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7 Ways to Keep Food Warm Without Electricity

Food tastes better when served warm. But keeping food warm is not just about satisfying the taste buds — it also keeps harmful bacteria at bay. Keeping and serving your food warm is easy with an electric stove, but what can you do during a blackout or if you’re out camping?

Here are 7 ways to keep your food warm without electricity:

  1. Use a bain-marie.
  2. Store your food in chafing dishes.
  3. Store your food in insulated thermal bags.
  4. Use a Cambro food carrier.
  5. Heat the food with a charcoal grill.
  6. Use a solar cooker on sunny days.
  7. Repurpose your insulated cooler to keep your food warm.

This article will go over the tactics mentioned above in more detail. Let’s look at some ingenious ways to keep food warm without electricity.

1. Use a Bain-Marie

Bain-marie is derived from the Latin “balneum Mariae,” which translates to Mary’s bath. Maria was a 1st-century alchemist who invented the bath for distilling, but the technique has also been adapted for culinary uses. 

The bain-Marie technique of heating food is also referred to as the water bath or double boiler method. 

Food is placed in a container that is then immersed in another container with hot water. The container with hot water should only be half-full to allow room for the one holding the food. 

The heat from the water is transferred to the container holding the food, which then warms the food. This method is perfect for warming food that would scorch or burn if heated on direct heat.

2. Store Your Food in Chafing Dishes

A Chafing dish refers to a food holding container that uses chafing fuel to heat a pan filled with water, which subsequently heats the pan holding the food. 

Chafing dishes are traditionally used at buffet displays in restaurants, but you can also use them at home when serving multiple guests. 

A chafing dish is similar to a bain-marie. The main difference is that bain-marie can also be used for cooking while chafing dishes are only meant for keeping pre-cooked food warm.

Chafing fuel is typically sold in canisters. The canisters are placed under the chafing dish to provide heat. The fuel usually contains ethanol, methanol, or diethylene glycol because they burn with minimal odor or soot.

3. Store Your Food in Insulated Thermal Bags

Insulated thermal bags are made of thermal insulating materials. They keep hot items hot and cold ones cold. They’re commonly used for medical and pharmaceutical purposes, but they can be great for keeping food warm as well. 

Insulated thermal bags can keep your food warm for several hours. So, you can store your food in the thermal bag 3–4 hours before the serving time.

Tip: You should keep the bag zipped for the best results.

Insulated thermal bags are perfect for carrying foods like:

  • Deli trays
  • Sandwiches
  • Food pans
  • Cans
  • Bottles
  • Pizzas 

The bags come with end loading that can be collapsed to create more space. Therefore, insulated thermal bags are ideal for camping and picnics.

4. Use a Cambro Food Carrier

Food establishments often use a Cambro food carrier to keep desserts, beverages, and other food fresh and cool. But since Cambros are thermally insulated, you can use them to keep food warm. 

There are two broad categories of Cambros — top loaders and front loaders. 

A Cambro top-loader is great for transporting fractional pans and even full-sized pans. You can place them on the serving table and open them up, allowing guests to serve themselves.

A Cambro front-loader is ideal for commercial uses because they’re very robust. They come with casters and can be filled with up to 16 pans. So, they make for great travel companions. 

Cambro food carriers have polyethylene exteriors, which help insulate the Cambro from the abuse they’re bound to encounter during transport.

5. Heat the Food with a Charcoal Grill

Charcoal grills may not be as popular as they once were, but they’re still a valid option for warming food, especially in the absence of electricity. 

You should only use a charcoal grill outside the house because they emit carbon monoxide, a deadly odorless and colorless gas. In addition, the grill can be a fire hazard, especially when grilling meat and other fatty foods. 

You may want to invest in a good cylindrical chimney starter, which can light your briquettes without starter fluid. Not only is newspaper cheaper than fluid, but you also get to avoid those harmful chemicals. 

To keep your pre-cooked food warm, wrap it in aluminum foil and place it on your charcoal grill. The foil will keep the food nice and warm while preserving the flavor and juices.

6. Use a Solar Cooker on Sunny Days

A solar cooker uses energy from direct sunlight to cook or heat food. Solar cookers are relatively inexpensive compared to traditional stoves, making them ideal for heating food at home without electricity. 

Apart from the cheap buying costs, they cost next to nothing to operate because they don’t require any fuel. Solar cookers can use the same principle for cooking and heating. Once the food is cooked, use the cooker to keep it warm. 

The only caveat is that the solar cooker needs direct sunlight to work. 

Thankfully, you can make use of DIY solar energy heating. Here’s how:

  1. Place your pre-cooked food in a zip-lock bag.
  2. Remove the air from the zip-lock to seal it.
  3. Put the bag in a dark-colored paper bag and fold it.
  4. Place the bag in front of a window with direct sunlight for a few hours.

The light energy will be absorbed by the dark paper bag, which will then heat your food.

7. Repurpose Your Insulated Cooler to Keep Your Food Warm

Insulated coolers are traditionally used to keep frozen foods cold, especially during transport. But you can use an insulated cooler to keep food warm as well! 

If you need to pack a hot lunch or keep food warm at home without electricity, an insulated cooler will come in handy. Keeping food warm with an insulated cooler only requires tin foil and a couple of towels.

Here’s how to repurpose your insulated cooler to keep food warm:

  1. Rinse the cooler with hot water to heat it up.
  2. Dry the cooler with paper towels.
  3. Wrap your food in aluminum foil.
  4. Place towels on the bottom of the cooler.
  5. Put your food inside the cooler and cover it with another towel.
  6. Shut your cooler.

This should keep your food nice and warm for several hours.


Keeping your food warm with electricity is easy, but it’s a challenge when you want to go for a picnic or are experiencing a blackout. Thankfully, there are several ways to keep your food warm without a stovetop!

Cooking yummy food is not the only thing you need for your guests to enjoy the food — you also have to think of presenting the food at the right temperature. If food gets cold before your guests have a chance to sample it, they’ll definitely not enjoy it as much as they would have if it had been kept warm.


  • Steve Rajeckas

    Steve Rajeckas is an HVAC hobbyist with an avid interest in learning innovative ways to keep rooms, buildings, and everything else at the optimal temperature. When he's not working on new posts for Temperature Master, he can be found reading books or exploring the outdoors.

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