How To Use Sterno To Keep Food Warm? (5 Quick Steps)

How to Use Sterno to Keep Food Warm
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How to Use Sterno to Keep Food Warm

Keeping the food warm at parties and events can be challenging, but Sterno is a reliable solution. Sterno is a canned chafing fuel that’s commonly used to heat food in restaurants, camps, homes, and events.

It has 3.4% methyl alcohol, 66% ethyl alcohol, 2% nitro-cellulose, 3.3% acetone, and water. However, it has to be set up properly to keep your food warm, so let’s check out the installation guide!

How to Use Sterno to Keep Food Warm

The Right Way To Use Sterno To Keep Food Warm

The food has to be set on the chaffing set with Sterno, and it will keep food warm for two hours or more, depending on which can size you are using.

On the other hand, the refrigerated food must be heated up for an hour before you use Sterno because it’s meant to keep your food warm (it doesn’t heat the cold food). Ideally, the food should be heated to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Sterno has a lid that’s raised or closed to adjust the heat/temperature – opening the lid lowers the heat output, and closing increases the output. It takes around twenty minutes to warm up the gravy or liquid-based dishes.

In addition, it has a patented wick that produces a steady and medium-width flame. To set up and use the Sterno, follow the below-mentioned steps;


  1. First of all, place aluminum foil under the chafing stand like a table runner.
  2. Put the chaffing set on a flat and sturdy surface and add water to the water pan. You should add two inches of hot water and make sure you don’t overfill the water pan.
  3. Open a Sterno with the help of a metal spatula or can opener.

Using sterno to keep food warm
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  1. Put two Sterno cans under the water pan and light them (always light the Sterno cans once you have filled the water pan to prevent the burning of the food).
  2. Now, put the food pan on the water pan and serve the food. However, you must be careful because Sterno cans can heat water, which produces hot steam.

If the food is not hot, it’s recommended that you turn on Sterno 30 minutes before serving time. However, if your food is already hot and you only want to maintain the warmth, light the fuel can right before serving.

In addition, you have to keep checking the water level and add more if it has evaporated or the food will burn. Lastly, if there is a windy situation, you must wrap foil around the chafer stand to make sure Sterno’s heat reaches the pan.

Turning Off The Sterno Cans

Once the buffet is over, you have to remove the Sterno cans. Make sure that the Sterno cans are turned off (they go off automatically when the fuel has been consumed, which takes around two hours).

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However, if you have to turn it off before the fuel runs out, you can cover the flame with any non-flammable metal object. A metal spatula is recommended to extinguish the flame but make sure it’s wider as compared to the flame opening.

In addition, when the flame is out, wait for ten to fifteen minutes to make sure the Sterno cans are cooled down. Also, keep in mind that the food pan and water pan will be hot as well, so let them cool down before you discard water and food from the pans.

The Bottom Line

Sterno is widely used all over the world to keep food items warm. However, many users do not know how to use it correctly. For this reason, we have shared simple tips that you can follow to use Sterno to keep your food hot.

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Categories Cooking

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