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Having debate with friend ... we have spagetti sauce in steam table at 250 f -- with lid off the spagetti sauce evaporates and reduces and burns on side of the steam table pan during duration of the day

Placing the sauce on top of the table with a lid .. produces and retains steam and doesn't burn as much but concerned about temperature not being hot enough once served.

How do people keep spagetti sauce hot without it reducing/burning and evaporating in a hot steam table?

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    Are we talking about a chafing dish, or could you please clarify the term "steam table"?
    – Stephie
    Apr 27, 2023 at 11:16
  • Not an answer because I'm not totally clear what you're doing but it sounds like your sauce is simply way too hot.
    – dbmag9
    Apr 27, 2023 at 12:18
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    typo in my deleted comment...revised: Why would it be colder WITH a lid?
    – moscafj
    Apr 27, 2023 at 12:28
  • Does your steam table have temperature adjustments for each compartment? You don’t need it at a full rolling boil like a bain-marie if you’re just keeping stuff warm
    – Joe
    Apr 27, 2023 at 12:31
  • @Stephie : it’s like a chafing dish, but usually electric or propane with multiple compartments for hotel pans: webstaurantstore.com/14141/commercial-steam-tables.html
    – Joe
    Apr 27, 2023 at 12:34

1 Answer 1

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250 Fahrenheit is 121 Celsius. This is well above the boiling point of water, thus you have extensive evaporation from the sauce and the sauce reduces to the point at which it can burn - this will be the point at which boiling no longer causes in effective mixing of the sauce due to thickness of the sauce and results in localized heating of the sauce to temperatures above that of the boiling point of water, at which point it can burn.

Leaving the lid on retains at least a portion of the steam and hence returns water to the container, meaning it is thin enough for boiling to prevent localized heating. This means that the temperature of the sauce can't get much above 100 C and no longer burns.

I don't know what temperature in a steam table relates to what temperature in the dish, but it is obvious to me that over time something retained at 250 F (121 C) should (in physics) eventually end up at 250 F (121 C) (though this would be after all the water has evaporated).

In terms of food safety, so long as the dish is above the temperatures recommended by your local food safety authority (e.g. FDA for the USA). For a sauce such as spaghetti sauce (Bolognese?), I would recommend that it is boiled for at least 5 min in the kitchen during preparation (or reheating if prepared prior), then maintained above 165 F (74 C) during serving - see this chart for safe minimum internal temperatures. You might consider Bolognese sauce either a casserole or a ground meat for that table.

You might have to experiment with your steam table to achieve a temperature which will maintain the food at or above this temperature, but a manual for it might well have temperatures to set for different food types to maintain food safety.

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