Let’s set the scene: you’re at a restaurant, you and your other half and few friends, perhaps for a Chinese or Thai meal. One of those, anyway, that comes in lots of smaller portions, very tasty – I’m getting hungry writing this – and where they deliver a lot at once. They put them on a plate, in the middle of the table, that is heated by candles. It’s pretty, it’s stylish, and its also rather cool. But, here’s the thing, that food warmer tray – as that’s what it is – actually keeps the food warm for longer. And, you can have one at home!
Why would you want one? Well, you could be cooking food for a dinner party, or perhaps just for the family, and have dishes that need to be kept warm while people dip into them. Or, you could be bringing back a takeaway that also features many portions. Or even having a buffet or barbecue, you could find a hot tray food warmer a great addition to your kitchen items.
Are they expensive? We took a look at some of the best on the market for you, and we found a lot of variety in the different brands and models available. One thing we did notice was that you have a choice of powered models, with electric heating, or candle food warmer trays, which use tea lights for heat. We won’t go into a full ‘how it works’ here as what you are getting is, essentially, a hot plate.
So, shall we have a look at the 10 best hot tray food warmer UK models, and see if we can find the one for you? Let’s go!
The Top 10
Our first choice is what we would call a typical tea-light model. It’s a no-frills, simple triple plate design that is practical and neat. This one is designed with several rings of holes in each of the three places, beneath which a tea-light is lit. The effect is to keep the bottom of the plate or dish on top heated, and the food on it warm. It can also be used for heating plates before serving onto them.
The hot plate itself is made from heavy duty carbon-steel, so will absorb heat very well and also radiate it, while lasting a long time. It is designed with a flat surface for even heat. It’s very easy to use, but the 4-inch rings are perhaps better for bowls than for plates. We found plenty of satisfied customers who had bought this affordable device – it’s less than £20 – but there were also some who complain it is very thin, and that it doesn’t heat for long.
Homefront 2-in-1 Pro Series
This is the first of the electric models on the list, and it’s a large one designed for various uses. It comes with three large-size serving insert pans, which are stainless steel to absorb the heat, designed to fit perfectly together onto the electric hot plate. Each of the pans also has a lid, and in place, the hot plate can keep food warm for up to three hours, according to the manufacturer.
There are three heat settings, and the hotplate can be used without the pans to keep plates and dishes warm too. This is a well-made item that would be great for dinner parties and buffets, and one that we found many favourable customer comments about. Having said that, there were also quite a few complaints about it not getting warm enough, and being poorly made, so make sure you check it out fully, as it’s not a cheap item.
Swan XL Cordless Hot Plate
One of the problems with electric hotplates and food warmer trays is that they come with awkward cables that trail across the table. This model, from Swan, does away with that problems as it is a cordless model. The idea is you plug in a cable and heat it up to the required temperature, then a 1000-watt (in this model, there are other power levels) heating wire holds that temperature for, they say, up to an hour.
It’s a clever idea and one that we like a lot. This is a simple device in terms of design – it is solely a hot plate with no bowls or other accessories supplied – with rubber non-slip feet, and one that has plenty of customers giving it full praise. The only comments that were negative refer to it not getting war enough; the answer to that, presumably, is to plug it back in and heat it to a higher temperature. Be aware that, for a hot plate alone, it’s not cheap.
Tristar Buffet Warmer and Hotplate
This is the sort of warmer that you will see when you go to one of those all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet restaurants, albeit on a smaller scale! It features three trays that are enamel coated for heat retention, each of which slots into a heated compartment. The housing is stainless steel, and it has a full temperature control so you can find your own level of heat.
Without the trays, the device can also serve as a hotplate, for keeping bowls or plates warm when on the table. It is a surprisingly affordable item compared to some on this list – you will get a little change from £20 – and comes with plenty of very positive customer comments. There are a few negative comments that state the trays are smaller than they appear on the pictures, yet it is stated clearly that they are ‘3 x 1.5ltr’. Still, that might not be enough for a dinner party or large family meal.
Brabantia Food Warmer
We are back to the candle-powered type with this model from Brabantia, and to be honest, we like these ones as there’s something of a romantic nature in having your food kept warm by candlelight! Indeed, this model is designed so that it can actually use standard candles, and not just tea lights. The base is topped by an aluminium grill that is designed for an even spread of heat from the two candles below, and there are external snuffers for safety.
We are, despite our appreciation of these devices, concerned that candles might not keep food very warm. However, a great number of customers state that – as long as you don’t expect it to heat food up, which it is not intended for – it is ‘great’, with take-aways being mentioned frequently too! As far as complaints go, the only ones are regards possible quality issues, and damage to the candles supplied. At the price, it’s worth a look.
Kingavon Buffet Server
This is another of the triple-compartment buffet server models, and with this one, each of the trays will hold around 2.3litres, which is a fair amount. It is mains-powered so you need the cable with you at all times, and can provide as much as 300W of power – which is enough to keep all three compartments warm for as long as you need. The temperature is adjustable to your requirements.
It can also be used as a hotplate without the compartments on top, and has cool-touch handles so it can be moved around. It comes with a metre-long cable, for what it’s worth! This is a very popular item and we found a large number of very positive comments – it would seem a lot of people use it for Christmas dinner – although the very few negative comments include the containers being too small, and it working only for a few uses, plus a couple of basic quality issues. It’s not cheap, but not as expensive as some.
