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What Are Hotel Pans?

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    Joseph Rubino
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    By Joseph Rubino
    What Are Hotel Pans?

    When you check into a hotel room, you should expect to see an ice bucket and television set, but you don’t plan on finding hotel pans. However, as the name indicates, these sturdy, rectangular pans certainly have their origins in the hospitality industry. They got their start in the kitchens of the restaurants that were essential to hotels well into the twentieth century. Also known as steam table pans, counter pans, or service pans, if you've eaten buffet style or helped yourself from a salad bar, you've used a hotel pan. These pans are rectangular in shape, constructed of stainless steel, and come in a variety of sizes. This type of pan usually has a fairly prominent lip so that it can be placed in and removed from service table openings.


    The "Authentic" Hotel Pans
    These pans were originally all constructed from metal, because of their primary function in keeping already cooked foods warm until consumed. The first pans of this type were placed in chafing dishes. As 19th century and early twentieth-century hotel guests were often served at large tables in single sittings, guests were probably served directly from these pans to help keep entrees and side dishes warm. These pans were also later adapted for use in steam tables. The standard size for this type of pan is two and a half inches deep which fits most chafing dishes, but these pans also come in depths of four, six, and eight inches. Those purchasing these pans from supply companies will sometimes find their depths identified as "hundredths," such as "200", "400", etc.

    Restaurant employees often refer to a commonly used hotel pan as a "400 pan". The double zero is simply an older stocking method indicating the pan's depth in inches. Regarding overall size, the pans are categorized as full, half, third, sixth and ninth. A "full"-sized 400 pan is 12"x20" in all over diameter and four inches deep. A "half"-sized 400 pan is 12"x10", etc. Depending upon your hotel pan needs, you can also find them in half, quarter, and even smaller sizes. "Authentic" pans of this type continue to be constructed primarily of stainless steel, but they are increasingly constructed from other materials as well, primarily plastic.

    Uses, Care of and Prices Of Hotel Pans
    Metal pans of this type can be used to both keep foods warm, hot or cold, as well as for deep frying and other types of cooking. Pans made from other materials are used for food storage. Care depends on the materials used to make the pans. Non-stainless steel pans may be affected by temperature and discoloration. Stainless steel pans usually require only pre-soaking and washing in warm, soapy water. Scrubbing with steel wool isn't recommended for stains, but applying a baking soda paste and wiping it off often works well. Prices vary depending upon size and material type, and range between $5-$30.

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