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Jocelyn Campbell
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Chafing dishes with cans of Sterno underneath. What the heck is in Sterno, any way?

How do or would you keep food warm for 30+ people in a non- or less-toxic way? Stainless steel chafing pans/dishes would be fine, I'm just not sure about Sterno or what might be an acceptable substitute that won't completely blacken the bottom of the pans.

Has anyone researched this already?
 
R Scott
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You can use alcohol burners in place of the sterno--pick any backpacker's DIY version from beercans or buy Triangas. Sterno is alcohol with a bunch of gick to make it pudding consistency for safety. Liquid alcohol fires spread really fast if you bump the burner!!!

You could google "Hay box cooking" for old-school slow cooking--you bring the food to a boil/simmer and then put it in a super-insulated box to finish cooking and coast down to eatable temps in 6-12 hours.

There are commercial versions that are a pot that fits in a big thermos: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006ZI1CZ8/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_S_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=U8Z6BPC2IP24&coliid=IBCVWXK0R0YT2

I haven't found one big enough for that many, though.

The army used to have a similar system: http://go-armynavy.com/military-surplus/field-gear/ammo-cans/us-military-mermite-cans.html
But they are aluminum and full of toxic foam insulation. But you are re-using something bound for the waste stream, so meh...

There are commercial catering solutions, too: http://www.ebay.com/sch/Insulated-Food-Containers-/55838/i.html

 
Jocelyn Campbell
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R Scott wrote:You can use alcohol burners in place of the sterno--pick any backpacker's DIY version from beercans or buy Triangas. Sterno is alcohol with a bunch of gick to make it pudding consistency for safety. Liquid alcohol fires spread really fast if you bump the burner!!!

Oh, VERY good to know-thanks R!

R Scott wrote:You could google "Hay box cooking" for old-school slow cooking--you bring the food to a boil/simmer and then put it in a super-insulated box to finish cooking and coast down to eatable temps in 6-12 hours.

I forgot about this. We have a great thread on haybox cooking here on permies. We might look at DIY options for this. And I do like that Amazon thermal cooker - stainless inside, nice! Something like this could really help since we only have one oven and four burners. We'll be adding some little rocket stove cookers to help, though my understanding is that they mostly have high temp - low and slow temp cooking via haybox or thermal cookers would be awesome.

R Scott wrote:The army used to have a similar system: http://go-armynavy.com/military-surplus/field-gear/ammo-cans/us-military-mermite-cans.html
But they are aluminum and full of toxic foam insulation. But you are re-using something bound for the waste stream, so meh...

Hm, can't do the aluminum, though kinda cool any way.

R Scott wrote:There are commercial catering solutions, too: http://www.ebay.com/sch/Insulated-Food-Containers-/55838/i.html

These look more for transporting and not so much for keeping warm for serving. Therein lies the challenge.

 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Found the Trangia stuff (denatured alcohol burners) at Amazon. Will be looking at these a bit more.

 
R Scott
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Again I want to stress the care you need to use with liquid alcohol burners. The fire will spread fast if you spill it and you can't see the flames in the daylight. It is a matter of how well you will trust those around it. I have no issues using alcohol or kerosene stove myself, but don't use it with the little kids around--same goes for klutzy adults.

Here is a link on how to make your own gelled fuel: http://hubpages.com/hub/Gel-Fuel

Chalk, vinegar, and alcohol (you could use everclear if you wanted truly non-toxic). And safer.

Fondue burners will work for keeping it warm, too--in some ways better because they are a little lower output.

When food service is considering transport, that mean it will be in there for 1 hour minimum and probably 2-3 hours. So they may work. No guarantee, though.

Chafing dishes are used everywhere because they are cheap, easy, and work in a throw-away world. Sort of.

Then there are big solutions like hot-dog carts that are basically a whole cafeteria steam table set up for off-grid. You would have to get really lucky to score one at a decent price, though.

Maybe you could diy a rocket stove steam table: http://www.webstaurantstore.com/suffixitem/135GST2/LP.html?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=GoogleShopping&gclid=CIyu_IKlhboCFSJlMgodPkwAYw

Looks like a chafing dish setting in a maple syrup pan to me.
 
paul wheaton
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Matt Walker
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Woah. That looks horrifying.

