An overview of the best steam tables, how they work, and how to use them. Using steam tables to hold the best and most well-prepared meals at restaurants is an excellent way to attract new customers and keep respected patrons.
A presentable and well-kept steam table retains a consistent temperature, keeping food warm throughout daily kitchen operations.
Over the years restaurateurs and their staff have learned the value of using steam tables to manage different foods. It facilitates easy movement when delivering food choices to individual customers.
Steam tables are beyond impressive. They play a major role in helping to keep customers happy, and satisfied customers dictate a successful and reputable business.
But what are steam tables and how do they work to create efficiency in restaurants? To obtain the answer to these questions in addition to the best steam tables for your restaurants and buffets, continue reading.
What is a Steam Table?
A steam table is food warming equipment used to hold appetizing meals at safe and consistent temperatures up to the point of consumption. They are called by other terms such as hot food tables and food wells.
The different slots or containers with food are supplied with enough heat to prevent dryness and overheating. Steam tables should not be used to cook or reheat frozen foods in any form be it solid or liquid.
Only precooked meals should be held in each container, after which the water system will radiate heat evenly throughout the food.
Restaurants, buffets, cafeterias, hotels, and other self-serving businesses use this to present a variety of tasty food options, to customers with contrasting interests.
Different brands have manufactured steam tables due to their demand in the food industry. The units are customizable and as you continue to the end of this article you will see the best brands and their designed features.
How Does a Steam Table Work?
Traditional steam tables are still quite impressive with their standard navigational features. They are easy to use and can be purchased by anyone interested whether it be for your restaurant, food truck business or to use at self-serving events.
This food warmer works by pouring water into its spillage pan or sealed well. The water then comes to a boiling point and radiates heat throughout the food pan placed on top.
The steam system evenly heats the containers and maintains a warm temperature for a few hours until food is ready to be served.
The different types of steam tables can either have open or sealed wells but do you know what they are? This refers to the heating element of electric and gas units which can be visible or covered.
Sealed wells have a covered heat source. The flame sits below the well thereby removing the need for a spillage pan. This type of steam table is best suited for soups, pasta, and foods that are not crispy.
Open well steam tables have a visible heat source and a removable spillage pan. It is used for both moist and dry heating. This works excellently for warming fried and crispy foods.
How Hot Does a Steam Table Keep Food?
Steam tables are great but when shopping for the best one it’s imperative to consider how hot a particular model will keep food and for how long. The HACCP (Harvard Analysis and Critical Control Points) is a scientific review that shows food must be kept warm at a minimum temperature of 140˚F to remain safe for consumption.
For refrigerated foods, the safest temperature is 40˚ F and above. Hence the temperature range of 40˚ F – 140˚ F is called the “danger zone.” To remain on the safe side a steam table generally holds food in the different slots and keeps a temperature of 150˚ F – 160˚ F.
This is why it is important to only use the steam table to hold meals that have already been cooked. The mentioned temperature range is enough to keep foods hot for an extended period.
However, steam tables do not have a definite time limit as to how long food should be kept warm. To consider the health of customers and abide by the food safety guidelines, the USDA advises that food be kept in a food warmer at a maximum of 8 hours.
Exceeding this limit diminishes the freshness and nutrients of the food and is very dangerous as food becomes prone to food poisoning bacteria.
Gas Versus Electric Steam Tables
When shopping for a steam table one of the biggest factors to consider is whether you’ll need a gas unit or an electric unit. Deciding between the two depends on your preference in relation to its feature and where you’ll be using them.
Restaurants over the years have also considered the cost of using the two which can vary in different locations.
Gas steam tables are powered by natural gas or liquid propane. They are heated almost immediately after being turned on and the simple design doesn’t leave much room for malfunction.
Using this unit however will increase the temperature levels inside the kitchen so consider creating more openings to facilitate the free flow of gentle breeze as staff work.
