We often associate picnics with cold food – Picnic salads, sandwiches, and finger food. Aside from a good old BBQ picnic, hot food is a marvellous addition to picnics no matter the season.
Think soups, curries, meatballs, mini frittata’s, and sausage rolls, casseroles and lasagnas. All of these easy make-ahead style dishes make great picnic foods whether it be a summer beach picnic or winter picnic in the park. And don’t discount the value of having a warm salad at a picnic like a warm pumpkin and quinoa salad or warm potato salad.
But as with keeping picnic food cold, there is always the issue of how to keep food hot for a picnic. It’s not just a matter of ensuring your lasagna serves up piping hot or your sausage rolls and pork pies stay hot and crispy – it’s also a matter of food safety.
We look at all the wonderful ways to keep picnic food warm while ensuring you don’t inadvertently turn your food bad. No one wants to be remembered for their picnic for the wrong reasons.
Safe Food Temperatures
Food safety rules recommend the following safe food guidelines:
- The food-safe temperature for cold food is 40℉ | 4.44 ℃ and below.
- For hot foods, the safe temperature is above 140 ℉ | 60 ℃.
- In between these temperatures is referred to as “the danger zone”.
How to Hold Hot Food at a Picnic
As a general rule, food should not be left out for longer than 2 hours. If food is to be left out, it is advised to check the temperature of the food every 2 hours with a basic food thermometer.
These are some tips to avoid your food falling into the danger zone:
- Make sure your food is already properly heated – as hot as the recipe will allow without spoiling before packing your picnic.
- Heat/cook hot food as close to departure as possible.
- Use insulated or heating accessories to hold hot food at 140 ℉ | 60 ℃ or above.
- Keep food covered as much as possible to keep the heat in and contaminants out.
- Use a thermometer if in doubt.
- Discard any food that has been left out to cool for longer than 2 hours.
How to Keep Food Warm for a Picnic
There are lots of tips and tricks to keep your picnic food hot and loads of helpful picnic accessories to make the job even easier.
So whether you decide to DIY it or invest in some quality insulated containers we’ve got you covered.
Insulated Picnic Baskets & Backpacks
A great starting point for keeping your picnic food warm is to invest in an insulated picnic hamper or picnic backpack. It’s the most portable way of transferring all your picnic gear and food in one bag. (we have reviewed the best picnic backpacks for 2 and picnic backpacks for 4 people as well as insulated picnic baskets from traditional wicker to modern collapsible picnic baskets). Throw in some heat packs and away you go.
Heat Packs (most cool packs double as heat packs for a two in one solution) are a cheap and effective picnic essential.
No matter how you choose to transport your food, heat packs will make all the difference to how hot your food stays.
People talk about heating foil-wrapped bricks in the oven and lining the bottom of a cooler box with them – Why would you faff around with all that fuss and weight when you have light and easy heat packs?
Vesture Hot Pack for Casserole Carriers is a heat only pack but is larger so good for cooler boxes and larger casserole dishes.
Pyrex Small Portable Hot & Cold Pack – 3 pack covers both hot and cold and comes in small or large sizes.
Ways to Use Heat Packs to Keep Food Hot
- Wrap your hot food in foil and place a heat pack on top. Wrap the food and heat pack tightly in a tea towel. (Tip – Use heavy-duty bbq foil for maximum insulation)
- Line the bottom of a cooler with newspaper or paper shopping bags and place heat packs across the bottom. Place the food on top and another heat pack on top of the food. Throw things like your picnic rug, table cloth or towels on top to fill empty space and keep the heat in. Continue to fill your cooler box with your other picnic essentials.
- Place a heat pack underneath food serving dishes when you serve up to keep the dish hot from underneath.
Use Your Cooler Box
Your every day cooler box works just as well at keeping things hot as it does cold.
If you don’t want to lug a heavy cooler (hot box) around for one or two hot items, you can buy cooler boxes in a myriad of sizes perfect for picnics. There are also loads of great collapsible and soft-sided coolers fit for the task.
The AO soft-sided cooler, an Amazon bestseller, has five layers of insulation which guarantees to keep ice frozen and hot food hot for 24 hours. It has a leak-proof liner and soft, durable, and most importantly, lightweight outer shell. It comes in 4 sizes and loads of colours, fabrics and prints.
Tip: Whatever cooler style you use, try to keep the cooler closed until you are ready to serve up. This will ensure none of the heat escapes and food stays hotter for longer.
Use An Insulated Food Delivery Bag
A surprisingly cost-effective, space-saving and very efficient way to keep food hot is to use what the professionals use. The same bag as used by food delivery drivers such as Uber Eats and professional caterers is lightweight, relatively cheap, and keeps food piping hot. It also folds down for easy storage.
Use Your Slow Cooker
Food prepared in a slow cooker will stay hot for a few hours even after it’s unplugged. Simply prepare your picnic dish, unplug the cooker and take it with you. Especially handy if you’re feeding a crowd or heading to a potluck.
Not convinced your dish will stay hot or worried about carrying your slow cooker to a picnic – there’s a bag for that.
Take your slow cooker anywhere without spills or worry. You’ll also be confident your food will be piping hot when you’re ready to serve. It zips up firmly around any size slow cooker thanks to an adjustable internal net and has sturdy side handles and carry straps for easy transport.
Insulated Casserole Carriers
Don’t fancy taking the whole slow cooker or even an insulated cooler box to your picnic? Down size with these handy picnic accessories for hot food.
Insulated casserole and lasagne carriers come in a range of configurations – stand-alone or as complete sets. Use them for hot or cold, they are perfect for transporting one or two hot picnic dishes.
Simply place the hot food dish in the carrier along with a hot pack and zip close. They are so compact you can even pop the whole thing in your picnic hamper.
These are some of the more popular thermal casserole carriers on the market.
The Pyrex casserole carrier comes as a complete set in either a 4 piece single layer carrier with pyrex dish, secure lid and a heat pack. Or as 9 piece double layer carrier with dishes, lids and heat packs.
The Rachael Ray Expandable Lasagna Lugger enables you to carry hot and cold food together. Carry one dish in the main compartment and unzip and expand to reveal a second compartment.
It has an easy to clean interior and external pockets for carrying picnic bits and pieces.
With a lifetime warranty, the Picnic at Ascot Original Casserole Carrier keeps food hot and cold in style.
Picnic at Ascot has over 25 years experience designing quality picnic accessories such as hampers and picnic backpacks. The two-level double casserole carrier is proof of that quality including details such as a sturdy central handle to avoid tipping. It also comes in a range of designs to suit all picnic styles.
All in One Insulated Serving Bowl
You can keep food hot or cold and locking lids ensures easy transport (Although they do not claim to be entirely leak-proof). Simply pop the lid off and serve. These really are a compact and simple solution to transporting and serving cold or hot picnic food.
Insulated Food Containers
Whether you want to pack individual hot meals, have one of your favourite picnic soups on the menu or have an array of hot finger foods to share, these insulated food containers have you covered.
From thermos style hot food jars to insulated lunch containers and insulated bento boxes. These picnic food storage solutions are perfect for hot and cold food and will pack neatly into any picnic hamper or backpack.
So as you can see, there’s no need to shy away from hot picnic food for fear of it not going the distance. There are so many simple and cost-effective ways to keep picnic food hot without fear of it spoiling. So start planning those hot summer picnic additions and thinking about cosy winter picnic menus.