Chafer Use Instructions

When hosting an event and serving hot food, there is a catering standard for keeping food hot and we thought sharing the process with you all might be helpful.  If you’d like to learn a little more about chafers watch THIS video! Happy Eventing!



  • Your chafer set-up from has three main pieces: the Frame, the Sternos, and the Water Pan.
  • Frame The Frame is the stand that will be the base of the chafer.
  • Sternos A Sterno is a can of fuel, designed to be burned directly in the can. The substance inside is a mixture of denatured and jellied alcohol.
  • Water Pan A deep metal pan, designed to fit inside the Frame. This will go between the flame and your food so that the food does not come in to direct contact with the flame.
  • The last piece in this puzzle will be your Food Pan. This is the pan that is holding your Zingerman’s food.



  1. Place the frame on a sturdy, flat surface where you would like to serve your food.
  2. Place the water pan inside the frame. Fill the water pan with about an inch of hot water. Do not overfill. The water will evaporate while the food is warming. Open the sternos. The easiest way to do this is to use a can opener, a metal spatula or the edge of another sterno can.
  3. Place the two sternos in the base of the frame, below the water pan. Light the sternos. Do not light the sternos before filling the water in the water pan. Place the food pan on top of the water pan. Be very careful during this step – once the flames have been lit, the water will start steaming. The steam will be very hot.
  4. Serve your food directly from the chafer, while being aware of the hot pan edges. Enjoy!
    *Sterno is flammable and must be handled very carefully. Keep the flame clear of any flammable objects and do not leave unattended.



  1. Before you begin, make sure the sternos are no longer lit.
    • They will go out on their own when they run out of fuel – usually two or more hours.
    • If you would like to clean up before then, you can extinguish the sterno by covering the flame with a non–flammable metal object, such as a metal spatula that is wider than the flame opening.
    • You may also use the lids from the sterno cans to extinguish the flame. Use tongs to pick up the lids and place them over the flame. Open flame will burn you so please be careful to keep your hands away from it.
    • Give the sternos plenty of time to cool down before you touch them directly.
    • Throw the sternos away. Even if they went out on their own, they may still be hot. Make sure the sternos are cool before touching them.
  2. Throw the food pan away. Make sure it is cool to the touch before you move it, keeping in mind that the underside of the pan may be hotter than the edges.
  3. Discard the rest of the water from the water pan. Don’t forget that the water and the water pan may be hot.
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