7 Hacks to Keep Your Food Hot When Traveling: Out of the Oven, or Out of the Car?

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by  Cooler Bill Barton | Last Updated: 
keep food hot when traveling

It’s tempting to want to ignore the temperature of your hot food when traveling. However an estimated 48 million people contract food poisoning each year.

And you don’t want to add to that stat with your holiday ham, do you? Do you!?

That being said, it is extremely important to be careful when transporting hot food. 

Learning how to keep food hot when traveling more than an hour could be the difference between fresh food, or food poisoning.

Most people don’t know that there is a temperature danger zone while transporting hot food. 

Hot food should never be kept between 40℉-140℉. 

This can easily be avoided with the easy to follow tips below, your friends and your stomach will both thank you. 

What You’ll Need to Keep Your Food Hot in the Car When Traveling

Transporting food in via car can be risky as car interiors are hotter than the outside temperature. 

These will keep your food hot and safe while traveling:

  • Aluminum foil
  • Cooler
  • Portable car heater
  • Thermos
  • Thermal bags
  • Electric blanket
  • Bain-marie

Aluminum Foil

Hot food will quickly start to cool down as it releases steam, by wrapping your food in a tight layer of aluminum foil you’ll prevent this from happening. 

That shiny outer surface helps the foil to reflect thermal energy inwards, rather than evaporating. This means whatever is on the inside will stay fresh and hot for hours. 

Important—while aluminum foil works well at reflecting heat inwards, admittedly it isn’t the best insulator. That thin layer of foil will only get you so far and needs a little assistance for maximum efficiency. 

Towels are the perfect addition to insulate your food, they keep significantly more heat inside rather than escaping. After wrapping your dish in a tight layer of foil gently encase the final product with a thick towel. 

Cooler

Coolers are the perfect foundation for keeping hot food hot when traveling in a car. They provide plenty of space for several meals, and their sturdy, insulated walls will keep food hot for 2-3 hours.

There are ways to increase cooler efficiency to preserve your hot meals for double the time:

1. Preheat with Hot Water

If you’ve ever been to a fancy cafe you’ll have seen the barista add hot water to your mug, letting it sit for 30 seconds, then dumping it out before pouring your coffee. 

This heats up the cup to boiling temps and keeps your beverage hot for much longer. 

The same is true for your cooler, by adding hot water and letting it sit before filling it up, you’ll extend the heat longevity inside. 

2. Hot Brick Method

If you’ve got a couple of bricks and a sheet of aluminum foil laying around this next DIY is for you.

Wrap your bricks with aluminum foil, then place in a 300℉ oven for 30 minutes. 

Place a couple of towels or a plank of wood at the bottom of the cooler to prevent damage or melting. 

Line the bricks carefully, cover with a last layer of foil, and you’re ready to pack in your hot food. This method will continually heat the food for a couple of hours.

3. Water Bottle Method

A faster alternative to the hot brick method, filling your water bottle or heating pad with hot water will extend the life of your fresh food. 

Just be sure to remove the heating pad after it has cooled down, unlike the bricks the water will actually get cold and cool down the food eventually. 

Portable Car Heater

Whether you’re traveling with hot food, or just need to reheat your lunch while on break at work, this is the item for you.

A portable car heater is exactly what it sounds like, a medium-sized pouch with aluminum lined walls and a DC 12V electrical plug for your car. 

This knifty gadget will keep your food at a temperature above 150℉ for as long as it’s plugged in, not only that but it can also cook raw food at temps up to 240℉. 

Many people use this for long road trips or camping adventures, and with most of them retailing for less than $30 it’s the perfect investment. 

Thermos

We all know that our trusty thermos keeps our coffee hot on those cold, early morning commutes, but did you know you can put food in there too?

This is the perfect option if you’re traveling solo, or if each person has their own thermos they can customize their hot meal individually. 

Great hot meal options for your thermos include:

  • Soup, especially puréed
  • Rice or bulgur
  • Boiled or sauteed vegetables
  • Oatmeal
  • Noodles
  • Pasta
  • A hot wrap

Thermal Bags

These thermal bags peaked in popularity in the mid-2000s, chances are you saw them near the checkout of your local supermarket. 

Rightfully so, these seemingly basic bags are an affordable way to preserve the temperature of your hot or cold food for up to 3 hours.

