The Right Tool for the Job: Comparing Food Pans


Food pans are one of your most essential kitchen items. Your staff uses them daily – from prep to cooking to serving and clean up. Just as your food pans have multiple functions in the kitchen, there are distinct differences between the types of food pans and their best applications.

Plus, you have the option of different sizes, thickness, materials and accessories! How can something so simple become so complicated? No worries. The team at can help make sense of it all and help you run a smoother, more efficient kitchen.

Understanding Sizes

Food pans are universally sized based on the dimensions of a single well on a steam table. The full-size pan will always measure 12.75″W x 20.75″D, with smaller sizes based on fractions of this “full-size.” To ensure even and efficient heating (or cooling) in a well, dimensions have to be tight to prevent air from moving between pans. Another aspect to consider when selecting your food pans is depth. A 4″ deep full-size pan can hold 15 quarts while a larger 8″D pan holds over twice as much product. Just make sure your equipment can accommodate such a deep pan!

Pan Name Dimensions 2.5″D 4″D 6″D 8″D
Full Size 12.75″ x 20.75″ 9 Qt, 15 Qt. 22 Qt. 31.5 Qt.
Two Thirds 13.75″ x 12.75″ 6 Qt, 10 Qt. 14.25 Qt.
Half Size 12.75″ x 10.38″ 4 Qt, 7 Qt. 10 Qt. 15 Qt.
Third Size 12.75″ x 6.88″ 2.63 Qt, 4.5 Qt. 6.5 Qt.
Quarter Size 10.38″ x 6.38″ 1.63 Qt, 3 Qt. 4.75 Qt.
Sixth Size 6.88″ x 6.25″ 1.25 Qt, 2 Qt. 3 Qt.
Ninth Size 6.78″ x 4.25″ 0.63 Qt, 1.25 Qt.

Choose the Right Material for the Job

Next, consider what type of construction is needed for your application. From cooking methods to cleanability and presentation, you have several options.


A shallow depth full-size stainless steel pan.


Steel food pans are sometimes called steam table pans and are one of the most versatile types of food pan available. You can transfer steel food pans from the freezer to the oven or use a perforated pan in a steamer. These pans are easy to clean and highly durable, with high-quality pans made from 20- to 24-gauge 304 stainless steel. Choose a perforated pan when steaming food as the perforations on the bottom will allow water to drain more quickly, preventing soggy food.

Cold Food Pans

Perfect for catering, cold pans help keep your food cool (at or below 41° F) without using ice. Similar to reusable ice packs, these pans have a freezable fluid embedded in the ABS plastic liner. Just place the plastic cold pan into the freezer overnight and fill it with your chilled product. The cold pan will keep it cold for up to eight hours.

High Heat (usually Polysulfone)

High heat pans made of plastic are also versatile in the fact that they can go from the refrigerator to the oven or microwave to the steam table. Able to withstand temperatures from -40° to 300° F, they are also resistant to food acids and oils while also being dishwasher safe.


Selecting the right food pan shouldn’t be difficult.

Melamine Buffet Pans

Ideal for delis, supermarkets, family-style dining and buffets, Melamine pans provide the look and feel of china without the expense and are durable for food preparation and display. A great use for Melamine pans is catering a salad bar, keeping your food cold while still looking elegant.

More Options, More Efficiencies

In addition to your food pans, there are many accessories you can add on to make your kitchen more productive. For example, colander pans help liquids drain directly into the food pan below it for easy disposal, ideal for prepped produce or storing seafood/meat. Drain shelves rest on the bottom of food pans to allow for drainage, keeping your food fresher for a longer period of time. And don’t forget to purchase matching lids to all of your food pans.

ZESCO Has Them All

Zesco is your source for all smallwares. In addition to our vast catalog of equipment offerings, you will find over 25,000 supplies, smallwares and accessories on our website at – all available for quick shipping to your restaurant, bar or other foodservice establishments.

In the Indianapolis area? Stop by our 12,000 SQ. Ft. Showroom and pick up you immediate needs today. Most sizes and configurations of food pans are available for purchase in quantities of single items to bulk case purchases. Our expert staff can guide you through the selection process. We’re located at 640 N. Capitol Ave – just north of downtown. We’ve got plenty of free parking too!

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