Who Uses Steam Table Pans?

Steam table pans, sometimes referred to as hotel pans, are an industry standard for serving and warming food. These pans come in several sizes and configurations, from full-size all the way down to ninth-size, and are used in a steam table (or hot food table). A steam table can be used as a buffet station for self-service, or in a back-of-house cook line for convenient plating of meals. Steam pans can be made of a variety of materials, but the most popular are stainless steel and plastic. We’ve compiled the most useful information for finding and buying the right steam pans and other food pans for your commercial kitchen.

Read also: Steam Table Buying Guide

Types of Food Pans 

Food pans have several uses in a commercial kitchen. Stainless steel pans are useful in a hot food table to keep food warm for service. Plastic food pans are great for keeping food at a range of temperatures from cold to hot. These types of pans are ideal for different uses based on their construction material.

Stainless Steel Food Pans 

Stainless steel pans are made to serve and warm food on a steam table. They are often warmed in a well that’s filled with water but can also be used in dry well tables without water. These pans can come with several features and configurations depending on your needs.

Stainless Steel Gauge 

Stainless steel pans can be made in different thicknesses or gauges. Gauge is the thickness of a steam pan and can range between 20 to 25 gauge. With gauge, the lower the number, the thicker the steel. The thickness should be chosen based on what you want to use the pan for.  

The standard gauge for foodservice is 22 gauge, but thinner and thicker gauges are available.

Choose a thicker gauge (20-22) for: 

  • Heavy-duty use 
  • Long life of product 
  • Less denting, warping, and dinging 
  • Daily use in a commercial kitchen 

Choose a thinner gauge (23-25) for: 

  • Lower volume kitchens 
  • Economical price point 
  • Less frequent use 
  • Lighter weight

Stainless Steel Steam Table Pan Features & Configurations 

Some stainless steel steam pans can come with special features and configurations to better fit the needs of your commercial kitchen. These features can include things like anti-jamming sides for stacking, or perforated bottoms for steaming. Read more about features below. 


Anti-jam sides are included in steam table pans to allow for easy stacking and storage. Often when you need to store a steam pan, you need to stack them together. However, typical stainless steel pans will stick when stacked together. This feature allows you to stack pans without damaging the sides and corners. 

Rolled/Flat Edges

A rolled or flat edge can come on a food pan to lock in heat when using in a steam table. This edge type is useful in saving energy costs and increasing food quality by maintaining temperature.

Super Pan V Flat/Rolled Edge Steam Table Pan


Perforated steam pans are useful for keeping food dry and away from water while heating in a steam table. This is ideal for things like steaming vegetables or heating and holding pasta.

Perforated Food Pan

Pour Corners

Steam table pans with pour corners allow for easy cleaning and pouring. It also provides additional reinforcement against dings and dents in your pan. Pour, or coved, corners will help extend the life and use of your steam pan.

Pour Corners Stainless Steel Food Pan

Plastic Food Pans

If you’re looking for something economical and efficient in a steam table or cold food table, consider plastic food pans. Plastic food pans are useful in storage and serving due to their wide temperature range. These pans are often made of materials like polycarbonate, polypropylene, or high heat plastic. There are two main types of plastic food pans: hot food pans and cold food pans. This classification determines the use and temperature range of a food pan.

Plastic Food Pan Construction Materials

Plastic Food Pan

ABS Plastic: 

ABS plastic (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is a thermoplastic polymer. While it is not the most common material for food pans, some types are FDA compliant and are useful for refrigeration. 

High Heat Plastic: 

High heat plastic is a durable plastic material that can be heated to high temperatures. This plastic has a high melting point, so it can be heated in microwaves and used to serve in steam tables. Choose a high heat plastic if you’re looking for a durable and economical food pan. 


Polycarbonate is a translucent thermoplastic polymer that is tough and strong for commercial use. This food safe plastic is ideal for use in cold food storage and refrigerated buffet displays. Pick polycarbonate for easy identification of food storage due to the translucent color. 


Polypropylene is a tough and rigid thermoplastic that is lightweight for commercial use. PP (polypropylene) is non-toxic and is more rigid and has a higher melting point than polycarbonate. Use a polypropylene container for its strength and durability against chemicals and staining.

Plastic Food Pan Temperature Ranges 

Material Type Temperature Range Use For
ABS Plastic Cold 32°F to 180°F Keep food at ServSafe temperature of 40°F – hold condiments, buffet service 
High Heat Plastic Hot -40°F to 425°F Serve in hot steam tables, cook in microwaves, store in refrigerator 
High Heat Plastic Hot -40°F to 375°F Serve in hot steam tables, cook in microwaves, store in refrigerator 
High Heat Plastic Hot -40°F to 300°F Serve in hot steam tables, cook in microwaves, store in refrigerator 
Polycarbonate Cold -40°F to 210°F Serve in cold tables, store in refrigerators 
Polypropylene Cold -40°F to 160°F Serve in buffet displays, store ingredients in refrigerator, food prep 


Other Types of Food Pans 

While stainless steel and plastic are the most common materials in food pans, there are some other less common food pan types. Materials like melamine and aluminum are sometimes used in food pan construction. These pans have some different properties and use compared to plastic and stainlesssteel pans. 