Jocelyn, have you looked into "Cambro" type insulated food carriers/holders? They are basically insulated racks for holding commercial trays and chafing dishes. They can hold food at safe temps for hours, and are also available with heating elements if you need longer holding capacity. These won't solve the problem of keeping it warm during serving, but you can prep food far in advance and keep it warm until meal time. Here's a starting point...

http://www.webstaurantstore.com/black-carlisle-pc300n03-insulated-food-pan-carrier/271PC300BK.html
 
Craig Dobbson
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What about building a RMH with a cob bench formed to accept the chafing dishes? The design would have to be modified to keep the surface of the bench hotter than in normal "ass warming" styles. This might be more work than it's worth but I'm sure you make it work for very large gatherings.

 
Dale Hodgins
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Used restaurant suply companies should have a full line of solutions. I think the ability to reheat quickly is more important than keeping stuff hot for hours. There are legal limits of time and temperature for various foods.

If you need to keep buffet style meals hot, there are many stainless steel, modular models on the used market. Some work on propane and could be converted to bio gas. Some would fit your electric vehicles. Some units can keep plates warm.

I would check to see what outdoor event planners and catering companies are using.
--------
A gravel filled pocket rocket with an insulated, hinged lid, could allow plates of food to be heated by conduction, radiation and convection. Steel or aluminium plate metal set into the gravel would provide a conductive surface.
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Yes, that fire event was horrifying though Paul said that alcohol fires burn differently (cooler or away from the source somehow) so that that woman might not have been as badly injured as it might look. I needed to hear that.

Point taken about using denatured alcohol. Other good tips as well.

Tim would like us to have one of these (source) for moving food to where the workers are:



Slightly OT for keeping food warm (unless this works well in that regard, too), and not in our current budget to be sure, but fun to look at.

(I could use a few more fun images now...)
 
Jessica Gorton
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Along the lines of what Craig was saying - how about embedding a steam table in a RMH? a stainless steel commercial-grade sink that you would put water in the bottom of and then put the steel pans of food above? Have it sunk right into the cob (I assume it would get too hot if it was in contact with the vent itself - not that I know anything about RMH technology other than reading about it on this site) and put a drain out the side of the cob bench/steam table. Use the water to wash the dishes. You could design some sort of cover for when it's not in use.

For a quick solution, steam tables from commercial kitchen suppliers, or look for a restaurant closing. Make insulated bags for trays of food, like the bags that pizza delivery guys use. If you're just looking to put something hot out for people, always have hot water in thermoses and lots of teabags, or mulled cider, or hot chocolate. Easier to keep that hot for a longer period of time. Otherwise, maybe serve in a few waves, and keep the food in the oven between times? That's more work, but if everyone knows what the system is...

Or just those cheesy hotplates that all grandmas everywhere used mid-20th-century, in a pinch.
 
R Scott
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This problem has an old solution from your part of the world...
 
Ken Peavey
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Sounds like what you need is a mobile kitchen.
Everything you need is close...
Utility Trailers
Steam tables are out there.

A trailer can be built to serve mobile foodservice needs.
Load up the equipment, add the food and go.
If need be, build a roof, frame walls, include sections that slide or lift for serving right off the trailer. If this structure can be removed, you still have use of the trailer. A clean tarp cover offers wind and rain protection.
Add a handwash station.
If mobility is the desired feature, propane may be the easy answer.
A steam table would keep items warm. Prepare at base camp, transport a hot meal.
Deep pans would reduce spilling/splashing if not filled all the way.
Menu selection would also reduce splashing/spilling in transit. Rice pilaf is much safer moving over rough ground than chicken noodle soup.
For soups/sauces/gravies, there are insulated coolers that would come in handy.
If propane is available, these items could be reheated on site with a camp stove.

If one were well motivated, a woodstove could be installed. Cook the meals on site.

Cold storage would be ice chests.
Potable water storage would come in pretty handy. For 30 people, 30 gallons. That's a water heater tank.
Dishes could be paper for ease of operations, plastic to avoid breakage. Cleaning the dishes would be better suited to basecamp, but what if the food wagon had a sink, and that hot water tank was heated with propane?