Hostess Large Hot Tray
This rather neatly designed, simple and sleek model is simply a hot tray, and it is from Hostess, a brand with many items of this type. This one is electric – you get a cable with it – but rechargeable. On one 8-minute charge the makers claim that it can hold its heat for one hour, which should be adequate for most uses. The detachable cord makes it fully portable and it has the usual heat control and indicator light.
The 1000-watt power output means it will heat to the required temperature quickly – or it should! There are a number of complaints that, in fact, it does not get hot enough – quite a few when we look closely – so that’s worth considering. However, there are also plenty that say it does a great job keeping food warm on the table. Bear in mind it’s not cheap; for just shy of £50 all you are getting is a hot plate.
Bella 3 Hot Pot Slow Cooker
Although billed as a slow cooker, we are looking at this as a food warmer, mainly because we’re not sure it will act as the former. As a food warmer it looks promising. It has three compartments, each with a 1.3litre stoneware pot, and each can be temperature controlled individually. The pots also have lids, and stands for them, which is a nice touch. It is electrically powered with a permanent mains power cord.
300 watts of power seems light for a slow cooker, but should be OK for a food warmer to be used on the table. The individual heat controls mean you can have three dishes at different temperatures too. There are many positive comments regarding this one – it’s a popular item – but there are negatives that it does not heat food, it just keeps it warm, and that the pots are rather small – which we agree with if you are using it for more than a couple of people. It’s also quite pricey, but not as much as some.
Fineway Four-Tray Server and Hotplate
This one takes the usual form of a hotplate – stainless steel and nicely made – with four trays, two large and two small, that can be placed on top to convert it into a serving tray. Each of the warming pans comes with a lid, and they are designed to fit perfectly on the hot plate. This one also has the required cool-touch carry handles, and it comes with full temperature controls plus a keep-warm function, with one temperature for all compartments.
It claims to keep plates warm – as a hotplate – for up to three hours, and requires a cable to be plugged in at all times. It is easy to clean and is non-stick coated, and it meets with a number of positive customer comments, although there are negatives regarding general quality. It’s not as expensive as some, and not as cheap as others, so it’s certainly worth looking at.
Quest 2.5litre x 3 Slow Cooker & Server
The final item on our list is another of the slow-cooker type, but this is a much bigger model than the one we looked at earlier. This is from Quest, and comes with 3 x 2.5litre pots – these are also ceramic pots and come with lids plus lid stands – and each can be individually controlled with low, hot and keep-warm settings. It can keep food warm – if that’s what you want to use it for – for up to 4-hours, and is powered by a permanent electric cable.
420-watts of power is a decent amount for a device such as this, and much mention is made by customers of the fact the pots are bigger than many similar models, and that it is effective at heating sufficiently to, for example, boil potatoes. If there is one downside it’s the permanent electric cable, and there are a couple of customers who have broken a pot only to find the maker does not sell replacements. It’s almost £50, but might do the job for you.
From the above list you have a choice of slow cookers, food servers, and plate warmers, both electric and candle powered, and some with permanent cables plus others with rechargeable power sources! That’s quite a varied choice we reckon, so it’s going to be difficult to find the one that suits you. Before we give you our verdict, let’s see if we can single out some factors you need to consider.
Important Features to Look For
This article began as a look at food warmer trays, but as we found out, there is much more to the items in this class of homeware! The first thing you need to think about, then, is what you actually want. There are various different devices above, so let’s see if we can give them each a category:
- Candle powered plate warmers: these are heated by candles, and are flat hot-plates designed to keep food warm on the table for a short while.
- Electric servers/hot plates: these tend to offer a combination of a hotplate, and a selection of pots that can be fitted on top to convert into a food server. Powered by electricity, either via mains or rechargeable.
- Slow cooker/food server: the third type is the slow cooker – in which food is placed in ceramic pots and heated to cooked – which also doubles as a keep-warm buffet station, with the heat set to ‘keep-warm’ mode.
Clearly, if all you want is a hot plate – for keeping bowls of take-away or other food warm, or for heating plates before serving – you don’t want the latter. We won’t be choosing one of those as our recommendation but will say that if you do want one, the Quest 2.5litre x 3 Slow Cooker & Server is a great choice, although you pay the price.
So, our choice will come from the other two sections, which begs the question: candle, or electric? Because each has its benefits, we’ll pick one from each to recommend, and leave you to make your own mind up! Right, now we’ve cleared that up, lets wrap things up here!
Let’s start by looking at the candle hot plate food warmer trays, which are very neat little items and useful for dinner parties, movie nights and when you want to keep your take -away warm. Our suggestion would be the Masterclass Professional Triple, which for under £20 is a nice little tea-light warmer that many customers appreciate, and with very few complaints from what we could see. It’s neat, simple to use and quite stylish, but remember to buy your own tea-lights!
For a powered device, we would recommend you take a closer look at the Swan XL Cordless Hot Plate. With the advantage of a cordless set up – you can heat it for an hour’s use in just a few minutes – this portable and neat model comes from a name brand, is simple to use, is nicely made and will keep your food warm long enough, and it can be heated again in a few minutes if you need more time.
Of course, you might decide you need one that doubles as a food server, and if so we will say all such devices within this list are worth a look, so check them out again and you’ll soon have an item you wonder how you did without!