This is a great choice if it will be used at a central location and won’t need to be transported or moved. Portability is low as connecting it to a gas pipeline doesn’t leave room for rearrangement.
Some gas steam tables have a drainage system since water is added to the well, so no spillage pans are needed.
Electric steam tables use electricity as a source of heat for their heating elements. They take quite some time to be fully heated but will not increase the temperature inside your kitchen and are energy efficient.
If you’ll be seeking to rearrange your kitchen or display area from time to time, they are portable and easy to connect. It’s important to check the plug of electric steam tables but most brands use NEMA (National Electric Manufacturer Association) rated plugs.
For those without this type of plug, it will cost to install an electrical outlet for that unit to function.
You may consider the existing power sources in your kitchen before choosing a steam table. If most equipment is powered by electricity, then opting for an electric steam table would be reasonable instead of selecting a gas steam table.
Also, costs for the use of electricity or gas and how long you will be using the equipment can help in choosing either of the two.
How to Use a Steam Table?
Steam tables are quite efficient and are used in several restaurants. Hotels use them as a means of displaying breakfast options to their guests and large events set up steam tables to have a variety of foods available for large crowds. Now how exactly is it used?
Depending on the type of steam table you are using whether gas or electric the controls may be different and each comes with its own instruction label.
- To use a restaurant steam table with an exposed element or an open well, begin by placing the spillage pan over the element.
- Before pouring the water into the spillage pan take note of how long you will be using the steam table. Adding one and a quarter or one and a half inches of water is sufficient but exceeding that amount will limit the amount of steam keeping the food hot (some steam tables have a water connection or auto-fill to gradually add water throughout being used).
- Use the controls to regulate temperature and after the water has started to heat and produce steam, fit the food pan over the spillage pan. The steam will indirectly warm the food keeping it moist to prevent drying, up to the point of consumption.
- Stir the food every 12 to 20 minutes and if the steam table does not have a water connection check the water levels to know when more needs to be added.
- Based on the number of food options and the quantity prepared restaurants may opt to use two half-size pans or three one-third-size food pans over the spillage pan. Using steam table adapter bars even more slots can be created to use smaller pans.
When heating certain food items like meat, vegetables, potatoes, and beans consider adding some form of liquid to keep it well heated.
Tips for Cleaning a Steam Table
To keep the best steam tables in tip-top shape consider these cleaning tips:
- Before adjusting the temperature of the steam table ensure water is in the well or whether it was auto-filled or you have to manually do it.
- Clean up spills shortly after serving a few meals to avoid having to scratch melted foods off the surface due to the heat.
- Do not leave water in the well for days, drain immediately after all kitchen operations have ended.
- After draining the water from your steam table allow it to cool as it will be easier to clean.
- Use mild detergents and a soft scrub or brush to clean as harsh chemicals and scrubs can damage the material.
- Rinse properly and let it dry for use the next day.
Here are the 5 Best Steam Table Brands
Now that you’ve understood the basic operation of steam tables amongst other important information, here are five of the best steam tables.
1. SYBO Commercial Grade Stainless Steel Brain Marie Buffet Warmer Steam Table for Catering and Restaurants
This steam table has a large capacity pan of 24L x 15W x 9 H in dimension. It fits three sections with 3 1/3 compartments of 12L x 7W x 6H inch pans each with its own food cover or lid. It’s a great choice for use at catering events and cafeterias.
If you’re looking for something to last for a very long time this is extra durable, and the 304 food-grade stainless-steel construction makes it rust-resistant and easy to clean. The standard base can hold up to six compartments using different size steam table adjustable bars.
All the parts are ELT certified and it’s one of the best steam tables often used at events that have several food options and a large crowd. Consider this a food holding and warming assistant at your restaurants, catering events, and banquets.
2. VEVOR 110V 2-Pan Commercial Food Warmer 1200W Electric Countertop Steam Table 15cm/6inch Deep Stainless-Steel Bain Marie Buffet Warmer
The entire unit has a 17-quart capacity which is quite large. The double pans measure 8.5 quarts perfect for holding two separate meals. Each pan comes with a cover used to trap the heat and moisture of your delicious meals.
