16 Practical Ways to Keep Food Warm at a Party

When I plan a party, the most critical part is the food. Whether I prepare or purchase the food, I want to ensure my guests enjoy it. Therefore, keeping that food warm is crucial to throwing a fantastic party. There are many methods to help you keep your delicious food warm for your party, some that require electricity and others that don’t. 

Depending on how you plan to serve your food, one method may work better for you than others. Below are some ways to keep that food warm and delicious for your guests to enjoy. 

1. Use an Insulated Bag

Insulated bags are great if you have large food trays you want to keep warm. Some bags are big enough to hold four large catering trays. Just place your dish (with a lid) in the bag to keep your food warm until you are ready to serve it. 

This Insulated Bag holds those large catering trays, so I can either prep a lot of food and keep it in here or store the huge lasagna dish my father-in-law brings over every holiday and keep it warm while not taking up oven space I need to cook other food items. 

Insulated Food Warmer Bag with Divider
Buy Now
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/17/2024 11:28 pm GMT

2. Store Food in Insulated Containers

When searching for insulated food containers, the most common type you will find is stainless steel. These do a great job of keeping your food warm, typically for up to 5 hours. However, they are often small, so they would be best for a smaller dish, to keep a dip warm, or for a single serving of a food item. 

I like the Hydro Flask brand, and they have a 28oz one, one of the bigger sizes I have found.

Hydro Flask Insulated Food Jar - Stainless Steel with Leak Proof Cap
Buy Now
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/17/2024 11:28 pm GMT

3. Use Towels and Aluminum Foil

A simple and cost-efficient way to keep food warm is to cover your dish in aluminum foil and then wrap a towel around it.

When hot food is left out, radiation and evaporation cause heat loss. Hot food radiates heat out into the room, and as moisture evaporates off the surface of the food, it carries heat with it. Aluminum foil reduces both of these effects. The aluminum lets little radiation out and traps most of the moisture inside, reducing the evaporation rate. Since the aluminum foil will help trap the hot air in the container, you want to wrap your food well so the warm air from the food doesn’t sneak out. Just make sure you don’t let the foil touch the food.  

According to Reynolds, there is no difference between the two sides. Therefore, having one side facing outwards versus the other will not impact the outcome of the food item.

When you wrap your meal in a towel, you will also protect it from heat loss. Covering the dish in towels and aluminum will keep your food warmer longer. 

When it is time to serve your meal, remove the aluminum foil and towels, then the food is ready to serve.  

4. Try Using a Cooler (Preheat cooler)

Coolers do not just keep items cold. Surprisingly cooler will keep your food warm as well.

You will want a good quality cooler if you use this method. The cheaper quality, the less likely your food will stay warm. If you are someone that uses coolers often, then I suggest investing in a Yeti Cooler. However, if you are looking for something that is cost-efficient, then Coleman makes a decent cooler. Make sure before purchasing your cooler that the food dish will fit. 

When using a cooler to keep your food warm, the first step is heating the cooler. Here are the steps on how to heat your cooler:

  1. Fill your cooler with hot water and let it sit between 30 minutes and 2 hours. 
  2. Dump the water and wipe dry with a towel.
  3. Optional – wrap walls with aluminum foil (this will add an extra layer of insulation, allowing your food to stay warmer for longer)
  4. Place your food in the cooler.
  5. Add insulation such as towels, blankets, or crumbled newspaper. 
  6. Keep food in the cooler until you are ready to serve. 
YETI Tundra 65 Cooler
Buy Now
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/17/2024 11:28 pm GMT

5. Use Hot Bricks or Hot Water Bottles and a Cooler

You can also use a cooler to keep your food warm with the help of hot bricks or water bottles. With this method, you heat stove bricks or hot water bottles and place them in a cooler alongside your food.

You will need to heat the bricks in your oven, so make sure you have room in the oven to do that!

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit 
  2. Wrap the bricks in heavy-duty aluminum foil
  3. Place the wrapped bricks in the oven for 20 minutes at 300 degrees. 
  4. While the bricks are heating in the oven, line your cooler with newspaper, cardboard, paper bags, or towels (this helps protect your cooler from the plastic melting, as well as keep the cooler insulated)  
  5. Once the bricks are warm, carefully place them in your cooler and line the bottom of the cooler on top of the newspaper or paper bags. 
  6. Then place your food in the oven-safe container on top of the bricks (ensure you have a lid or the container is wrapped with aluminum foil). 
  7. Place insulation such as blankets and towels on top of the food to hold in the heat. 
  8. Close your cooler until you need your food dish for your party!

These hot water bottles work just as great if you don’t want to fuss with the bricks.

Samply Hot Water Bottle with Knitted Cover
Buy Now
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/17/2024 11:28 pm GMT

6. Start With The Extra Hot Food

This method of starting with the extra hot food would only work for certain foods. You wouldn’t want to over-cook a dish (especially with meat) so keep that in mind when using this method. I would do this for a pasta casserole dish or a soup that didn’t contain meat. 

