The Caterers Corner
on-site cooking where there is no kitchen Caterers Corner: on-site cooking where there is no kitchen
By Chefjoannam (Chefjoannam) on Friday, March 25, 2005 - 04:20 pm: Edit

when you have to do on-site cooking & reheating for catered events, --and there is no on-site equipment-- what cooking equipment do you bring?

Here's what I already have:
- electric burners (use with pans)
- propane stoves (use with pans)
- electric skillet - traditional s/s
- electric skillet - non-stick
- toasters
- waffle irons
- coffee pots
- crock pots
- electric deep-fry kettle
- george forman grills (don't laugh!)

I'd like something that cooks with dry ambient heat, so I'm considering getting a portable convection oven.

I don't plan on baking wedding cakes (!), just looking for something that can handle about a dozen servings of meat/chicken/fish. concerns: weight, size, power draw, # of racks. I'd rather have one that takes half-sheets instead of quarter-sheets.

Does anyone have any recommendations? Do you have one you like (or hate!) and can tell me the brand/model/etc.

I can justify spending up to $350 for the "perfect" contraption.

Thanks in advance... and I'll post what I ultimately choose, and why.

By Mbw (Mbw) on Saturday, March 26, 2005 - 10:06 am: Edit

Sterno cooking, is it a caterer’s best friend or worst nightmare?

First of all, plenty of cafes use the George Forman grill. It allows a postage stamp coffee stand to serve a hot grilled sandwich. No surprise you use one. I will assume you have equipment such as tables, trash cans, fire extinguishers, table covers. Other than that the missing link is sterno.

#1 Chafing dish for holding food to temp

Note: if you NEED the chafer to be hot and are working outside, be SURE to bring a wind bock or at the very least a roll of foil. I worked in Orange County for a company that had the shop construct a façade that sheltered 3 chafers.

#2 Hot boxes for holding and finishing

I am referring to a hot box, aluminum proofing box, enclosed speed rack thingy. You know the type that fit about 25 full sheet pans? You just place 2-24 cans of sterno on a sheet pan below a sheet pan holding your hotel pan of food. The cook handling this must tend to it constantly as the fire will easily extinguish, or get out of hand and TORCH everything in the box. This blind cooking is not for the faint of heart, and is also very dangerous. Just tell the attending cook “you will be burned today lets make sure it isn’t bad ok?”.

If you have a capable cook and they are supplied with strategic prep, they can finish a filet mignon and deliver a perfect med rare. Not bad for standing in a parking lot, or in the middle of a field. Of course this method is typically used for events of 75-800 people and your situation may not call for a 6.5' tall box of scalding aluminum.

Portable ovens are great as long as YOU don't have to lift them. I had an old blodgett oven that was way too heavy to take onsite and sat in storage until sold. If you do buy one make sure it can be trasported, and that you buy 110V.

As for $350? That will buy a few chafers but not much else. On the other hand I did find a source for those butane cassette burners for $9.99 each! I love China Town. I Love San Francisco.

By Foodpump (Foodpump) on Saturday, March 26, 2005 - 01:57 pm: Edit

Ahh, fond memories of one of our first catering gigs: Was told that there was a regular household type stove and fridge on site. It was to be a hot & cold buffet with all the meats bbq'd to order, but we had to be on site at least 4 hours before, so that ruled out transporting the hot food in Cambro boxes. When I got there I found out the hard way that the stove didn't work. So how was I to heat up my honey glazed carrots, my rosemary potato wedges, and green beans with pancetta? The only heat source I had was the BBQ. I laid the potato wedges on an inverted 18 x 26 tray resting on the grid, slammed the lid shut, and 10 minutes later I had decent crispy potoates, the beans and carrots got the same treatment. Since then I've always insited on coming along at site inspections....

By Foodpump (Foodpump) on Sunday, March 27, 2005 - 04:14 pm: Edit

Equipment wise, $350 won't get you much, unless you buy second hand which is, at best, a gamble. Very few commercial 1/2 pan convection ovens that run on 110 volt, and very few catering sites that have a 220 volt receptacle handy, and very few portable propane powered convection ovens. The best option is menu engineering:

Customer wants 60 salmon or beef wellingtons, but there's no oven on site? Well, if you have your heart set on it, we'll have to rent a propane powered oven which needs to be set up outdoors to conform to fire regulations. Of course we can do it! It'll just cost you...

What $350 will get you is a Cambro unit. The 300 mpc model will hold 4 shallow hotel pans. The Cambros earned their moniker "Sweat boxes" because that is what they are, a giant thermos bottle. They are excellent for liquids-soups, stews, sauces, mashed potatoes, rice, sauced pasta, and sauced entrees. Matter of fact if I had a choice of an insulated proofing cabinet, or an Alto-shaam holding cabinet, I would choose the Cambro for the above mentioned items, no drying out, no scorching, no discoloration. For any crispy items, breaded items, or vegetables, fahgettaboutit, they'll look like crap in a half hour. The Cambros (I have 5 of 300 mpc's) pull double duty in my kitchen as retarder/proofers, Chef's locked box in the walk-in where all new hams and cheeses are safe untill the old ones are used up, and with the addition of optional plates, which are frozen and slide into the units, the Cambros are converted to very handy refrigerators, perfect for on-site catering.