Melamine Food Pans

Melamine food pans are ideal for display in buffets and family-style dining. Melamine dinnerware and pans are resistant to staining, chipping, and cracking – making it perfect to use as display ware. 

Benefits of Melamine  Cons of Melamine 
  • Dishwasher safe 
  • Use in displays or for serving 
  • Resistant to chips, stains, and cracks 
  • Not for use in hot tables 
  • Not for use in refrigerated storage 

Aluminum Food Pans

Aluminum pans share many similarities with stainless steel, including the fact that they are often used for hot food service. These pans will typically be coated with nonstick coating for easy serving and cleaning.

Benefits of Aluminum  Cons of Aluminum 
  • Virtually indestructible 
  • Conducts temperature more evenly 
  • Resists denting 
  • Maintenance of nonstick coating 
  • Potential for rust 


Hotel Pan Sizes and Layout

Steam pan sizes are crucial to building your ideal setup in a steam table. Pan sizes are listed as fractions as well as Gastronorm sizing. These size types were developed as an industry standard, allowing you to buy pans from a variety of manufacturers and know that they’ll all fit in your steam table. 

What is Fraction Sizing? 

Fraction sizing is used in the United States as a range of sized pans from full size (largest) to 1/9 size (smallest). The sizes indicate how many of the pan you can fit in the space of one full-size pan, or 20-¾” by 12-¾”. This standard sizing allows users to serve different foods in a variety of space layouts. Smaller sizes are useful for serving ingredients or sides without needing to waste product or space in a steam table. 

Fraction Size Chart

Ninth Sixth Fourth Third Half Long Half Two-Thirds Full
Ninth Graphic Sixth Size Pan Fourth Size Pan Third Size Pan Half Size Long Half Pan Two Thirds Size Full Size Pan
6-7/8 X 4¼” 6-7/8 X 6¼” 6-3/8 X 10-3/8 6-7/8 X 12¾”  20¾” X 6-7/16 10-3/8 X 12¾”  13-7/8 X 12¾”  20¾” X 12¾” 
Steam Table Food Pan Sizes

What is Gastronorm Sizing?

Gastronorm sizes are standard sizes of food pans that are widely used in European countries. This size range is commonly adopted in the catering industry or in the international market. These sizes are measured in millimeters to accommodate the metric system.

Gastronorm size chart

The Best Steam Pan Accessories

Every food pan could use a little extra functionality. From lids and liners to colanders and drain shelves, there are all sorts of steam pan accessories for your needs. If you’re looking to extend the use of your steam table pan, check out these popular food pan accessories.

Accessory Use For
Universal Lid Flat Lid
  • Chilled/frozen storage 
  • Keeping food fresh before serving 
  • Preventing spillage while transporting 
Lock Tight Lid Seal or “lock-tight’ lid
  • Store and transport food and liquids 
  • Reverse to use as a bun pan or tray 
  • Seal in freshness for safe storage
Food Pan collander Colander
  • Steam vegetables or root vegetables 
  • Keep food dry and away from water while serving 
  • Use to drain cooked pasta or vegetables 
Drain Shelf Drain Shelf
  • Keep food dry while storing 
  • Use in chilled/frozen storage 
  • Lock in freshness of food while serving and storing
PanSaver Liner Pan Liners
  • Serve food mess-free and with easy clean-up 
  • Lower chance of cross-contamination or cross-contact when serving 
  • Maintain holding temperatures more efficiently 
Adapter Bar Adapter Bar
  • Accommodate various pan sizes in your steam table 
  • Assists in using and dividing steam table pans 

Top Vendors for Steam Table Pans

The foodservice industry has come to rely on a group of vendors to provide the best in food pans and steam pans. These manufacturers produce quality, reliable food pans that you can use in your commercial kitchen. 

VollrathKnown in the industry as innovators of the steam pan, Vollrath offers a variety of food pans and accessories. Their Super Pan V Stainless Steel Steam Pans are made with durable pour corners and are offered with a lifetime warranty. 

CambroCambro offers hot and cold plastic food pans that stand up to commercial use. Their Camwear pans are designed to be virtually unbreakable and allow you to store, transport, and serve in one pan. Cambro makes polycarbonate and polypropylene pans and lids for hot and cold use. 

Carlisle: Known for their high heat and Coldmaster pans, Carlisle offers plastic food pans in a variety of sizes and uses. Whether you need polycarbonate, stainless, or ABS plastic, Carlisle has it all. 

Value Series: Value Series food pans combine quality with cost savings in your kitchen. Find plastic and stainless food pans that meet the demanding environment of your commercial kitchen.

Close Bitnami banner