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When you’re feeding your family on a special occasion or hosting a brunch, you don’t need to stick to slow-cookers to keep food from getting cold. Instead, a warming tray can get the job done. The best warming trays can help make sure your hot food dishes maintain a consistent temperature instead of forcing you to reheat your plate before you can enjoy it. And now, they’re not just reserved for catering companies either — you can find a warming tray to use right at home on your own, whether you go with an electric hot plate or a flame-heated tray. Here’s all you need to know.
What Are the Best Warming Trays?
A warming tray only has one job to do, and you want to make sure it’s convenient, safe and easy to use.
Electric: Basically a large hot plate, an electric warming tray is probably the most common option for individual home use. We like to make sure it has some form of temperature control as well as safety features to keep it from accidentally starting a fire. These also come in cordless or plug-in versions. The plug-in models have the advantage of consistency, but if you don’t have an easily accessible outlet, or you’re hosting a gathering outdoors, you may prefer a cordless tray.
Non-electric: Professional catering companies often use a chafer set, which sits on a stands and comes with a burner underneath. A chafer dish can help keep your food warmer for longer and provide an even distribution of heat, and can be used indoors or outdoors without needing an electrical outlet. However, these can pose a fire hazard if not used properly.
Size & Convenience: Once you’ve chosen the type of warming tray you’ll need, think about the size it takes up, relative to the size you have available at home. Aside from their source of heat, the best warming trays often include organizing trays, which allow you to heat several different dishes at once on the same plate.
1. Chefman Electric Warming Tray
This best-selling electric warming tray includes a large surface area that measures 21 x 16 inches. It can accommodate multiple dishes at the same time, and a temperature control knob makes using it super easy. It also comes with fuse safety feature that keeps it from overheating. Another major win is the sleek, glass surface which not only looks nice on the counter, but is also a cinch to clean when the party’s over.
2. Oster Buffet Server Warming Tray
For something a little more advanced, this 20 x 13-inch Oster tray holds three 2.5 quart trays, complete with domed lids to help trap heat and moisture. It also comes with temperature controls, and if you don’t want to use the included trays, you can simply remove them and use the stainless steel base on its own.
3. Sterno Foldable Frame Buffet Chafer Set
You can never go wrong with a classic, which is why we included this professional-quality chafer set. The complete set includes a couple 2-inch deep food pans, a 4-inch water pan, two fuel holders and a fuel holder tray, in addition to the lid and foldable frame that makes it easy to transport. If you want to give your gathering an upscale, professional look — this is the option we’d suggest.
4. Salton Cordless Warming Tray
This electric hot plate has a generous 23 x 11-inch surface area, with an easy-to-clean stainless steel surface and automatic temperature control for safety. Most importantly, it has a detachable cord, so you can use it anywhere even without an electrical outlet. After charging for eight minutes, the tray will stay hot for an hour of continuous heat.