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Keeping Food Hot: How Hot and How to Do It

by Jane Wangersky | January 23rd, 2015 | Cooking Basics
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hot appetizers (400x400)Though I’m always saying you should save yourself trouble by choosing to make appetizers that can be served cold or at room temperature, there will be times you want to serve a hot one, especially if it’s cold out and/or you won’t be serving your guests anything else. But keeping food hot can be difficult, especially when there isn’t a set time to sit down and eat, and people are coming and going. Still, it’s necessary, not only for enjoyment, but for health reasons. So let’s look at some of the best available ways to keep food hot.

First, how hot is hot enough? The temperature you’re aiming for is 140℉, the FDA says. You can measure it with a food thermometer — something you should have anyway for cooking meat safely. It’s a handy number to have, but it’s only a guide.

For example, also according to the FDA, to keep food this hot in an ordinary oven you’ll have to set it at 200° F to 250° F. This is probably the most accessible way to keep food warm; if you didn’t have an oven, you wouldn’t be entertaining. (I’ve done it in an apartment without an oven, but you’re probably more sensible than me.)

If your microwave’s fairly new, it may have a keep warm setting. Mine will keep food warm for up to half an hour, though I don’t trust it enough to use it for more than five minutes. Use your thermometer to see if yours does a good enough job.

If you have a slow cooker, you can press that into service, especially for messy foods like those little sausages in barbecue sauce. This works better at home than at a potluck; it can be hard to find an electrical outlet in places like a school gym.

If you serve hot appetizers (or other party food) often and you’re really conscientious, you might want to get a warming tray or chafing dish. These have come a long way since they were heated with an alcohol burner under the dish part. (Though you might wish for one of the old-fashioned kind if you’re looking for an outlet.) You can get these appliances for as little as $80. Some have multiple sections for different kinds of food. On the downside, some don’t keep food at a safe temperature — before you buy, make sure yours will maintain that 140℉.

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