Spare space can be loaded with tables/chairs, perhaps a dining tent.
Locating the kitchen does not need to be on top of the work site. They'll walk a couple hundred yards for a hot meal.
 
David Livingston
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Check out the wonder box http://thermalcooker.wordpress.com/category/wonder-box/

Seems a very good cheap and adaptable idea

David
 
Julia Winter
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I'm sure you all know this, but I thought I would mention that typically food needs to be kept either below 40 degrees or above 140 degrees if it's going to be sitting around for an extended period of time, as a general rule of thumb. Around 90 to 120 degrees is where you don't want your food to be long-term, as it grows bacteria nicely.

A thermometer is a useful tool when you're feeding groups of people. Fermented foods have their own populations (if they haven't been cooked) and will "fight off" invading pathogens.

Botulism is the scariest thing that comes up with food, although it's more likely with home-canned items. The botulinum producing bacteria grow in moist non-acidic foods in anaerobic conditions. Spores can become activated between 38 degrees and 110 degrees. One case of botulism that I heard of was an adult with Down's syndrome who put his unfinished chicken pot pie back into the (turned off) oven after dinner and then ate it again the next day, so you don't have to have a sealed jar for the anaerobic conditions to occur--the middle of a casserole will suffice. However, the growth of these toxin producing bacteria leads to production of gas, which is a clue that you have a problem. (Yeast in food will also make gas and is much more common.)

The toxin breaks down with heat, so if your soup is at risk (the haybox hung out at less than 140 degrees for a couple of hours) heating it up to 176 degrees and stirring it for 10 minutes will render it safe for the masses again. The pH threshold is 4.6 (if the pH of your food is less than 4.6 it won't support clostridium botulinum). The symptoms of botulism poisoning take hours to even days to show up, and start with things like double vision and slurred speech that may resemble a stroke.
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Julia Winter wrote:The toxin breaks down with heat, so if your soup is at risk (the haybox hung out at less than 140 degrees for a couple of hours) heating it up to 176 degrees and stirring it for 10 minutes will render it safe for the masses again. The pH threshold is 4.6 (if the pH of your food is less than 4.6 it won't support clostridium botulinum). The symptoms of botulism poisoning take hours to even days to show up, and start with things like double vision and slurred speech that may resemble a stroke.


This is the part where Paul thought the toxins are still there, even if reheated and the bacteria killed, so that's interesting to hear reheating might help break it down - the botulinum toxin any way.

Paul once got very sick after eating at a potluck where all the food sat out too long, so he's exceptionally cautious about keeping food either warm or refrigerated. And I've had salmonella food poisoning before (from a restaurant, I think), so your reminders are well taken, Julia.
 
Ken Peavey
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The magic numbers are 40 and 140.
Keep the food below 40 degrees F or above 140 F. Between these temperatures bacteria can grow rapidly.
 
Ken Peavey
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The power solution for a mobile kitchen: Solar Power Cart.
Set up a few crock pots, you can feed an army.

Rolls with butter or jam
Salad and dressing
Chicken and rice
Some BBQ beans
A cold drink in the fridge

You got yourself a feast!

 
Chelle Lewis
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Hi Jocelyn,

Have you heard of the Wonder box?

Pattern to sew is here.... http://ourldsfamily.com/wonderbox/Pattern.html
Instructions and how useful is here.... http://thermalcooker.wordpress.com/2008/07/26/wonder-box-cooker/

Can get multiple dishes started quickly in minutes on rocket stove or whatever... heat completely through.... seal with lid so lid also heats up ... have wonder box/es close by but not to be placed on metal or heat conducting material .... place dish inside and cover. Dish will never over cook and stay warm for many hours too. Basically a haybox type system but neat and ready in kitchen if prefer. Recycle polystyrene for good use. Horrible stuff so best use maybe. Depends on your take. Can easily have a few lined up to use.... lunch... dinner .... cakes ...etc Breakfast on rocket stove cos good for frying. Maybe porridge put in night before and ready on waking?

