It’s the big day of a dinner party that you’ve been looking forward to for weeks, and you’re about to serve the food that everyone is so eager to eat. You pull out the food from the oven that you’ve kept it in to keep it warm, and you realize that it’s dry and overcooked. What a disappointing experience!
To keep food warm in an oven without overcooking it, you should place it into a casserole dish with a lid or in a baking dish with the food wrapped in aluminum foil. Place it into the oven on the “warm” setting. Otherwise, make sure the temperature is between 140 °F to 200 °F (60 °C to 93.3 °C).
To prevent disappointing food experiences from happening to you, we’ll discuss tips on how you can keep your food warm in an oven without it drying out or overcooking. We’ll also go through how long you can keep your food warm in an oven and how to avoid the danger zone.
Prevent Overcooking While Keeping Your Food Warm in the Oven
Keeping your food from overcooking while staying warm in the oven is a delicate balance that, if you don’t do it right, can make for very disappointing results. Let’s look at how to avoid this disastrous event.
1. Keep The Temperature Low
The best temperature to keep your food warm in an oven is around 140 °F to 200 °F (60 °C to 93.3 °C). Typically you’d cook your food at around 350 °F (176.667 °C).
Because the temperature difference between cooking and keeping food warm is so different, it can be very tempting to turn the heat up a little higher than recommended. The higher the heat, the warmer your food will be, right? Not quite.
By turning the heat up higher, you’re simply going to continue the cooking process and find a very dry and overcooked meal by the time you’re ready to serve your family or guests.
2. Keep Food in the Oven for a Limited Time
Leaving food to keep warm in your oven, even at the recommended temperature, for too long can also dry out your food, make it lose its flavor, and change the texture.
You should avoid warming your food in the oven for more than an hour. However, the maximum time you should keep the food warm in the oven is 2 hours.
The best thing to do is to start warming up your food closer to the time you intend to serve it.
3. Use an Instant-Read Thermometer
If your food has been kept warm in the oven for more than 15 minutes, use an instant-read thermometer to determine whether the food is too hot or not warm enough. It should not be lower than 140 °F (60 °C).
If it is, increase the temperature in your oven.
A safe temperature to warm your food in is 140 °F (60 °C) or above but lower than the cooking temperature of whatever food you have cooked. Food left under 140 °F (60 °C) for more than 2 hours is dangerous to eat, and you’ll need to throw it away.
I recommend the Kizen Digital Meat Thermometer. It’s one of the best sellers on Amazon.com and gives accurate readings. It’s easy to use and affordable.
Different Ways To Keep Food Warm in the Oven
Some ovens have a warming drawer. These are useful because you can place your food straight into the drawer once cooked, keeping it warm until all of your food is ready to eat.
It also gives you the freedom to carry on cooking other food in the oven.
Otherwise, check for the “warm” setting on your oven. This feature is as simple as turning the knob, and you won’t have to worry about the different temperatures. However, not all ovens have these features. If yours doesn’t, you can set the temperature of the oven to around 140 °F to 200 °F (60 °C to 93.3 °C).
There are several ways to keep food warm in the oven, whether it’s still on or you’ve turned it off.
Casserole dishes are most commonly either glass or ceramic, which are oven safe. With the temperature low at around 140 °F to 200 °F (60 °C to 93.3 °C), and the lid securely on, they’re great at preventing heat from escaping, keeping in the moisture and circulation.
If the oven has been on and you want to turn it off because you plan to dish up in a while, go right ahead. Casserole dishes are a great product to use. They keep food warm in the oven because they retain heat, keeping your food warm for longer periods once you’ve switched the oven off.
Simply wrap dishcloths around, underneath, and on top of your casserole dish, and keep it in the oven after you turn it off. Your food will stay warm until you’re ready to serve it.
If you don’t own a casserole dish, I recommend the Anchor Hocking 2 Quart Glass Casserole Dish from Amazon.com. This dish heats food well, is of good quality, and has a reasonable price.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a casserole dish with you. If you have a baking dish and aluminum foil, you’ll still be able to keep your food warm in the oven.
Although you don’t have a lid, wrapping aluminum foil over the top of the baking dish will have the same results as a tight-fitting lid. Not having your food covered will allow the dry air in the oven to dry out the outside and the edges of your food.
Aluminum foil is a heat insulator. It will circulate and keep heat within your wrapped food and keep your food warm for longer. It will also trap moisture inside, preventing your food from drying out.
The Danger Zone
Cooking has many variables, from how you cook your food to cooking safety. Food cooked wrong or warmed at incorrect temperatures can make you very sick. As fun as cooking can be, it’s essential to know what you’re doing so that someone else doesn’t suffer from eating your food.
Any foods left in temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F (5 °C to 60 °C) are in the “danger zone,” which is the temperature range that bacteria growth happens very quickly in. According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service, bacteria can double within the short amount of time of 20 minutes when within this temperature range.
They also state that if the food is in temperatures of 90 °F (32.2 °C) or higher, you shouldn’t leave it in those conditions for more than an hour.
The scary thing is that when you leave food in the danger zone temperatures, it can become unsafe to eat within only 2 hours. You may not feel, see or smell any difference to the food, but the bacteria levels will be too high for you to eat without becoming sick.
You may think that this only applies to forgotten food or food left out to cool, but it also applies to keeping food warm in the oven.
You shouldn’t have the oven temperatures so high that your food overcooks, but you also shouldn’t put the temperature so low that it comes out spoiled and unable to be eaten.
Instant-read thermometers are essential in preventing food spoilage. If you intend to keep food warm in the oven for more than an hour, make sure to use the thermometer after 15 minutes to ensure that the food is at a temperature of over 140 °F (60 °C). If it’s not, turn up the heat.