Whether you're someone who likes to host large parties with tons of food, you're planning an upcoming wedding and reception, or you're even thinking of starting your own restaurant, you'll need to learn about the best chafing dishes on the market and other restaurant equipment trends. You may have noticed the rise of the food hall in recent years, and if you've ever been to one (or even just a normal buffet), you've likely wondered how they manage to keep food warm for extended periods of time before it makes it to your dinner table. The answer is chafing dishes.
The term "chafing dish" comes from the French word chauffer, which is a portable stove that usually has a great bottom and an open top. As you may imagine, the purpose of a chafing dish is to keep pieces of food, soup bowls, dessert platters, and other warm food hot for longer than steam table pans or hotel pans. Chafing dishes are essential pieces of restaurant equipment, along with decorative charger plates, but anyone can own them. You can host your own formal occasions and special events, like dinner parties, and with these service plates, you won't have to worry about keeping your food warm. Chafing dishes also help you avoid direct contact between food and surfaces, so you can avoid spills and other messes.
Chafing dishes use indirect heat to keep food warm and to ensure food safety by preventing it from spoiling. This may be done through a variety of materials and heat sources, such as induction, fuel, or electricity, but no matter the heat source, a chafing dish produces steam to keep the food on the tray warm. Traditional chafing dishes feature wide, shallow pans with covers, but there are also chafer griddles for grilled food, disposable chafers, and even soup and beverage chafers.
As you can see, not all chafing dishes are created equal. They're extremely popular in fine dining restaurants, buffets, and hotels, and they're also becoming more popular for private upscale parties and large family meals. A stainless steel chafing dish filled with ice can even be a great way to serve chilled desserts. Whether you're new to serving food in an elegant way or you're an experienced caterer, we'll guide you through the best chafing dishes currently on the market and help you choose the best one for your needs.
TigerChef Full-Size Rectangular Deluxe Chafer 8 Qt. -- Best Overall
TigerChef Full-Size Rectangular Deluxe Chafer 8 Qt. -- Best Overall
Dimensions: 17"H x 28"W x 14"D
Stainless steel mirror finish
Wood handles and accents for safe handling and stylish presentation
Uses canned fuel heat source and includes water pan
This full-size standard chafer with an eight-quart capacity is ideal for impressing customers or guests at banquets with stand-out style and functionality. Its eight-quart capacity makes it one of the largest chafing dishes available, and with a medium price range, it's an ideal pick for both professional use and home parties that require dinner service for lots of guests.
You'll receive a full-size food pan with this chafing dish, although you can switch it out with smaller hotel pans if you need to separate certain dishes, such as separating meats from vegetarian dishes. The lift-off cover makes self-serving and refilling a breeze, and thanks to its stainless steel design, it promotes even heat distribution and retention to keep your dishes warm. Additionally, the steam heat in this chafing dish helps keep meats moist, so you won't have to worry about the drying that can occur when you reheat meats in the oven.
The silver color and wood handles are stylish aesthetics that will go well with the rest of your dining decor as well, such as a silver charger plate, floral centerpieces, tablecloths, decorative napkins, and silverware. It's perfect for appetizers, entrees, and desserts, and the convenient fuel holders mean you can switch out fuel canisters whenever you need to. It's a great way for beginners and experienced cooks alike to add elegance to dining experiences.
Collapsible and saves room
Sharp edges mean you'll need to take care during assembly
Vollrath 46124 Intrigue Glass Top Induction Chafer with Brass Trim 6 Qt. -- Best Induction Chafer
Dimensions: 15-1/2" diameter x 3-5/32" H
Mirror finish glass lid with brass trim
Stainless steel food pan
A hinged lid allows closed cover or covers at 45 or 90 degrees.
Reinforced bracket with rubber table feet
Induction chafers are becoming extremely popular, thanks to their ability to heat food without the need for water pans or fuel. Instead, induction chafers sit on electric induction plates that have built-in water return systems to move condensation and moisture away from your food and into a low-profile water tray beneath the plate. With no open flames or fuel sources, induction chafers also have safety advantages over traditional chafers.
This Vollrath model sports gorgeous brass trim, making it an appropriate choice for fancy meals and special occasions like holiday dinner parties. The glass top makes it a perfect choice for serving entrees since you'll be able to check on the food without having to constantly lift the top, thus increasing heat retention. The six-quart capacity means it can hold plenty of food for more intimate gatherings, and the hinged lid provides several serving options. The brass handles may get hot with use, so we recommend wearing gloves when transporting the dish. Its compact nature and gorgeous trim make it a perfect place setting when you serve your main entree.
TigerChef Stainless Oblong 8 Quart Chafer with Third Size Inserts -- Best for Affordability
Dimensions: 13"H x 14"W
Stainless steel construction
Includes two fuel holders, as well as a chafer cover and chafer stand
Use three third-size stainless steel food pans
If you're looking for an affordable option to use at home that still features full-size capacity, this oblong chafing dish is for you. At under $40 per set, this is a fantastic starter set, so you can practice your catering for birthdays and other family events before hosting your big occasions. Stainless steel makes it easy to clean and care for, not to mention the fact that it resists rust and can even stand up to restaurant applications.