Here is a carrot cake made with a thermal cooker ..... http://thethermalcookrecipes.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/carrot-cake-cooked-in-a-thermal-cooker/ ... and lots more recipes to help out for crowd feeding ideas.

Lots of work feeding crowds but if organised can probably be a breeze.... especially if organise lots of help!! Slow cooking I love. No slaving. I hate being stuck in a kitchen so trying to redesign my kitchen into a permaculture workspace ... and looking at all kinds of ideas. Hope something here is helpful.
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Jocelyn Campbell wrote:
R Scott wrote:You could google "Hay box cooking" for old-school slow cooking--you bring the food to a boil/simmer and then put it in a super-insulated box to finish cooking and coast down to eatable temps in 6-12 hours.

I forgot about this. We have a great thread on haybox cooking here on permies. We might look at DIY options for this. And I do like that Amazon thermal cooker - stainless inside, nice! Something like this could really help since we only have one oven and four burners. We'll be adding some little rocket stove cookers to help, though my understanding is that they mostly have high temp - low and slow temp cooking via haybox or thermal cookers would be awesome.


Both David and Chelle have suggested the Wonderbox - which is a type of haybox cooker (or a thermal cooker, depending on materials used) that R Scott and I discussed at the beginning of the thread. In fact, see the link above to the permies thread on haybox cooking.

We would like to try something along these lines. The Amazon thermal cooker is pricey and we might not have enough time to get some DIY haybox/wonderbox things going this time around.
 
Burra Maluca
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If speed is of the essence and you have an electricity supply, how about a soup kettle?
 
R Scott
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I am still looking for a source that has these in stock: http://store.colemans.com/cart/french-military-insulated-hotcold-food-transport-container-p-2442.html

STAINLESS and HUGE and a good price for what they are. Not as insulated as the vacuum cookers, but you have enough mass that they will flywheel for a long time.
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Burra Maluca wrote:If speed is of the essence and you have an electricity supply, how about a soup kettle?


We currently have three crockpots we'll be using for now, but the soup kettle is not a bad idea.

R Scott wrote:I am still looking for a source that has these in stock: http://store.colemans.com/cart/french-military-insulated-hotcold-food-transport-container-p-2442.html

STAINLESS and HUGE and a good price for what they are. Not as insulated as the vacuum cookers, but you have enough mass that they will flywheel for a long time.


That would be perfect for transporting hot soup and food from base camp to the lab.
 
kadence blevins
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if you are going to try something like the warming pans they use for catering why not make CANdles? i'm sure there is a real name for em but you take a piece of cardboard and roll it and cut it to fit your can. in this case i'm sure a tuna can size would be perfect. the cardboard is the wick. you fill it with your strained cookin grease "scrap" or burger grease or bacon/sausage grease or wax, etc.

gotta test em though first! my dad first made one from a smaller size coffee can... holy crap! it burned for hours! dead of winter and it melted the snow all around it in a big circle. once the cardboard "wick" started burning all the way around and bit of a breeze it was impossible to put out.

I think though that makin em tuna can size and test some for your cardboard wick size needs it would be perfect.
 
Chelle Lewis
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So you line the inside of the can with cardboard ... fill the can with oil ... and light the cardboard? The oil doesn't catch light itself in a big explosion?

Could be a nice idea for outside lighting when need extra with guests or something at night.... light the path in the dark to loo or some such use. Bury and make sure no debris near the can.

You got any pics Kadence?
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Good questions, Chelle. Yes, Kadence a pic (or video ) would be awesome! That does sound like a good DIY option.
 
R Scott
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Hobo stove. Usually wax (so it is easier to transport) but burn the same with oil.

They tend to smoke. But that is something Paul or sombody could apply a little rockety magic to and get it a simple WVO burner that BURNS.
 
allen lumley
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David Livingston wrote:Check out the wonder box http://thermalcooker.wordpress.com/category/wonder-box/

Seems a very good cheap and adaptable idea

David


Bump! Big AL
 
J.D. Ray
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We made/used those when we were kids because grandpa wouldn't let us use anything that ran on white gas without adult supervision. They work great, except that they blacken the bottom of anything you put over them. The soot scrubs off pretty easily, as I remember.
 
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