Keep Food Hot Without Sacrificing Quality

It’s happened to us all. You were dining out, anywhere from a restaurant or buffet to a catered event, and you ran into a food that was woefully overcooked. Rubbery chicken, gray steaks, biscuits hard as hockey pucks, and mushy foods often trace back to one thing: improper holding.

When managed correctly, hot holding is a powerful tool for foodservice operators. Preparing food ahead of time for serving during busy periods is smart. It makes efficient use of available labor, simplifies workflows, and improves service.

How do you ensure that proper temperature is maintained at all times, food remains safe to eat, and the quality is up to your standards?

How hot is too hot?According to USDA and food safety experts, bacteria multiply the fastest in foods between 40° and 140°F (aka the Danger Zone), doubling in as little as 20 minutes.

For hot foods, a holding temperature range of 150-190°F is a safe bet. It’s hot enough to keep food safely above 140°F, but not so hot that it will continue to cook food and compromise its quality. Temperatures above 190 will likely cook further and impact food quality.

If your holding equipment has a pre-set temperature range, it will likely end up in the middle of that range due to door opening, closing, and recovery. 

If your equipment has a dial to give you more control but specific temperatures aren’t listed, the middle is a good place to start. Then adjust accordingly to get the desired results. 

The FWE temperature dial shown here ranges from a low 90°F for proofing up to a hot holding range between 150 and 190°F that’s highlighted with a red border. 

High density foods such as meats will continue cooking after they are removed from an active heat source as heat from their exterior naturally continues to move to the less-hot interior. The experts at Cambro recommend removing these types of foods from the oven when they’re “a few degrees short of done” to prevent overcooking from carryover cooking during holding. They will finish beautifully in a passive, insulated carrier or cart.

How long is too long?

From a food safety perspective, hot foods can be held above 140°F for quite a while. The quality perspective is quite different, however. Holding two hours or less is typically recommended to maintain quality, although some foods can hold well up to 4 hours.

If you’re not sure about a particular menu item, try taste testing it at hourly intervals of holding to help you set a standard maximum holding time.

What type of equipment produces the best results?

That depends on the food and the application.

Plated Foods

While not technically hot “holding” equipment, these items play an important role in maintaining hot food quality from kitchen to table.

Hatco Decorative Heat Lamps provide radiant heat to briefly hold food warm at kitchen work areas, wait staff pickup stations, or customer serving points. 

Heat lamps are designed specifically for the important job of reducing heat loss between plating and serving, so “briefly” is the key word for this type of product. They also enhance your décor, which is a nice bonus.

Hatco Strip Heaters are easy to install and work well for a kitchen’s back-of-house areas, waitstaff pickup stations, and customer serving counters. Especially good for protecting foods that cool quickly, these infrared heaters keep hot food hot with radiant heat from above to provide a warm landing area for plated food. 

Temperatures between 140-160°F slow the natural cooling process and hold food at optimal temperatures for longer but without continuing the cooking process.

Menu Item Holding

The Hatco HDW-B Built-In Warming Drawer keeps a variety of foods hot and fresh for serving. 

Ideal for keeping rolls, tortilla chips, or proteins like fried chicken at the correct temperature and ready to serve, each warming drawer has a food pan, a recessed individual thermostatic control, temperature monitor, adjustable vent slides, and its own power switch. 

Warming drawers are also available in free-standing models.

The MercoMax™Visual Holding Cabinet takes the worry out of maintaining food quality while holding a wide range of foods safely for serving during busy periods. 

User-friendly touchscreen makes it easy to program pre-set temperatures and maximum holding times for each food. Employees can easily operate the cabinet with the touch of a pre-programmed button.

Heated airflow cascades over food to maintain an optimal holding environment and consistent food temperatures. 

Use with or without integrated tray seals to maintain desired humidity. 

When food has reached its maximum holding time and is no longer suitable for serving, audible and visual alarms inform the crew it’s time to remove any remaining product.

Bulk Food Holding

FWE offers full-sized hot holding cabinets for a wide variety of applications from short term staging to prolonged holding periods while maintaining “just-cooked” quality.  Models vary to accommodate the type of storage vessels used such as hotel (steam table) pans, sheet pans, baskets, pizza boxes, plates, and more. Every cabinet FWE makes includes a full range actual temperature thermostat, to give you full control over your product.

The FWE Universal Heated Holding Cabinet model UHS-12 is equipped with the patented Humi-Temp heat and humidity system to keep food fresh and hot for hours. With this system, humidity can be added to condition circulated heat. Hot, moist air gently circulates throughout the interior of the cabinet for consistent temperatures.

This versatile cabinet holds 18” x 26” sheet pans or GN food pans on fully adjustable tray slides. Controls are up-front, easy to read and set, and include a full-range thermostat that continuously reads cabinet temperature – even without a power source.

No place to plug in? No problem! The insulated, non-electric Cambro Pro Cart Ultra Tall safely holds 18” x 26” sheet pans or GN food pans for up to 4 hours. 

Its two compartments are separated by thick insulation, so it can be used for hot or cold foods or both. 

Hot foods can be held in the top compartment while cold foods are held in the lower compartment. This rugged non-electric cart is also great for safely transporting food.

For frequent opening and/or holding over 4 hours, electric Cambro insulated carts are also available in a variety of sizes and configurations.

We can help you use hot holding to your advantage to optimize labor, improve service, and maintain excellent food quality.

For a solution tailored specifically to your operation, contact us.