The 10 Best Warming Trays
This wiki has been updated 23 times since it was first published in July of 2015. Whether you're serving a meal buffet-style or heating something up that you've cooked in advance for a dinner party, you'll want it to reach your guests at a temperature that does your hard work justice. These stylish and functional warming trays will ensure just that. They come in a variety of designs and are available with a wide array of features to meet most needs. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. If you'd like to contribute your own research to the Wiki, please get started by reviewing this introductory video.
December 18, 2020:
Although there are many warming trays out there to select from, we still feel that our top picks represent the best options, because they offer you durability, reliability, usability, and more. We did, however, remove the MyHotMat Modular. Not only is it currently tough to find for purchase, it's also on the more gimmicky side, and we wanted to stick to tried-and-true choices.
And when it comes to these popular favorites, the Broil King NWT-1S and the NutriChef Professional are still ones to beat. The former is the pricier choice, but thanks to its metal construction, it won't let you down over the long haul. The NutriChef model, as well as the Chefman Electric, has a tempered glass top, which will require slightly more care in use. While it's true that tempered glass is strong, it's not absolutely shatterproof, so be careful not to bang dishes onto the top of these.
For those who'd prefer a non-electric choice, we kept the Excellante Golden Handle and the Artisan Rectangular Chafer. You'll need to provide your own fuel, such as Sterno, so make sure you have enough on hand for the length of the event. There's also the Cuisinart Oval, which uses tea lights for heat. Because these types of candles are quite small, expect moderate warmth rather than burning heat. On the plus side, this Cuisinart model is quite attractive and would blend right in with many cookware sets.
December 07, 2019:
Anyone who’s brought food to an office potluck or had a cooked meal ready before their guests could arrive knows the importance a warming tray can have. We selected models based on capacity, value, thoughtful designs, safety features, portability, ease of use, and durability. You can place any heat-safe vessel, such as a casserole dish, safely on the surfaces of these units. Bear in mind, though, that certain precautions should always be taken when using a warming tray. Never leave one unattended, handle it carefully to avoid burns, supervise children around one, and keep food covered and at the proper temperature for consumption.
Today we said goodbye to the Wolfgang Puck Mini Buffet Server, which became unavailable, and the Tiger Chef 8 Quart, due to confirmed complaints of quality issues. And since its design is similar in nature to the superior Artisan Rectangular Chafer, we felt we could free up some space to add something ultra-portable. This reasoning accounts for the addition of the HotLogic Red, which is perfect for taking food on the go, and the MyHotMat Modular, a simplistic, space-saving design that's easy to transport.
Both the Oster Buffet Server and NutriChef Large are great for serving large parties, as is the Excellante Golden Handle. Be aware though, that the serving trays that come with the Oster model have sharp edges, and should be handled with caution. Many of these types of basins are machined with lips that allow you to set them into their designated warming area, but these edges are fine and made of metal, so be well aware of that when washing them or if children are around.
We also updated the NutriChef Large to reflect its newest iteration, which has a more powerful heating element and larger dimensions than the previous version.
Wolf Warming Drawer For homeowners who entertain guests often, an indoor or outdoor Wolf warming drawer may be a viable option. The warming drawer is capable of distributing heat evenly from 80 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, includes hidden electronic controls, and has an automatic shut off function. It also boasts food presets, such as bread, cooked cereals, and pizza, is tested and approved for warming towels, and can fit plenty of entrees and sides within its generous 30-inch drawer cavity. subzerowolf.com
Ultra-Glo Portable Ceramic If you're a business owner looking for a commercial-grade machine to keep near a POS station, fry dump station, kitchen work area, or server pickup station, the Ultra-Glo Portable Ceramic food warmer offers a convenient way to hold hot sides and snacks at the right temperature. Designed for ease of use, it boasts a large clearance between the pan and high-powered ceramic heating element, two shatter-resistant incandescent lights to illuminate the holding area, and a preset automatic thermostat to maintain consistent temperatures. hatcocorp.com
Why You Need A Warming Tray
The third motivation for having a warming tray has to do with the flavor and texture of your food.