Check out the Eagle group ( for portable 110 volt convection-type warmers and heaters. These accept 1/2 pans and hotel pans and are small enough to be lifted by one person, but are obscenely expensive. Metro and Crescorp will have similar items with similar prices.

By Chefjoannam (Chefjoannam) on Thursday, March 31, 2005 - 03:40 pm: Edit

Thanks everyone for the input!!

I already have a cambro, a nice big brown one, with plenty of sheet pans and 200 pans to match... I'm just trying to avoid cooking offsite and bringing the pre-cooked food onsite. No matter what you do, the flavor & overall quality is diminished.

Sterno: of course... I have chafing dishes all over the place, but I don't have an enclosed transit cart/hotbox/coffin, and I couldn't transport one in my Honda Element. Not to mention that it would be way too big for the events I'm talking about: "in-office catering" 5-star lunches and dinners in their ocean-view boardrooms. They spend a fortune on trivial crap, but they only have a crappy little microwave in their kitchenette.

>> "I will assume you have equipment such as tables, trash cans, fire extinguishers, table covers."
--Yes, I have all that, and then some. My business is well established, I'm just entertaining the possibility of expanding to this in-office thing.

>>"We'll have to rent a propane powered oven which needs to be set up outdoors to conform to fire regulations. Of course we can do it! It'll just cost you..."
-- my mark-up...tee-hee... but when the party is only 12 guests, I wanted to be able to pull it off without having to rent a big ol' propane viking/fox/etc.

I think that what I end up using will be a couple of the larger-sized toaster-ovens. They will achieve the dry-heat cooking/holding that I'm looking for, but the power drain will be a big pain in the butt. LAST thing I want to do is cause the lights to go out and shut down the rest of my production because someone wanted to serve spanikopita or other phyllo food!

Menu design, of course, would eliminate all my problems, but truly, if they do have their collective heart set on "roasted whatever", and I could make it happen, then I'd have the edge over my competition!

By Chefjoannam (Chefjoannam) on Tuesday, April 05, 2005 - 10:54 pm: Edit

I bought two toaster ovens today, they were only $35 apiece, Black & Decker brand, they seem like they'd be big enough to roast a whole chicken inside...and they seem to be powerful enough for what I need...

But they're weird shaped: the pan that comes with them is squarish. 9x10 instead of the standard 9x13 ratio, so I don't have any extra pans to fit in them. As far as flat-surface is concerned, it looks like it can only cook about 4 chicken breasts per oven, maybe 6 if you push it. It would be big enough to heat a server's tray worth of appetizers, probably, but I don't like that I'd have to refill a hot tray with cold food. That makes people rush, and that's when mistakes happen. Oh well, I've dealt with a LOT worse.

So, I'm either going to return them, or I'm going to go buy two more... I cant decide which!

By Jonesg (Jonesg) on Wednesday, April 06, 2005 - 07:45 am: Edit

i WOULD GIVE ANOTHER VOTE FOR THE HOTBOX(oops) with sterno, we accidentally roasted a sirloin strip in one, came out fine.
Also a second vote for instecting the site and equipment. You can cook and transport most anything and have it in good shape, obviously some items don't work well and that makes the unsuitable for certain venues.
I wouldn't consider a toaster oven except for a small app party. You can get the half sized alum boxes, they take full sheetpans, a small sterno will keep it sizzling hot.
Propane floor burners are great, we have 3 that came with turkey deep frying kits, cheap too.
They'll put out some serious heat.

By Chefjoannam (Chefjoannam) on Wednesday, April 06, 2005 - 12:53 pm: Edit

On 4/6/05 4:45 AM, Jonesg wrote:

> You can cook and transport most anything

but see, that's exactly the thing I'm trying to avoid. and I'm a boutique caterer (a chef who does smaller parties, and everything's done onsite, that day) so I'm not going to cook out of a comm kitchen and bring it somewhere. I may have to look again into the half-coffin, but that thing is going to take up most of my truck (honda element) and if I have to rent a bigger truck, then my cost-effectiveness goes right out the window again.

By George (George) on Wednesday, April 06, 2005 - 02:08 pm: Edit

Check these out.

Countertop convex's units that hold 4 1/2 sheet pans.
Cadco Convection Ovens


Farberware T490C Commercial Convection Oven


Moffat Commercial Convection Ovens and Proofers

BJ's and Costco often have 3 burner propane units for camping that put out incredible heat and include a flattop, cheep like $160.00. I would be a little concerned about using it indoors however. I have one a love it.

Have you seen the pro-version of the Forman grill? Very nice with two separate tops and a large cooking area. I have seen them for $99 on sale.


By Foodpump (Foodpump) on Wednesday, April 06, 2005 - 08:30 pm: Edit

You got the goods, George. The Cadco looks like the best bet. I think I've used them before through a rental company. Well, maybe the price isn't 350, but the name is....

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