The 9 Best Chafing Dishes
This wiki has been updated 23 times since it was first published in September of 2015. Designed for restaurateurs, caterers, or anyone planning a large buffet-style event, one of these attractive chafing dishes will ensure your food stays warm while displaying it elegantly for guests. Our selection includes models suitable for both home and professional use in a variety of styles to complement just about any occasion, and at prices that will meet any budget. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
May 07, 2021:
After digging into long-term reviews and testing, we decided to stop recommending Old Dutch antique chafers. While they certainly look nice, there were far too many complaints about the false copper coating failing and various parts of the unit breaking and creating sharp edges and dangerous pinch points. In fact, we had a hard time locating readily available copper chafers at all. We did, however, find a few specialty metalworkers with solid lines of impressive-looking models. For those, take a look at our Special Honors section.
The rest of the items on the list are the same as last round. We're confident that our wide variety should cover most use cases, with back-of-house-style options like the Tiger Chef Stainless Steel, wedding-ready models such as the Excellanté Roll Top, and one-time use sets like the Party Essentials Serving Kit, designed for backyard barbecues.
January 31, 2020:
There's a wide spectrum of chafing dishes out there, ranging from the purely utilitarian to the fancy and elegant. At the inexpensive end lies the Party Essentials Serving Kit, which is ideal if you're hosting a barbecue but won't wow your guests at a fancy dinner party. And, while they're not exactly the most elegant, the Tiger Chef Stainless Steel and Giantex Full Size are both often used by professional catering companies due to their light weight and compatibility with standard-size hotel pans. The Tramontina Pro-Line and Excellanté Roll Top also accommodate those ubiquitous 20-inch-long pans, but they're awfully expensive to buy in bulk.
Compact, round models like the NUCU Artisan and Tiger Chef 4-Quart are great for fingers foods such as meatballs but not for bulk goods like lasagna, so they work well alongside full-size models. The Winco 708 and Winco WinWare are similarly shaped, but much fancier and also a bit bulkier. Speaking of fancy, the Old Dutch 685 is about as elegant as they come, though it also has a very high price.
On the other hand, if you want to do away with chemical fuel, consider getting an electric warming tray. If you need something specialized, maybe you'll be happy with a good fondue pot, and when you're outfitting a high-volume culinary establishment, it's hard to go without a good steam table.
October 17, 2018:
Gave the top spot to the Tiger Chef 8 Quart due to their high quality and budget-friendly price. Replaced items that were no longer available and removed the Oster Buffet Server because of safety concerns as multiple users reported smoke coming from the switches and knobs.
Vollrath Maximillian If you're dedicated to providing the peak banquet experience, and you're willing to make a considerable investment, Vollrath makes some of the best chafers around. Most users won't need something this high-end, but if your clientele will appreciate it, it's worth the extra money. This is one of their fanciest, but they do have others, some of which are certified to work with induction burners. vollrath.com
Isn’t Chafing A Bad Thing?
Another option would be to simply serve the food as is and hope it doesn’t get too cold.
When a marathon runner finds his shirt has begun to create friction with sensitive areas on his chest, chafing is a bad thing. When a pair of underwear is too big, but the pants on top of it are too small, chafing is a bad thing. When you need to keep food heated to a pleasant temperature without continuing to cook it or dry it out, however, there is nothing like a good bit of chafe — a good chafing dish, anyway.
There are a number of different products on the market, in addition to the chafing dish, that are designed to help keep food warm. Among the most well-known of these is the heat lamp, a hot, red, incandescent nightmare of an invention that you may have seen in your local Applebee’s (as if you needed another reason not to eat there). These warming devices are notorious for drying out food very quickly, but as long as there’s a wait staff there to remove the food from its heated staging area before this happens, all is well.
In a buffet setting, however, where there are large quantities of foods made and served to large numbers of people, heat lamps would only allow the first few people on the food line to actually enjoy whatever was up for grabs. Everybody else would be left with a dry, overcooked dinner.
Another option would be to simply serve the food as is and hope it doesn’t get too cold. That poses a number of problems, however. Most notably, food left out at cool temperatures quickly becomes a hotbed for bacteria. The last person on that line (or the glutton who goes back for thirds 90 minutes later) could easily fall ill, and lawsuits would likely be imminent.
Some establishments and events will use warming trays, which are tremendously similar to chafing dishes, but with one key difference. A warming try positions a tray of hot food over a dry heat source. There is no intermediary between this heat source and the tray of food, causing particularly sensitive dishes like fish to slowly, but surely overcook. As the party wears on, even less sensitive dishes may begin to dry out.
By comparison, a chafing dish — at least in most cases — is synonymous with a bain-marie, more commonly known as a water bath or double boiler. In these devices, the heat source beneath the dish heats up a bath of water in which the tray of food sits. Acting as an intermediary, the water transfers the heat to the dish more evenly than a direct flame or hot plate would. Furthermore, by not designing the tray to create a very tight seal, small amounts of steam filter up into the main compartment, keeping food moist, as well as safely warm.
How To Choose The Right Chafing Dish For Your Needs
Most occasions that require a chafing dish are attended by pretty large numbers of people. As such, these occasions often necessitate a great deal of different types of food, and, by extension, more than one chafing dish. The knowledge of your crowd size, and of the amount and types of food you intend to serve, will likely be the first information that narrows down our list for you. Some of the chafing dishes we’ve ranked here come in sets, allowing you to serve multiple dishes to many people. Others come as single dishes, and you’d have to buy extra to fill any additional need.
You might want a chafing dish just for yourself, however, and non-professionals certainly find a lot of uses for the units.
For the most part, the chafing dishes that come as single units tend to be of a slightly higher caliber. Their materials are often more durable and better for heat retention. That’s not to say that multiple dish deals aren’t available with high-quality components; it’s just less likely that you’ll find them there.
The next thing to consider when evaluating your options is the style of use you think your new chafing dish will see. If you’re purchasing this dish for professional use, it’s worth asking what class of diner you usually serve. If they aren’t as particular about the quality of their food or the look of their event, it might not be a bad idea to save some business expense and go with disposable dishes. A customer with more aesthetic sense, but perhaps a less discerning pallet will appreciate non-disposable dishes, but they don’t need to see copper or gold anywhere. Basic steel will suit them fine. The highest class of diner will demand nothing but the best, both for the look of their event and for the quality of the food the dish contains.
You might want a chafing dish just for yourself, however, and non-professionals certainly find a lot of uses for the units. If, for example, you have a lot of people in your immediate family who all keep hectic schedules (two working parents, teens in high school, college students who commute from home, etc.), it would save you a lot of trouble cooking to meet their tiny time windows. With a chafing dish in your home, you could make a big meal, set it up to stay safely and delightfully warm, and go about your day.
A Brief History Of The Chafing Dish
The earliest ancestors of the modern chafing dish appear to have developed some time during the Medieval period in England. Even the word chafe is a term from 15th century English meaning, “to warm up.” These ceramic dishes sat atop charcoal braziers, and, as such, were nowhere near as portable as today’s models.
Over the next couple of centuries, chafing dishes were mentioned in a variety of settings, from royal courts to the American colonies. By the late 19th century, after a wave of chafing dish suppers bolstered the popularity of the tool, specialized cookbooks written for chafing dishes began to appear.
In the modern era, the chafing dish has become less common in households, where similar devices like warming trays and crockpots vie for valuable counter space. Some savvy customers make good use of the tools, however, whether keeping dinner warm for a family member running late or poaching a breakfast’s worth of eggs.