Dear Advice Guy,
If the steam table temperature is too high, can it ruin product?
– Ann Mikkis, Houston, Texas
Definitely. While most of our focus on steam table temperature is about keeping the product over the required minimum, too hot can definitely be a problem for product quality, especially for delicate foods like lean proteins (fish, chicken breast, eggs), sauces that include dairy, which can break, and vegetables which can overcook. Hotter is not better—hot enough (generally 140°F or higher though local laws may vary) is best.
Steam tables come in a variety of formats—from simple on/off toggles, to specific temperature dials, to 1-10 scales. It is important to keep in mind that, in a way, the temperature of the steam table—what it says it’s doing—doesn't matter. It is the temperature of the food that is important both for public health and for product quality. Maintain temperature logs of hot held food frequently and stir to make sure product is evenly distributed.
If the table is too hot and can’t be accurately controlled, be sure your water level is high enough that it does not evaporate, but low enough to avoid direct contact with the pan. Beyond that, use foil risers to elevate the back of the hotel pan to allow some steam to escape or add cooler water in a pinch. But ultimately, if your steam table is consistently out of control, it is time to have it professionally repaired or invest in some new equipment.
More on steam tables here.