The pristine temperature controls can be regulated between 86˚F – 185˚ F or 30˚ C – 85˚ C to keep food warm consistently by using the visible knob. The U-shaped design enables even distribution of heat for hours. The 304 food-grade stainless steel gives it a fine and durable structure making it rust-resistant and corrosion-resistant. The detachable pans make cleaning easier so the food warmer can retain a glistening and scratch-free look.
If you’re looking for something electric and portable for a hotel breakfast bar, restaurant or cafeteria this is for you. This design has been rated one of the best steam tables on Amazon.
3. 110 V Commercial Electric Food Warmer- KITMA 4 Pot Stainless Steel Steam Table Buffet Server
KITMA has another one of the best electric steam tables with its quality stainless steel construct. If you purchase this unit cleaning, rust and corrosion won’t be a bother. There are four open wells (500 watts per well) that fit four deep 8 inches food pans great for holding pasta, meats, vegetables, and other flavorsome foods.
Each of the four sides and the bottom wells are insulated with fiberglass allowing food to be kept heated for longer hours. The distinct cutting board and undershelf are convenient features. The cutting board is 7 inches wide and ½ inches thick. It’s easy to use when preparing ingredients, adding various toppings to foods, and filing many plates.
The undershelf can be used to store pans, utensils, and lids alongside other accessories you may need within reach. The entire steam table is supported by four adjustable galvanized (steel) legs transportable to your catering events or buffets. The plugs are also NEMA-rated.
4. VEVOR 110V Bain Marie Food Warmer, 1500W Electric Stainless Steel Countertop Food Warmer
The 4th no. steam table which shows attributes as to why buyers have rated it as one of the best on Amazon is the VEVOR 110V food warmer. It is complete with a heavy-duty stainless-steel construct and this 33-quart food warmer is easily cleaned and durable.
The glass shield is detachable and 0.03 inches thick. Guest are sure to be satisfied as you display a buffet of fantastic food options from which they can choose without transmitting germs. It has a very large capacity featuring three compartments fitting three food pans and their lids. The pans are 12.8” x 10.4” x 5.9” in dimensions and 6 inches deep.
This steam table is the best as it heats really fast and using the rotary button controls temperature between 86˚ F – 185˚ F (30˚ C – 85˚ C). The thermostat feature is for observing the real-time temperature as you operate.
The power and heat indicators are there to show working status. The 304 stainless-steel U-shaped heating tube enables food to be evenly heated for several hours (tube must be submerged in water to prevent dry heating).
The drain tap allows excess water to be drained easily instead of the need for a spillage pan. When catering for a massive crowd or there is a fast day at your restaurant and customers are consistently filing in and out this food warming equipment will save you. It’s attractive and keeps food at a serving temperature so guests can readily eat.
5. Commercial Countertop Bain Marie Food Warmer Steam Table for Restaurants (4 Pan)
This steam table has quite similar attributes as the Vevor Commercial Steam table but with four compartments. It features four half-sized pans which are 4 inches deep and has four covers. The Bain Marie is constructed with high-quality 304 stainless steel which retains luster and is resistant to dents.
The upgraded three-dimensional heating tube (which should be submerged in water) heats the water quickly and radiates steam at high temperatures evenly throughout the food pans. The temperature controls can be handled using the knob and range between 86˚ F – 176˚ F or 30˚ C – 80˚ C.
If you admire this kitchen equipment it is one of the best steam tables and can be used in restaurants, cafeterias, hotels, catering events, and food trucks among other places.
It is efficient for use as a warming tray and rice steamer perfect for your vegetables, meats, and beans. It will hold warm delicious meals for hours to satisfy your customers and guests.
We hope this was helpful to understand the use of steam tables as well as identifying the best options available.