How to Light a Sterno

By Mark S. Baker

Sterno is a brand of canned heat cooking fuel used to keep food warm in food-holding vessels, such as chafing dishes, fondue pots and camping stoves. Although sometimes used to bring food up to a safe temperature for eating -- 165 degrees Fahrenheit -- Sterno is generally used to keep food at a safe temperature. Most commercially sold Sterno cans are filled with a pink, alcohol-and-water-based gel (made with ethanol and methanol). However, some professional Sterno products have a wick that is used for lighting. As with any open flame, caution should be used when lighting a can of Sterno.

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A can of Sterno will stay lit under a chafing dish for up to two hours.

Step 1

Remove the protective seal from of the can of Sterno, using a screwdriver or table knife.

Step 2

Pull up on the wick, located on the top of the fuel well, for easier lighting. Skip this step, if using gel-based Sterno fuel. Rinse your hands under cool water to remove any fuel from them. Dry your hands thoroughly.

Step 3

Place the can of Sterno into the holder cup beneath your chafing dish, fondue pot or other food-holding vessel. Close the lid of the Sterno holder cup until ready for use.

Step 4

Open the lid of the Sterno holder cup, when it's time to use it. Light the can of Sterno, using a butane lighter or match.

Step 5

Leave the lid open all the way, or adjust the flame by closing the lid slightly.