Dear Advice Guy,
What is the best setting for steam tables?
– Penny, Manager, Sweet Vee’s Eatery, Orange, Texas
There are two immediate follow-ups to your question:
- What model?
- What food?
Steam tables vary widely in their settings. Some have words like low-medium-high, some have ranges of 1 (Low) to 10 (High) while others may be 1 to 7. Still others have the actual temperatures.
The key question is not what setting you are using for your table, but what is the temperature of the food you are holding? Typically, hot food needs to be held above 140 degrees Fahrenheit (exact temperatures may vary by municipality). The key is to use a good thermometer to frequently take the temperature of the hot held food and adjust the steam table accordingly. In addition, you need to stir frequently to distribute the heat and take readings at the top edge of the held food, rather than the bottom, which is closest to the heat source. If the extra moisture would not affect quality, using a lid on the steam table can help with even safe temperatures.
Holding above the minimum temperature is fine as well but then you have to consider product quality issues. Some foods like broth-based soups hold well on the maximum setting. Others, like food containing eggs, you’ll want to hold closer to the minimum allowable.