This $44 Warming Tray Is a Must-Have for Hosting Outside (I Use It Every Time!)

updated May 6, 2024
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Sterno SpeedHeat Food Warming system with food, warming.
Credit: L. Daniela Alvarez

When my husband and I first toured our apartment, we were excited about the prospect of using the private outdoor rooftop for parties and dinners. Since then, we’ve hosted more get-togethers than we can count.

But serving food at these parties has always been a bit of a challenge. The rooftop gets a ton of wind (naturally), so hot foods cool down faster than we can enjoy them. For a while, we stuck to smaller bites that would taste good even if they were cold. Thankfully, in my search for a better solution, I came across a food warmer that completely changed the game. 

What’s So Great About the Sterno SpeedHeat Food Warming System?

Now that it’s getting warmer in Southern California where I live, it’s the perfect time to serve up hot dogs and burgers, along with my favorite sides like Mexican street corn and artichoke dip. The Sterno SpeedHeat Food Warming System has been the most useful for small weekend barbecues and big holidays alike. 

It’s essentially a portable, flameless system that helps keep food warm so you can use it in your own space or even bring it to a picnic or potluck safely where food might be sitting outside for a while.

To use the system, you just fill the reservoir tray with 10 ounces of warm water, put in a Sterno SpeedHeat pack, let the water steam up for about a minute, and then place a half-size aluminum tray with food on top.

Credit: L. Daniela Alvarez

When I first got the Sterno, I used it with the cheesiest dish I could think of that was best enjoyed warm: mac and cheese. Because the heat packs are water-activated and flameless, I was worried that the dish wouldn’t stay warm for long. But once the water started getting steamy after about a minute, I had high hopes. The Sterno worked like a charm and kept everything warm, gooey and, well, cheesy. 

The heat packs don’t emit dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, but the system should still be used in a well-ventilated indoor area or even better, outdoor. The one-time use heat packs are also disposable, while the base can be used up three times and then should be recycled. 

Since I’m using the Sterno system primarily outdoors, sturdiness is important — the last thing I need when hosting (second to serving cold food) is dropping a tray of food on the floor! Thankfully, the Sterno tray is a hardy plastic that didn’t tip over even when I just used one side of it. Putting an aluminum tray of food over it didn’t make the base tray move or slip, so I was confident that food wouldn’t fall out. But I recommend keeping the reservoir on a flat table or counter to prevent the water from spilling out.

Credit: L. Daniela Alvarez

I reached for the reusable base again when my husband and I had a couple of friends over to watch a baseball game. We wanted to see how well it’d hold up for food with less surface area, but still needed to be enjoyed warm, so we figured wings would be the perfect appetizer. 

After taking them out of the oven and letting the wings cool for about five minutes, I placed them in an aluminum half-sized tray and set aside. Then, I placed about 10 ounces of warm water into the Sterno tray’s reservoir and added the heat pack. The tray of wings went right on top, and to my amazement, the wings stayed not only warm, but hot, for about 45 minutes. The steam was consistent and continuous, and also made the adjacent tray, which I’d kept empty as a test, warm.

I love that the double reservoir gives me space to serve a main and side dish, and keep both hot for guests to enjoy. It would also be great for keeping something light like dinner rolls or toasted hot dog buns warm without having to use a second heat pack — which I’ll definitely be doing the next time I use the Sterno system, as in this weekend. 

Buy: Sterno SpeedHeat Flameless Food Warming System, $43.58