Standard gourmet chafing dishes an appropriate tools for entertaining and feeding groups of people. The chafing dish keeps the food warm but does not cook it, so food can be prepared ahead of time. Gourmet chafing dishes come in many shapes (round, rectangular and oval) and many sizes (3 quarts to 8 quarts). Gourmet chafing dishes are most commonly made out of stainless steel. Regardless of the shape and size, operating a standard gourmet chafing dish is always the same.
Fill the bottom pan of the chafing dish with about 1 to 1.5 inches of water. The dish needs to maintain enough water to safely heat the food but should not have so much water in it that it overflows and gets the food soggy.
Light the Sterno or alcohol burner. To use a Sterno-type burner, the lid needs to be pried off; then the Sterno can be lit. The Sterno should maintain a low flame and last for 1 to 1.5 hours. When using an alcohol burner, the wick should not be more than 1/4 inch above the alcohol. This will provide for a low and even flame.
Allow the water to heat up. This normally takes 10 to 15 minutes. Once the water is warm, it is ready to keep the prepared food warm.
Place the prepared food in the top warming tray, above the water. It is best if the food is already warm as the chafing dish is not meant to reheat food, just keep it warm.
Chafing dishes with multiple sections are available. This way only one chafing dish needs to be prepared, but several different dishes can be kept inside. Be sure to check the water level and the Sterno or burner throughout the use of the chafing dish. Stir the food occasionally to ensure that nothing is burning or sticking to the pan.
Use caution when handling hot food and lighting the Sternos. Do not leave open flames unattended