You may be asking yourself, "Why do I need a warming tray when I can just re-heat my food in the microwave?" But experienced chefs and passionate foodies would shake their heads at that question. Warming trays play several important roles in maintaining the integrity of that food you worked so hard to make. First off, sometimes you simply do not have space on your stove to keep all of your cooked items hot and ready to eat while you finish making a few other dishes. A warming tray frees up your cooking surface, while still allowing you to keep all of your food hot.
The second reason you need a warming tray is safety. According to the FDA, there are very specific temperatures at which certain foods need to remain so they don't begin to grow bacteria. Of course, if you're serving a buffet-style dinner, you have no choice but to keep dishes out of the refrigerator for hours at a time. Food warming trays improve your and your guest's safety in another way: they keep your guests out of the kitchen. When your friends come in the kitchen to serve themselves off of the stove, they run the risk of knocking things over or burning themselves. Warming trays allow you to keep food warm while it is out of the kitchen, and that keeps your curious guests out of there, too.
The third motivation for having a warming tray has to do with the flavor and texture of your food. You most likely spent a lot of time perfecting your recipes, and you want your friends to appreciate the nuances of the food. Some flavors really pop when they're warm, but don't stand out once they're cold. Then you have ingredients, like cheese, that can curdle or harden once they cool down. You didn't work in the kitchen for hours to make a dish, all to let it get so cold that it doesn't even taste good. Warming trays ensure this will never happen.
Chafing Dishes Versus Warming Trays
If you make a lot of buffet-style meals, then you will be faced with the question: chafing dish or warming tray? Each has its merits, so you'll need to think about your specific needs. Chafing dishes consist of a frame or rack, a water pan, a food pan and a cover. You heat the water pan using either a sterno or electric heating element. Once you have heated the water to the desired temperature, you place the serving pan inside the water pan. In other words, hot water keeps the food pan, and the food inside of it, warm. A cover on top of the entire unit traps the heat inside the food pan. Warming trays, on the other hand, do not use water in any way. They plug into the wall, much like an electric griddle, and tend to feature a one-piece design.
Chafing dishes consist of a frame or rack, a water pan, a food pan and a cover.
Neither a chaffing pan or warming tray is better of worse than the other — they're just different. Chafing dishes are typically more affordable than warming trays. You also have the option to place disposable pans in chafing dishes, which makes them ideal for cooks who hate the cleanup. Just keep in mind that chafing dishes pose a few safety hazards that warming trays do not. Piping hot water is present in a chafing dish. If you use a sterno-heated model, there will also be one or several small open flames beneath the water pan. These features make chafing dishes less-than-favorable for buffets where children will be present.
These two accessories offer different presentation options, too. Warming trays allow you to display your dishes in a more formal way. You can put your serving set (so long as they're made from materials safe for use on the heating element) directly on your warming tray. Meanwhile, chafing dishes only accommodate aluminum or steel food pans, and they are usually large. For this reason, warming dishes are ideal for smaller dinner parties, whereas chafing dishes come in handy for serving large groups of people. Ultimately, you probably do not have enough decorative serving plates to hold food for 100 guests, so generic-looking chafing dishes are expected at bigger events.
What To Look For In A Warming Tray
Before picking out your warming tray, think of the ways you're going to use it. If you're simply looking for a quick way to reheat a dish, but don't want to use a microwave due to the many damaging effects it can have on your health, look for a warming tray that reaches high temperatures quickly. If you don't plan on consuming your food immediately, but rather need a way to keep it hot for hours on end, make sure your warming tray can run nonstop for prolonged periods of time. Regardless of how you plan on using your tray, make sure it features temperature control so that you can prevent burning your food.
Before picking out your warming tray, think of the ways you're going to use it.
You should also ask yourself if this tray will be more for personal use and small family meals, or for social gatherings. If it's the latter, then look for one with an extra large surface that can accommodate several plates at once. You might also want one with big handles that don't get hot so you can relocate it to make room for other plates during a party without the risk of burning your hands. On that same note, make sure your warming tray has a long cord so you can move it from one end of a table to the other without having to unplug it and find a new outlet.
You should consider maintenance and storage, too. You can put food directly onto many warming trays, and if that is what you plan on doing, make sure your model is made from a material that wipes clean easily, like stainless steel. Some units fold up for storage and even have detachable cords. The slimmer the profile, the easier it will be to store your tray in a drawer or under a table when it's not in use.