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.
Remove the protective seal from of the can of Sterno, using a screwdriver or table knife.
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.
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.
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.
Leave the lid open all the way, or adjust the flame by closing the lid slightly.
Extinguish the Sterno flame by closing the lid of the Sterno holder cup completely.
Never use a sharp knife to pry open the protective covering on a can of Sterno.
Based in Virginia Beach, Mark S. Baker has been working in editorial for more than 20 years. He has served as a writer and editor for publications such as the "Houston Post," "Boca Raton News" and "Interactive Week," among others. Baker also has a culinary arts degree from Johnson & Wales University and has his own catering business.