A Hotel Pan Is The Tool You Need To Keep Pizza Toppings Cool

If you enjoy making pizza at home, you probably have already invested a good amount of time researching topics like how to clean a pizza stone and which pizza cutter works best, but you may not have found an answer to a common pizza paradox: A sunny day is the perfect kind for throwing a pizza party, but hot weather will quickly wilt, melt, or otherwise spoil your toppings. Fortunately, the hospitality industry has already pioneered an indoor solution that seamlessly translates to the outdoors for those summer days when you're slinging pizzas in your backyard — all you need is a hotel pan and some ice.

Hotel pans are rectangular pans that come in a variety of sizes and are used not only in hotels, but in restaurants, on cruises, at catered events, or during any situation where large groups of people are fed. They are also extremely useful for home cooks. When it comes to pizza-making, placing a few small pans over ice within a large hotel pan is a great way to keep your pizza toppings fresh.

Using hotel pans for prepping pizzas

Hotel pans serve a variety of functions for both storing and serving food. A standard full-size hotel pan is 12 by 20 inches with varying levels of depth, and it can fit several of the smallest iterations of this tool (commonly referred to as 'nine pans') within it. To use your hotel pan as a makeshift refrigerator to protect your pizza toppings against warm weather, you'll need at least one full-size pan and several nine pans. How many depends exactly on the diversity of your ingredients and the size of your pizza party. Certain pizza toppings will spoil faster than others, so if you don't have an abundance of pans, be sure to prioritize getting sensitive ingredients — such as basil, which will quickly become brown and floppy, and whatever meats you're going to use — into these containers and on ice. 

Nine pans are ideal for storing just about anything you might want to put on top of a pizza, ranging from sauces to slices of cured meats and fresh herbs or produce. For ease and efficiency, chop all your toppings into bite-sized pieces before placing them in the pans. The chilled space will ensure the toppings stay presentable and helps to keep them out of the temperature range of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit known as the "danger zone," in which bacteria (such as salmonella and E. coli) proliferate, leading to foodborne illnesses (per the USDA).

Keeping things cool at your pizza party

Next, you will want to make sure to choose the location of your pizza prep station wisely. Place your neatly organized and chilled toppings close to the oven for convenience while readying the pizzas, but not so close that the ice will quickly melt. If you have a large outdoor umbrella, you may also want to position this over your toppings area to keep your delicate ingredients out of direct sunlight. As a bonus, your dedicated pizza maker can also enjoy the shade! To keep yourself and your guests cool, stock up plenty of ice before the party so that you have enough to fill the hotel pan, as well as large pitchers of batched cocktails, sodas, or lemonade. 

Similarly, one of the simplest ways to keep food cold at a cookout is to chill your dishes ahead of time. Also, consider keeping foods like salads or sandwich fillings on ice as well, and instead of using one giant bowl (say, for your potato salad), use several small bowls. Keep the extras in the fridge or cooler and swap them out as necessary.

After the party, you can enjoy another perk of hotel pans: Their super smooth surfaces are easy to clean. If you have leftover pizza toppings, you can store them in the fridge directly in the nine pans.