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Types of Countertop Warmers, Soup Kettles, and Rethermalizers

Whether you are cooking for a buffet, catering an event, or running a food truck, food warmers are useful when preparing large quantities of food for crowds. They ensure you are serving the freshest food possible to your guests while also helping your staff operate more efficiently. Be sure to check out our commercial soup warmer reviews as well!

Restaurant Equipment

Purpose of Food Warmers

The purpose of food warmers is to keep food temperatures above the Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Point (HACCP) danger zone. The HACCP danger zone is identified as 41°F to 135°F, which is the temperature range where most pathogens will multiply in foods. Between 70°F and 125°F, pathogens grow most rapidly. Therefore, food that is held between 41°F and 135°F may become time-temperature abused and could lead to serious or fatal illnesses in guests.

Types of Food Warmers

Food warmers and rethermalizers can help to keep food at safe holding temperatures. Food warmers keep hot, prepared food above the danger zone; chilled or frozen food that is placed in a warmer will not reheat and rise above the danger zone, resulting in time-temperature abuse. If you are reheating food, it must be warmed by other means (e.g. a stovetop, an oven), then placed in a warmer. Unlike regular food warmers, rethermalizers can heat chilled or frozen foods through the danger zone to a safe holding temperature in the same unit.

Restaurant Equipment
  • Designed to hold food that is already heated to the appropriate serving temperature.
  • Holds a wide range of food such as vegetables, pasta, hot dogs, eggs, and bacon.
  • Ideal for concession stands, buffets, caterers, food trucks, and any establishment that periodically needs to keep food hot and ready-to-serve for several hours.
  • Great for self-service applications.
  • Also great for back-of-the-house applications to hold prepared foods, which saves space in the kitchen and improves ticket times.
  • Available in a variety sizes to accommodate a wide range of needs.
Restaurant Equipment
  • Designed to hold food that is already heated to the appropriate serving temperature.
  • Best suited for liquid-based foods like soups, stews, sauces, and gravies.
  • Rounded edges prevent contents from becoming stuck in corners.
  • Ideal for delis, cafeterias, quick-service restaurants, and any establishment that periodically needs to keep food hot and ready-to-serve for several hours.
  • Great for soup and salad stations.
  • Also great for back-of-the-house applications to hold prepared foods, which saves space in the kitchen and improves ticket times.
Restaurant Equipment
  • Reheat chilled or frozen foods to a safe serving temperature.
  • Eliminate the need for thawing or defrosting foods, while also ensuring that foods are quickly carried through the danger zone to a holding temperature.
  • Ideal for kitchens that prepare and freeze large batches of food ahead of time.
  • Best suited for frozen prepared foods like soup, sauces, and vegetables.
  • Can be used to thaw packaged meats.
  • Come in both countertop and floor models.

Important Factors for Food Warmers

When choosing which countertop food warmer or rethermalizer is right for you, the unit's capacity, the food pan or inset configurations needed, the control type, and any included safety features are all factors to consider prior to purchasing.

Restaurant Equipment


Capacity is the most important factor to consider with food warmers. Look for each warmer's capacity prior to purchase so you know that it can accommodate your needs. Soup kettles can range from 4 quarts to 22 quarts, while countertop warmers are usually classified by the size and number of pans they hold.

Restaurant Equipment

Pan Configurations and Depths

Some countertop warmers can fit a combination of different size pans and insets. This is helpful for restaurant kitchens that need to keep certain foods together in one location for ease-of-serving or space constraints. A full-size warmer could hold one full-size pan, two half-size pans, three 1/3 pans, or it could fit one 2/3 pan and one 1/3 pan. There are many food pan sizes to create a layout that works well for your needs.

Pan depths also vary from 3/4" to 8" or more. Look at the depth of your warmer, leaving at least one inch of space for water, to determine the depths your pans should have.

Control Type

Food warmers typically come with two options for control type: infinite and thermostatic.

Infinite control knob
Infinite control knob
Infinite Control

An infinite control's temperature knob ranges from "Low" to "High".

  • Adjusted based on amounts of time
  • Heat output is more customizable
  • May have to experiment more to find the right setting
Thermostatic control knob
Thermostatic control knob
Thermostatic Control

A thermostatic control's temperature knob features individual settings for specific temperatures.

  • Cycles on and off based on the temperature of the heating elements to maintain a specific holding temperature
  • Come in manual knob and digital options
  • Heat output is less customizable
Restaurant Equipment

Low Water Indicator Light

Food can fall into the danger zone if water levels are too low in your countertop warmer and the machine itself can be damaged. To help your staff monitor and maintain more than one warmer along a buffet line, some units include a water indicator light that turns on when the water gets too low in the machine. When the low water indicator light comes on, your staff will know it's time to refill the machine without the hassle of lifting out pans of food to check the water level. This also reduces the chance for cross-contamination by ensuring your staff is only moving food pans and refilling the well when absolutely necessary.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Please refer to our Content Policy for more details.

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