm For Several Hours

Sometimes you may need to keep your food warm for longer than just one hour, especially if your guests are not all arriving at the same time.

Or maybe you don’t want the last-minute rush of cooking and reheating food—there is no better feeling than having it all prepared well in advance of your guests arriving!

Here are some great ways to keep food warm for several hours:

Electric Food Warmers

If you think that serving hot food at a party might become a regular event, then an electric food warmer is definitely a worthwhile investment.

These devices will keep your food at the perfect temperature for as long as necessary, freeing up your time to enjoy with your guests!

The best thing about an electric food warmer is that it then frees up your oven or stovetop if you have more cooking to do. This means you can prepare the first course, put it on the food warmer, and get started on the main course!

Chafing Dishes

A chafing dish is another form of food warmer which is great for keeping your food at the perfect temperature.

It consists of a stainless steel pan, normally with several different food compartments. This sits in another shallow tray of warm water, which is heated by a burner.

These food warmers are brilliant if you have food that would burn easily over direct heat. They also give you the option to serve several different foods at once, great if you’re providing a hot buffet.

Slow Cookers

Now, we know it might sound like we think that the slow cooker or crockpot is the answer to every kitchen problem, but these appliances really are so versatile!

You can use them to keep pretty much any type of food warm, as long as you pick the right technique to do it.

Any food which contains a high level of liquid can be poured straight into the pot to keep warm.

If you have drier foods, such as wontons or crispy potatoes, you will need to pop a layer of foil above and below them to prevent them from drying out.

How To Keep Food Warm At An Outside Party

Serving warm food at an outdoor party can be tricky! Food will cool down much more quickly in the open air, so you need to plan ahead for the best way to keep it warm.

Another problem when serving food at an outdoor party is the lack of access to electricity. Even if you have outside sockets, many of your kitchen appliances are not designed to be used outdoors.

You might think you are being safe, but an unexpected rain shower could soon turn your warm buffet table into an electrical hazard.

So, how can we keep food warm at an outside party?

The first thing to remember is that you will need to heat your food thoroughly in the house before taking it outside.

It will be difficult to keep it warm for long periods outside, so leave it inside for as long as possible. Heat your food to as hot as possible before you take it out, without burning or spoiling it.

When serving warm food outside, keep it in its warm or insulated container until your guests are ready to eat. This is no place for fancy yet cold serving dishes; your food needs to be kept snuggly and warm! 

Don’t unpack or uncover the food until the last possible minute, and keep the dish covered as much as you can.

Any food which registers an internal temperature of 40-140°F and has been left out for over 2 hours must be discarded, so the trick here is to keep as much heat in your food as possible.

Let’s take a look at some great ways to keep food warm at an outdoor party!

Candle Food Warmers

A candle-heated food warmer is a lovely way to keep food warm at an outdoor party. This simple contraption has 2 shelves or layers, where you put some small candles or tealights on the bottom and sit your food above them.

They come in a range of different designs and will look very stylish on any buffet table. 

The nice thing about using a food warmer is that you can take your food straight from the house to the table, without having to pop it into different serving dishes.

Heat Packs 

Hot and cold packs are a versatile and affordable option for keeping your food warm. They can be heated in just a couple of minutes in the microwave and will stay warm for several hours if kept well insulated.

Place your heated packs underneath and on top of your food container, and wrap the whole lot in an insulating layer such as a towel.

Or you can even use heat packs inside some of our other warm food solutions, such as insulated bags and cool boxes.

Cool Box

Your cool box isn’t just for chilled foods—it is a well-insulated container that will retain heat just as well as it keeps food cool!

Pop your heated food in its container into the cool box and close the lid. When your guests start to arrive, your food should be at the perfect temperature to serve straight away!

Insulated Picnic Baskets & Bags

Insulated carry bags are a great way to keep your food warm and delicious.

There are many stylish and practical picnic baskets and bags available, or you may even be able to get your hands on an insulated food delivery bag—great for taking larger dishes to your outdoor lunch!

When choosing an insulated carry bag, go for one which is easy and comfortable to carry.

You need to make sure that your food container can be laid flat on the base of the bag to avoid spillages. Add in a couple of heat packs and you’ve got the ultimate hot food transportation device!

Slow Cooker Or Casserole Dish

Slow cookers, crock pots, and thick-sided casserole dishes will retain heat for very long periods. Heat the food in the dish in the house to as warm as you dare first, and you’ll find that it retains this temperature for a long time!

If you have one, pop your dish into a heat-resistant bag or wrap it in an insulating layer.

The nice thing about this method is that all you have to do is lift the lid off your casserole dish, and your food is ready to serve!

Related Questions

Now that we’ve looked at the many different ways you can keep your food warm for all of your parties and events, let’s take a look at a couple of related questions on the subject!

How can I keep food chilled at a party?

As well as keeping food warm at your party, keeping food chilled can also be a problem!

To prevent bacteria from multiplying, chilled food must be kept at 40°F or less. On a warm sunny day outdoors, this is not always easy!

If you don’t have refrigerator space, the easiest way to keep food chilled at a party is to use a cool box or insulated picnic bag.

You can also use ice packs and bottles of frozen water to keep the temperature as cool as possible. Keep chilled food in its packaging until your guests are ready to eat.

For keeping drinks chilled, buckets of cold water and ice work really well. If possible, keep your food and drinks inside or in the shade, away from direct sunlight.

How can I serve hot drinks at a party?

Although cool drinks are lovely and refreshing on a warm day, sometimes you might want to serve hot drinks at a party, especially during the colder months!

Hot drinks and soups are great at fall and winter events, such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. However, it can be a struggle to serve hot drinks, especially if you have a lot of guests.

Hot drinks such as a spicy punch or mulled wine can be kept warm in a slow cooker. This method will also mean the fabulous aromas of your hot beverages waft around the house, creating the perfect seasonal atmosphere!

If you need to serve a lot of coffee or tea, getting a constant supply of boiling water can be a problem. No one wants to be stuck in the kitchen repeatedly boiling the kettle at their own party!

Boil water in advance and store it in thermos flasks, or see if you can hire or borrow a hot water urn to give you a constant supply during your party.

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