The third size food pans make this affordable option great for practicality as well since you'll already have an easy option for separating your dishes throughout the course of the meal. The durable chafer stand makes it easy to place on virtually any table, and the raised platform makes it easier for guests to serve themselves. Just watch out for sharp edges during assembly.
Walco 54120G Grandeur Rectangular Roll Top Chafer 8 Qt. -- Best Premium Option
Dimensions: 17-1/4"H x 18-1/2"W x 27"L
18/10 stainless steel construction
Tension controllable cover
Gold legs and handles
If you aren't worried about your budget and are looking for high capacity dinnerware with original simple elegance to bring the perfect ambiance to a fancy event, this is the chafer for you. This is a stunning addition to any buffet table, and it boasts the capacity and size to feed large groups of guests. The retractable roll-top cover opens up to 180 degrees for simple self-service, and it's even tension controllable for the ultimate convenience.
The included chafing dish also helps prevent excess moisture from leaking into your food, so your course meals can go exactly as planned. The gold legs and handles are also among the fanciest flatware options you'll find, creating a dazzling look your guests are sure to love. Be aware that this is a heavy model, weighing in at 50 pounds, and like all chafers and chafing dishes with metal handles, they may get hot during use.
TigerChef Round Gold Accented Chafing Dish 4 Qt. with Free Chafing Gel and Tongs - Set of 3 -- Best Set
Dimensions: 16-1/2" x 16-1/2" x 12-1/2"
Stainless steel mirror finish
Four-quart half-size capacity
Gold accents on lids and side handles
Dishwasher-safe food pan, water pan, and cover
If you're after a chafing dish set to experiment with that makes great table decor and lets you serve multiple dishes with ease, this is a fantastic money-saving set. Each four-quart chafer includes serving tongs and fuel canisters, and the beautiful lift-off dome covers make it easy to serve guests and refill each dish. These are perfect for casseroles at mealtime, or you can fill them with stunning desserts to impress guests.
At roughly $150, this is a modestly priced set that comes with gorgeous gold trim to match gold charger plates to set a perfect mood for any dinner occasion. Five-star customer reviews back up this set's quality, and at 19 pounds each, they're relatively light for chafers with gold trims. You can even use these to serve chilled desserts or salads, and they're small enough to add to your table setting, rather than requiring a buffet table.
How to Find the Right Chafing Dishes for Your Needs
Of course, these are just a few of the best chafers, chafing dishes, and sets available. There are all kinds of options out there, as well as creative ways to use chafing dishes, so you'll need to know how to pick the best ones for your needs. As you've seen here, chafing dishes can get pricey, but here are some great general tips to keep in mind to find chafing dishes with a modern appeal that you can get the most out of.
h4>Consider your heat source carefully.
Chafing dishes may come as electric models or as flame source models. Most options on this list are flame source models, though some have electric options. A flame source is generally considered the best for commercial use since you won't need to worry about outlets or cables getting in your way as you work.
If you're planning to use your chafing dishes as home models, an electric model that you can activate with the turn of a knob will be safer, and you can always arrange your home buffet table near your outlets. Electric options are likely more convenient for home as well since there's no need to switch out fuel canisters.
Think about the capacity you'll need.
Naturally, you'll need the capacity to feed all your guests, so you'll need to consider what kinds of events you're planning for and how many people you'll have. Lower capacity models are generally cheaper, and a mid-size chafing dish with a four to six-quart capacity may serve most needs. If you're planning a big buffet or a multiple course meal with multiple main menu options, however, you'll want a large-capacity model, preferably one that holds eight to nine quarts.
Your chafing dish shape mostly affects your presentation, and you can find round or square chafing dishes with large capacities. If you're planning to heat multiple dishes in the same chafer, however, it's best to go with a square or rectangular shape since they can easily fit smaller pans to keep food separate. You could also consider keeping multiple chilled meals, like salad plates and desserts together this way as well.
Look for high-quality material and features.
Stainless steel is generally considered the top material for chafing dishes since it looks great and is especially easy to clean. A stainless steel and aluminum combo is also a great choice since aluminum is an even better heat distributor. Just make sure that the materials used are BPA-free and 100% safe to use with food.
It's also a good idea to look out for cool features like stay-cool handles for safety and fancy trims if you're looking for an elegant chafing dish to pair with chargers, chop plates, or fancy bowls. The right chafing dish tops and the right charger plates can easily take your mealtime presentation to the next level, whether you're using large plates or smaller plates at the dining table.
One last thing to consider is how you'll clean your chafing dishes when you're done. Many of the options we've listed will be too large to fit in a traditional dishwasher, but it's still a good idea to look out for "dishwasher safe" descriptions, as these let you know it's fine to wash the chafer and dish in warm water and dish soap. You may be able to take apart some of the larger chafers and fit their individual pieces in a dishwasher as well.
While you're at it, you may want to combine chafers with some beautiful decorative plates or charger dishes to complete a gorgeous tabletop set. Whether you're running a professional kitchen or trying to become the talk of your friends, your mealtime presentation makes a big difference, and charger plates come in a variety of colors to match your chafers.