Overhead Warmer Equipment Guide

Everything you need to know about buying an overhead warmer.

By Kinnek Community

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Overhead food warmers are used by commercial kitchens to keep food warm in preparation of serving - whether in a self-service setting, or in the kitchen (on a shelf or table waiting for the waitstaff to bring the food out to patrons).  The type of overhead warmer you choose will depend mostly on cost, the location of the warmer, and how the warmer will be used.

Before you contact suppliers about their commercial overhead warmer offerings, make sure to compare the available products with your kitchen’s needs.

What are commercial overhead warmers good for?

Though commercial overhead warming equipment use may seem relatively simple, there are certain limitations.  Overhead warmers work well for keeping food warm for a short time - this works well for a busy buffet or efficient kitchen where food does not sit under the warmer for very long - but for those food service establishments in which food sits under the warmer for a longer period of time, the heat from an overhead warmer can dry out the food and ruin the texture (one common example is buffet-style food that becomes overly dry and crusty after having been left out under overhead warmers for too long).  Further, overhead warmers may not be as useful for maintaining heat in dense, thick foods, as the heat cannot effectively travel through the dense layers to maintain temperature at the center.  

Strip Warmers vs. Bulb Warmers

Overhead warming equipment generally comes in two types: strip warmers and bulb warmers, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Strip Warmer

  • Heat given off is more intense than that of a bulb warmer.
  • Frame structure helps make the strip warmer more durable.
  • Can cover a reasonably large surface area.
  • Usually more expensive than equivalent bulb warmers.
  • Less mobile - most strip warmers require a hard wired electrical connection, and cannot simply be plugged into a standard outlet.
When ordering a commercial strip warmer, you’ll have your choice of either ceramic or metal sheathed heating elements.  Ceramic strip warmers generally give off a more intense heat than metal sheathed strip warmers, at the cost of higher wattage and greater expense.  Keep in mind, however, that even a metal sheathed strip warmer gives off more intense heat and is more expensive than equivalent bulb warmers.

Bulb Warmer

  • Relatively cheaper.
  • More mobile - bulb warmers can usually be plugged into standard electrical outlets, which makes them more versatile and easier to setup for catering operations and other similarly mobile food services.
  • Less intense heat and smaller surface area coverage.

Ultimately, it boils down to this: most buyers prefer bulb warmers for mobile tasks and for certain freestanding front-of-the-house stations (in a cafeteria setup or buffet setup), and prefer strip warmers for back-of-the-house food warming as the heat is more intense, strip warmers are more durable, and the surface area coverage is larger.  But this is merely a guideline.  Customization is plentiful.  You’ll certainly find buyers using strip warmers in buffet stations, while others purchase accessory stands to enable freestanding strip warmer units similar to bulb warming ones.  You’ll also find buyers using suspended bulb warmer configurations to increase the surface area coverage.  There are numerous accessories for mounting, standing, and otherwise re-configuring your overhead warmer to better suit your needs.

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