Rather than the popular aluminum, thermal bags are generally made from polyethylene, also known as “thermoplastic.” 

This material is great at insulating heat and is free from BPAs, lead, and other toxic metals. 

For best results place the hottest food towards the bottom of the bag, the heat will rise and continually heat the other contents as well. Avoid excessively opening the bag to maintain the hottest temperature possible inside. 

Electric Blanket

Traveling with hot food will be a breeze with a portable electric blanket. 

Complete with a variety of heat settings, these electric blankets are large enough to wrap an entire buffet worth of hot meals. It conveniently plugs right into your car’s 12 volt power socket and has a timer that goes off every 45 minutes for safety. 

Although these tend to be on the pricier side, they’re the perfect addition to keep in your car. Additionally they can save money on heating in winter, instead of blasting the heat for your morning commute you can wrap up with a blanket for a fraction of the cost. 

Electrical Soup Warmer

A simple solution to keep your hot food hot is to buy a tool that’s sole function is doing just that. 

I love the Sybo soup warmer for exactly that reason. The high quality, stainless steel body insulates everything from soups, beans, rice, mixed veggies, and more. 

The best part is the built in bain-marie, you may have seen a bain-marie the last time you went to a buffet and not even realized it. 

This simple yet innovative invention stores hot water at the bottom of the stainless steel pot in a completely separate chamber. The water not only stays hot for hours but continually heats the food longer after it the electric plug has been removed. 

This means your food will stay incredibly fresh and hot, and bonus, when you arrive at your final destination you can plug it right in and let everyone serve immediately. If you have an electrical car adapter you can even plug it right into your car’s outlet for maximum heat preservation. 

For less than $100 Sybo sells these soup warmers in a variety of colors, they’re all ETL certified, easy to clean and high quality. 

SYBO Soup Kettle

Serve fresh and hot delicious soups all day in SYBO’s large kettle style soup warmer. Designed to keep soups at safe serving temperatures for hours. 

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How to Keep Your Food Hot When You’re On the Go

Step One: Utilize Your Cooler to the Fullest

Proper cooler prep is the difference between fresh, hot food or risking a stomach ache. Follow this YouTube tutorial for quick and easy cooler prep. 

Step Two: Invest in Portable Heaters

Whether you decide to invest in a portable electric blanket, or an electric car heater, these products will last years and can be used for many other purposes. 

If you’re still confused about which product to buy first you just can’t go wrong with the all inclusive Itaki portable cooker. For just $50 this nifty gadget will be a food proof investment. 

Not only does the Itaki keep your food warm in the car with its 12V power socket adapter and standard outlet plug, it can also cook, steam and saute raw food too. 

Step Three: DIY Heater with Household Goods

While investing in a portable heater is great, if you’re in a pinch and need a solution today, look no further than your kitchen drawers.

Aluminum foil is your new best friend when it comes to insulating food. Wrap your dish in a secure layer of foil to retain heat and steam.

Towels and Blankets can be wrapped as a final touch after the aluminum foil is applied, this ensures maximum heat insulation. 

Bricks can be heated in the oven, wrapped in aluminum foil of course, then placed in a cooler to allow continuous heating of hot food when traveling. 

Food Safety Comes First

The thought of cooking a beautiful, hot meal for your family reunion only for it to get cold by the time you arrived at Uncle Jason’s house is a sad thought indeed.

However the thought of feeding your whole extended family food that has breeding bacteria due to poor temperature management, is a bit worse. 

The CDC claims that summer is the riskiest season for food poisoning as the hot weather keeps cooked food in the danger zone for longer. 

Most food poisonings actually happen when food has been poorly transferred from one location to the next, i.e. wedding, Thanksgiving, holiday parties, etc. 

Remember to keep a watchful eye on your hot food when traveling, not only will it maintain its delicious taste but will give you peace of mind as well. 

FAQs

How do you keep food warm on a long drive?

Thermoses, portable heaters, proper aluminum foil wrapping and heated coolers will ensure food stays warm for 2-3 hours.

How long does food stay hot in aluminum foil?

Aluminum foil will keep your food hot for 30 minutes up to 2 hours depending on the peak temperature and proper storage conditions.

Can heat packs keep food warm?

Heat packs can keep food warm for the duration of their own warmth. Be sure to remove the heat pack once the heat is gone to ensure it doesn’t cool the meal.