Why You Need Gastronorm Pans In Your Life

You know those things they have at salad bars? They’re also amazing at home

Daniel Rosehill
9 min readNov 11, 2019

To continue with the long progress of documenting random things I find interesting — evidenced visually by the mushrooming tags cloud in the sidebar of this blog — I thought I would write up a quick note on my love of Gastronorm pans, and commercial-grade cookware in general.

According to Wikipedia:

Gastronorm sizes are standard sizes of containers used in the catering industry specified in the EN 631 standards

Relatively few outside the catering and restaurant industry even know that these things exist.

Here are some reasons that I think is a travesty.

A row of quarter / one-over-four hotel pans / gastros beneath some daily staples in a (consumer) refrigerator

1: They Make Your Home Feel Like An All-You-Can-Eat Buffet

Few places in the world are as wonderful as all you can eat buffets.

Speaking of which, add that to my list of gripes in the Ireland vs. Israel post: this country is virtually bereft of them!

If you want to recreate the magical feeling of gorging on vast quantities of ethnic food within the comfort of your own home, all you need is a pile of GN pans (best known to those in the catering and food industry as ‘hotel pans’ or ‘gastros’), a bain marie (or alternatively a more consumer-oriented electric buffet pan warmer; Amazon link here), and a massive appetite.

2: They’re Made for Restaurants (And Caterers) — So They’re Food-Industry Rugged

Gastronorm pans are as hearty as they look. Trust me, these things will take a beating.

Gastronorm / hotels pans can be:

  • Used as a percussion instrument in combination with your favorite’s chef’s spoon, which is another piece of industrial cookware that everybody absolutely should own.
  • Used as a form of cymbal by clacking the Gastronorm’s lid against the body of the Gastronorm repetitively.
  • Alternatively, used in the same manner as a form of kitchen gong to indicate when a dish has been completed.

More conventionally, they can be:

  • Put in an oven
  • Put in a freezer
  • Put in a fridge
  • Put on a hot plate

3: They’re Versatile! Perfect for Carrying, Storing, Heating, Freezing, and Serving

Get some chef pans, a label maker, some waterproof labels — and you’re ready to host at scale — and in style!

Anybody that’s been to a buffet has almost certainly interacted with a gastronorm pan — although few besides the restaurant owners probably know them by that name.

Gastronorms fit perfectly in the refrigerator and I’ve observed that there seems to be some weird Gastronorm/refrigerator dynamic at play.

I can stack two 10cm Gastronorms into the lower shelf of my fridge and they fit perfectly with not a excess millimeter of headspace gone to waste.

Better than that, GN pans are the perfect receptacle for every stage of the food preparation and consumption process.

You can:

  • Store raw ingredients in Gastronorms
  • Store coked ingredients in Gastronorms
  • Heat up food for serving directly in a Gastronom
  • Insert said Gastronorms into a bain marie or place them onto a trivet to serve you or your guests from

4: They’re Modular (And Made To An International Standard)

Goat on a bed of freekeh in a GN pan

GN pans are perfect for stacking one on top of the other in a way that regular kitchen storing bowls simply are not.

Because they’re standardized according to a European directive (“ EN-631: Materials and Articles in Contact with Foodstuffs — Catering Containers — Dimensions of Containers”), difference sizes of GN pan can also be stacked one on top of the other in a refrigerator.

Forget trying to get that IKEA bowl to sit on top of that rectangular box thing you got as a gift from your coworker.

Gastronorms fit perfectly whether alongside or on top of one another and make fantastic use out of refrigerator storage space.

To work out what will fit, all you need is to know some simple arithmetic: two 1/4 tubs will fit on top of a 1/2, etc.

In fact, the more Gastronorms you own the more uses you seem to find for them, just as you will often see in commercial kitchens.

I have one dedicated solely to housing lids for the other pans in my kitchen while another is boxing off ice storage trays in the freezer compartment.

Another fun facet of knowing Gastronorm sizes not to be taking lightly is that you can impress serving staff and friends by being able to describe the size of pan an ingredient is being held in.

If there’s a cooler party trick, I don’t know of it.

“Some cabbage please,” marks you out as just another average punter looking for a sandwich filling.

Can I have a big of the cabbage? You see the one in that quarter [Gastronorm]” subtly communicates to staff that they’re dealing with a fellow food industry professional and that they better be on their guard to make the best sandwich in the world for you. I’m just trying to be funny, of course.

Speaking of GN sizes, that’s actually my favorite thing about them.

As mentioned, it’s a legitimate international standard.

There are no regional or international “interpretations” that I’m aware of as to what size a quarter pan should be.

The only differences you’ll find between manufacturers relate to the material used (you can find stainless steel, the commercial kitchen standard, as well as aluminimum, glass, and even plastic).

