Whether you're hosting a party, having a picnic, taking food with you or dinner is ready just a little too early you may want to keep your food warm until it's time to eat.
Sometimes you want to be able to keep that food hot without electricity. Maybe you aren't at home and thus don't have access to power and an oven or you don't have the electronic gadgets needed to keep food warm.
But how do you keep for warm without electricity? Is it possible and what are the best and easiest ways to do it?
Well luckily there are actually lots of different ways to keep food warm without power. Different techniques can keep food warm for 30-60 minutes until everyone is ready for dinner or can even keep for hot for 8-15+ hours!
There are lots of options to choose from and I'll outline some of the best and easiest options in this article. You can choose the one that best suits you and use that for the particular meal you're trying to keep hot without the use of electricity.
1. Use Aluminum Foil and Towels
If you've got nothing else one of the simplest ways to keep for hot without electricity is to put the food in a container and then wrap the container in thick aluminum foil (or multiple layers) and then wrap that in a towel.
The aluminum foil traps steam, so you don't lose heat that way, but it's also a great reflector of heat radiation. This means it will reflect back heat towards your food keeping it hot for longer.
Towels are also good insulators and stop the heat escaping into the outside air. 1-2 towels to completely wrap your food will keep it hot much longer than using no towels at all.
The combination of towels and foil can keep food hot anywhere from 30 minutes to multiple hours depending on how dense and hot your food is.
2. Use a Cooler
While we usually think of coolers being used to keep things cold the same insulation that is used to keep heat out of a cooler can be used to trap heat inside a cooler.
Cooler insulation stops heat transfer. So when filled with hot food it stops the heat escaping.
It's still recommended that you wrap your food in aluminum foil, or maybe just line the inside of your cooler in aluminum foil if you've got lots of dishes and also wrap your food in towels to remove air space from the cooler.
By having a high-quality cooler, pre-heating that cooler and adding extra heating elements like hot water bottles or hot bricks (which we will talk about later) you can often keep food hot for 6-12 hours in a cooler.
3. Chafing Dishes
Chafing dishes allow you to burn little chafing fuel containers in order to keep food hot for extended periods of time.
They are usually made up of stainless steel pans you put your food in. This sits on top of another stainless steel pan that is shallowly filled with hot water and then the chafing fuel containers are lit underneath the water.
The fire heats the water which in turn keeps your food hot without burning your food or overcooking it. Chafing fuel containers often last 6 hours or more so it'll be able to keep food hot without electricity for quite some time.
These are great for parties, conferences, buffets or meetings. You often see electric versions of these at buffet breakfasts or at takeaway places where they are used to keep food hot for an extended period of time.
Chafing dishes start for as little as $30-$50 and chafing fuel is extremely affordable and won't break the bank.
4. Insulated Thermos
For small amounts of a food an insulated thermos is the best way to keep that food hot for hours at a time.
Maybe it's last night leftovers that you want to keep warm for lunch or maybe it's some soup you want to keep warm to eat later.
Thermoses are made of double walled stainless steel with a vacuum in between the inner and outer wall. This vacuum is the best possible insulator and it can keep food hot for 4-6+ hours and warm for even longer.
There are lots of different brands out there but Thermos is the original brand and they continue to make some of the best insulated food thermoses. Hydro Flask have also recently started making insulated food containers.
5. Thermal Cooker
A thermal cooker is designed to slow cook meals without electricity, but it can also be used just to keep food warm.
It's basically an extra large thermos, with vacuum insulation which keeps the food inside hot for hours at a time.
Some thermal cookers come with cast iron bottoms which retain even more heat but most of them just rely on the heat of the food and the insulation to slow cook meals.
When you bring your food to a boil and put it in a thermal cooker it can stay above 160ºF (77ºC) for up to 8 hours and can stay above 140ºF (60ºC) which is considered the “danger zone” for bacteria growth for up to 15 hours.
You can both cook or store hot food in a thermal cooker. They are amazing inventions for keeping food hot without electricity. Great for camping and off grid setups where you can use electricity to cook.
6. Use Thermal Bags
Thermal bags are great for keeping small items hot for a short period of time.
Maybe you're traveling a short distance, going on a picnic or just have a small amount of food to keep hot in your kid's lunch box. Thermal bags are a great way way to do this.
They are small lightweight and keep food hot by using aluminum foil as well as plastic or paper/cardboard to trap the heat in your food. Wrapping the food in a tea towel or paper towel will add extra insulation.
They are very cheap and come in either grocery bag size or a smaller size just for lunch.
7. Add Hot Water Bottle or Hot Bricks
Sometimes the heat energy in the food isn't enough to keep it hot for as long as you would like.
This is especially true for food like hot pastries which aren't as dense as something like soup.
To keep items hot for longer without electricity adding in something that is specifically there to transfer heat to your food is a good idea.
The most common items used are hot water bottles, heated rice/wheat packs or hot bricks that are baked in the oven to build up heat.
These are all great at retaining heat and letting it out slowly. The extra heat energy will help to keep even lighter and less dense food hot for hours at a time.
It's best to combine a hot water bottle or hot bricks with the methods mentioned above. Still use alfoil, towels and a cooler with a hot water bottle or hot bricks in it and you can sometimes keep food hot for 8+ hours at a time.
8. Trap The Steam
When your food is hot changes are a lot of moisture is escaping from your food in the form of steam or evaporation.
As steam escapes your food it actually takes a lot of heat energy with it. So trapping steam in your food will help your food to stay hot for longer.
Use airtight containers for storing food or wrap your food in aluminum foil to stop moisture escaping.
9. Pre-Heat Your Cooler
If you're using an expensive cooler like a Yeti or something similar then it's a good idea to pre-heat the insulation of your cooler.
If kept cold or at room temperature then a lot of heat will escape your cooler as it heats up the air inside the insulation.
By pre-heating the insulation in your cooler you stop it from immediately stealing heat from your food.
To do this simply fill up your cooler with warm water and leave to sit for 0.5-2 hours. Then discard the water, give your cooler a wipe down and place your food inside. Just make sure you don't use boiling water in your cooler.
Hot bricks and hot water bottles are also a less messy way to heat up your cooler. Just make sure you use towels so you don't melt the plastic of your cooler with the hot bricks.
10. Start With Your Food Extra Hot
When you're trying to keep food warm without the help of electric heating elements you have to remember that without an external heating source your food will begin to cool down over time.
So you'll want to make your food extra hot to begin with, so by the time you eat it is has cooled down to a nice warm temperature.
If you start with food that is just warm enough to eat within a couple of hours it will be lukewarm or cold.
It's both unpleasant to eat food that isn't hot enough and lukewarm food are perfect conditions for bacteria to grow which can spoil your food or make you sick.
11. More Food = Hot For Longer
The more food you start with the longer it will stay hot because it has more overall thermal energy.
A small cup of soup won't stay hot for nearly as long as a large pot of the same soup, even if they start at the same temperature.
So packing more hot food will keep things hot for longer and also filling up your container completely so that there isn't a lot of air inside your container, vacuum flask or cooler will also keep food hotter for longer.