This guide will also answer:
When and why should I use a steam table?
What should I know about hot holding?
What are the different types of restaurant steam tables?
As a restaurateur or other restaurant industry professional, have you ever asked, “What is the best way to keep food hot for patrons?” A steam table is a great way to do so. Steam tables allow you to hold hot food items for an extended period, also known as hot holding. Using this option will keep you from having to constantly run to the microwave for re-heating, or replenishing wells with hotter foods.
A steam table works by steam transfer which goes directly to the pan. Steam tables transfer heat more efficiently than water or dry air, and they are a key aspect of maintaining temperature –making them a great food heating option! To understand how to keep hot foods hot using this option, let’s look at what a steam table is, as well as what it can and cannot do.
Misconceptions about Steam Tables
- Steam tables can cook food
False– Many people misunderstand the intended use when it comes to steam tables. A steam table cannot cook food.
- Steam tables bring foods up to serving temperature
False– Steam tables cannot bring cold foods up to serving temperatures, instead it holds the food at its intended temperature.
- Steam tables can be used as a steamer
False– Unlike a steamer, which can cook some foods such as eggs or vegetables, a steam table’s intended use is not the same as a steamer.
You should use a steam table if you are hot holding - serving a large quantity of food, and need to maintain serving temperature.
Benefits of Using a Steam Table
The main benefit of steam tables is having an abundance of ready-to-serve food at the optimal serving temperature. Of course, this trickles down to having happy, healthy guests who become repeat customers. Also, the stainless steel construction of a steam table makes it a durable, corrosion resistant, and easy to clean piece of equipment.
Using a Steam Table
Steam tables have bottom wells where water is heated to create steam. Then, food pans are placed on top of the water well, allowing that hot steam to heat up the food pans. This maintains hot temperatures until the food is served. A steam table can have either an open well or a sealed well.
Types of Steam Tables
An open well steam table has removable pans for water drainage that must be removed and dumped.
Sealed well steam tables have a drain that lets water out through a drain, eliminating the need for a spillage pan. Because of this, many full-service restaurants opt for a sealed well steam table for hot holding rather than an open well.
A gas steam table will cost less to operate, heat up faster, and take up less energy than electrical models. The downside to a gas model is that taking it off-site can become burdensome as you will always need to get propane gas, creating an added cost.
An electric steam table requires more energy, but most have wheels, making them more mobile and ideal for banquets and catering events than the gas counterpart. Also note that many electric steam tables can run wet or dry, unlike gas steam tables which all require a hot water bath for operation.
Portable vs Stationary
Closely related to electric, as many portable steam tables are run with electric - portable steam tables can provide more flexibility for off-site hot holding needs and similar situations. Stationary steam tables are great for permanent banquet style facilities.
Steam tables can be used in different environments – both the front-of-the-house and back of the house. Perfect for use in a buffet line, these units hold and display food items for customers to easily select and access their food options. Steam tables are also desirable in food trucks.
Food safety and maintenance are very important when you are using a steam table. One easy way to maintain food is to keep back-ups in a warming cabinet. Steam-table maintenance involves cleaning the table, stirring foods regularly, and keeping the water at the appropriate level. You will want to replenish the food as needed and use a different small ware utensil for each food item to minimize cross-contamination. Lastly, using an instant-read digital thermometer to determine the internal temperature of foods will help you keep food above 140 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.