7. Use an Electric Blanket or a Heating Pad

There are many heating pads, ones that you can heat in the microwave or ones that you can plug in. However, the ones you can heat up in the microwave do not stay warm for long. I would recommend using one that can be plugged in or powered by batteries, such as the Miramama electric heating pad

The heating pad can act as a warm surface for your food. Ensure you place your food in a temperature-safe container before putting it on the heating pad. 

This method provides a way to keep your food warm for an extended time, but at low heat, so it will not continue to cook the food. 

Machine Washable Electric Heating Pad
Buy Now
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/18/2024 12:33 am GMT

8. Place Food in the Oven at a Low Temperature

If you have oven space available and will be in a location with an oven, this is the easiest method I find with bigger dishes. A suitable temperature to keep your food warm is 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Just set your oven and put the food in there until it is ready to serve. 

9. Use Chafing Dishes

There are so many options for chafing dishes. You can purchase from the many options out there, or you can even rent them. To rent them, you need to contact your local party equipment rental services, and they will provide you with their prices to rent what you need. 

If you want to purchase chafing dishes, you can buy disposable or reusable ones. However, if you won’t use them often or don’t have room to store them after you use them, I recommend a disposable chafing set.

If you are looking to have events where you will need to keep food warm multiple times a year, then you should consider investing in stainless steel chafing dishes (please note you will need to purchase the burner cans separately). I like these; finding storage can be tricky for things like this, but the legs of these fold, which helps a little! 

Disposable Chafing Dish Buffet Set
Buy Now
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

10. Use a Warming Tray

Another great option is a warming tray. Most warming trays have an adjustable temperature setting that makes it easy to heat food throughout the day. I like the warming trays look. Also, it is super easy to clean! Just make sure you have room to store it after use! 

Electric Warming Tray with Adjustable Temperature Control
Buy Now
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/18/2024 12:03 am GMT

11. Keep Food in a Thermal Cooker

If you are cooking a dish on the stovetop that you want to keep warm, consider a thermal cooker. It will depend on the dish you make for how long to cook on the stove and then continue in the thermal cooker.

You first use the inner pot for cooking your dish on the stovetop for the appropriate time. Once done, you place the inner pot into the outer pot. Then close the lid tightly to continue cooking and stay warm. 

Tayama Stainless Steel Thermal Cooker
Buy Now
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/18/2024 12:08 am GMT

12. Use Crock Pot or Slow Cookers

Crock pots are by far one of my favorite kitchen appliances. You throw the ingredients in and let it cook, then change to keep warm until you are ready to serve. It will keep your food above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which is needed, so your food doesn’t spoil. If you keep the lid on, you will not overcook and dry out your food. It will just keep your food warm.

For a busy mom like myself, my crock pot is one of my best investments. I highly recommend investing in one, not just to keep your food warm for a party, but to use throughout the year to prepare meals. If you are using this for a party, make sure you plan ahead for the meal since some meals can take up to 8 hours to cook in a crock pot. 

Stainless Steel Crockpot 8 Quart Slow Cooker with Auto Warm Setting
Buy Now
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

13. Warm the Serving Plates

You could individually warm plates up in the microwave, or another great tip is to use a dishwasher. Load the dishwasher with the dishes and set it to the drying mode, and you will be able to warm enough plates for a large number of guests. 

During one of the first family gatherings with my father-in-law, he went to put his plate in the microwave to warm it up before putting his food on it. My sister-in-law quickly stopped him because the dish had a silver design and could not go in the microwave. He found a plate that he could use and went along with heating his plate for his meal. While the rest of us sat there with our buffet-style food quickly getting cold, his food remained warm for the duration of his meal because of this technique of preheating the plate. The warm plate allowed the food to absorb the heat and keep his food warm. 

14. Use The Grill/BBQ

You don’t have to use the grill for cooking your dish, but a grill can be a great alternative to keeping food warm. Turn one burner on the lowest setting, place your oven-safe containers on the rack, and close the lid. This method will keep your food warm while you are waiting on the rest of your food. Just monitor to make sure it doesn’t get above 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise, you will dry the food out.

15. Use a Double Boiler

A double boiler can help keep food warm for an extended period. With double boilers, you have to ensure the water doesn’t evaporate, so you need to monitor and mix the food so the bottom doesn’t get too hot. If you decide to use a double boiler to keep your food warm, make sure you have it just at a simmer.

Stainless Steel Double Boiler
Buy Now
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/18/2024 12:32 am GMT

16. Reheat as needed

The last way to keep your food warm at a party is to reheat it as needed. This method could include foods you stored in the fridge and heat them up in the microwave before serving, or guests could individually warm up their food as needed.