The sizes are described as fractions of a full (1/1 pan), such that four 1/4 Gastronorms (called a “quarter pan”) would fit perfectly into a horizontal 1/1 pan at a sandwich counter.

Embracing The Gastronom Way

As trivial as it may seem, the Gastronorm pan size convention is one of the best examples of successful international standardization (and cooperation) that I have ever come across, although granted my expertise on this matter is minor.

Pan sizes for the restaurant industry seem to be internationally uncontroversial, which makes me wonder why can’t we do the same about a lot of other things such as the unit of measurement for reporting temperature in or whether we use the metric or Imperial system?

I don’t know if anybody has — or can — quantify the costs to the aviation industry of having disparate systems for denoting air pressure and calibrating altimeters in the US and Europe (by reference to air pressure as pounds per square inch of mercury and Hecopascals respectively).

But surely simply having two measurement systems for denoting the exact same measurement has both a direct financial cost as well as a less tangible one in the form of creating confusion between people from different “systems”. Not to mention the fact that it adds to the body of knowledge which somebody working in the other “system” needs to familiarize themselves with.

Not so in the comparatively enlightened catering world.

You can literally walk into a restaurant supply store in countries separated by thousands of miles and you will find the same familiar fraction-based sizes.

I think that’s pretty cool.

But coming back to my gastronorms.

The ones I have at home are:

  • 1/4 pans: rectangular; enough to hold about four servings of a dish. 1/3 pans are roughly the same shape but slightly longer and wider. I would find them a little too large.
  • 1/6 pans: square; enough to hold about two servings of a dish. Also a great size for storing prepped ingredients.
  • 1/9 pans: small pans that can fit in the side of a fridge and which are great for storing small quantities of sauces, like pesto.

GN pans also come in a variety of standardized depths.

Typically, they can be the following depths, in mm:

This adds another dimension to their versatility.

A deep sixth (1/6 x 200mm) is perfect for ladelling soup out of into a bowl while a flat 40mm deep third would be a great size in which to store chips, for extraction with a pair of kitchen tongs.

5: You Buy Them in Restaurant Supply / Catering Stores

Restaurant / catering supply stores are surely one of the most underrated shopping experiences on the planet.

If you can find one that isn’t trade-only (doesn’t sell to just restaurants) you can buy professional-grade cookware for often the same price as you can buy grossly inferior consumer stuff.

Additionally, restaurant supply places stock:

  • Things like chef spoons which aren’t typically found in consumer kitchen stores.
  • Things like giant 40 liter aluminium pots for homebrewing which would also never be found in a store for general consumers.

These are also fortunately the home of Gastronorm pans!

You will feel like a kid in a candy store as you eagerly eye up new depths of pans to add to your collection. Perhaps you want a 2/3? Or even a 65mm deep 1/3. Your options are wide open.

6: They’re Transportable

I’ve frequently brought Gastronorm pans to friends’ homes for meals.

The only negative is that the lids don’t seal fully — so a strip of sellotape can be required to make sure that nothing spills.

Otherwise, because they stack so well, you can easily bring a dish or a selection of them to your next meal, stick them right in the oven / on the hot plate to warm up, and then just put the pan on a trivet for serving.

You can comfortably fit a stack of three or four quarters (stocked vertically) into an IKEA bag containing everything you need for a successful Indian dinner party:

  • A quarter full of curry
  • A quarter full of rice
  • A quarter full of popadoms
  • A quarter full of fruit salad

You could also throw in a few 1/9s full of various dips along the side if you had room.

You get the idea!

How more convenient could it be?

Additional Benefits of Gastronorm Life

Some other subtle ways in which adopting the Gastronorm Way has brought positive change into my life:

  • I’m never missing a lid. I separate between meat / dairy / for-Passover-only in my kitchen and label each Gastronorm body and lid accordingly with dishwasher-proof stickers. Other than that, GN pans and lids are completely interchangeable — irrespective of the depth of the pan.
  • My fridge storage is way more efficient: I have less random ingredients lying around as cooking — and actually eating what I cook (next point) — helps stuff get used up. Everything fits into well-organized blocks into my fridge and dry wipe markers help keep track of what is what (and when it might be expected to go off).
  • I eat way more leftovers. Traditionally, I a terrible food waster and poor at eating leftovers. Since I’ve adopted the Gastronorm Way I, for some reason, am much better at eating leftoveres in the fridge. It’s also really easy to combine separate dishes.

Share My Gastronormania?

Sadly I’ve yet to find a non-restaurant-owner that shares my enthusiasm and still get quizzical looks when I need to profess to being a private customer at my nearest catering supply place.

If you’re also riding the GN-pan bandwagon, drop me a line.

Originally published at https://www.danielrosehill.co.il



Daniel Rosehill

Daytime: writing for other people. Nighttime: writing for me. Or the other way round. Enjoys: Linux, tech, beer, random things. https://www.danielrosehill.com