Humidified Holding vs. Hot Boxes – What’s the Diff?

CVap humidified holding cabinet

Obviously, there are lots of holding cabinets. Naturally, you might think they’re pretty much the same. However, they are quite different.

In fact, there are three basic holding cabinet categories: dry, passive humidified, and humidified. First, let’s compare the different types.

Dry Cabinets

Indeed, dry cabinets are simple metal boxes with heating elements. Notably, they’re sometimes called “hot boxes.” After all, they’re the most basic cabinet type. Undoubtedly, they’re the bottom tier of holding cabinets.

Dry Cabinet Advantages

  • In general, food holds in a hot dry atmosphere. For this reason, it’s ideal for quick service during busy periods.
  • Notably, minimal cleaning is required.
  • Simple operation.
  • Lower cost than more advanced cabinets.

Dry Cabinet Disadvantages

  • Critically, the dry atmosphere decreases hold times. Furthermore, moisture evaporates from food, decreasing food quality.
  • Naturally, heat rises. Consequently, this causes temperature fluctuations.
  • Additionally, dry cabinets utilize a thermostat. These require regular calibration. Critically, thermostats are only accurate within 10˚F.
  • To clarify, food temperature is not controlled precisely.
  • Clearly, food quality is not the primary focus.
dry cabinet

Passive Humidified Holding Cabinets

Notably, passive cabinets feature an interior water bath. However, the water temperature is not directly controlled. Consequently, the water vapor only indirectly affects food quality.

Passive Humidified Holding Cabinet Advantages

  • Significantly, food holds in a hot, humid atmosphere. To be sure, this facilitates quick service during busy periods.
  • All in all, increased humidity provides better hold time than dry cabinets.
  • Lower cost than some more advanced cabinets.
  • Indeed, provides better yields than dry cabinets.
  • Simple operation.

Passive Humidified Holding Cabinet Disadvantages:

  • Significantly, small water bath limits humidity.
  • Water is not heated separately. Consequently, this causes poor food temperature control.
  • Significant hot and cold zones.
  • Notably, most passive cabinets utilize a thermostat. These require calibration. Critically, thermostats are only accurate within 10˚F.

Humidified Holding Cabinets

Notably, humidified cabinets feature large water reservoirs. Critically, the reservoir heats directly, not passively.

Humidified Holding Cabinet Advantages

  • Certainly, food holds hot. Indeed, facilitates quick service during busy periods.
  • Heated reservoir is adjustable. Consequently, it provides better control over food quality.
  • Importantly, provides extended hold times.
  • In general, fenerates good temperature stratification.
  • Delivers better overall food quality than dry or passive cabinets.
  • Increased yield.

Humidified Holding Cabinet Disadvantages

  • Critically, water temperature may not be controlled precisely. Consequently, food temperature control is not exact.
  • In general, humidity level is commonly adjusted by a 0-10 setting. Consequently, water temperature isn’t controlled precisely.
  • Notably, insulated reservoirs can climb past the desired setting. In fact, this causes food temperatures to overshoot (in some cabinets).
  • May utilize a thermostat. These require regular calibration and are only accurate within 10˚F.
  • Surprisingly, settings are often determined by trial and error.
  • Daily cleaning is recommended.
  • Notably, the cost is higher than dry or passive humidified cabinets.
humidified holding cabinet

CVap® Holding Cabinets

Of course, CVap is the top dog. Since food is mostly water it behaves like water when heated. CVap controls food temperature via heated water vapor.

Does CVap Equipment Use Humidity?

Yes and no. In fact, a humid atmosphere alone isn’t enough to control food quality. To clarify, CVap controls both temperature and texture through a dual-heat system of moist and dry heat. Vapor heat controls food temperature. On the other hand, air heat controls food texture.

In contrast, other humidified cabinets employ humidity for texture control. But it doesn’t work. Critically, they attempt to affect food texture by decreasing the humidity level. However, this decreases food temperature and overall quality. CVap’s ability to control food quality truly sets it apart.

CVap Holding Cabinet Advantages

  • Food holds at the desired temperature, for extended times. Perfect for service during busy or slow periods.
  • The food temperature and texture are independently controlled.
  • Eliminates hot and cold zones.
  • Microprocessor eliminates calibration. It is accurate to within 2˚F.
  • Offers the best overall food quality and longest holding times.
  • CVap prevents food from drying out. It keeps food’s exterior as desired.
  • Food remains above the temperature danger zone
  • Reduces food waste. This lowers food costs.

CVap Holding Cabinet Disadvantages

  • CVap is simply the best. Consequently, the price is higher than some competitors.
  • Some operators simply don’t need an extended hold.
  • Looks similar to some humidified cabinets. This can cause confusion.
  • Daily cleaning is recommended.
CVap humidified holding cabinet

Relieving Pain Points

CVap Holding Cabinets resolve pain points.

  1. Ticket Times – Naturally, long ticket times mean fewer customers served. Critically, CVap reduces ticket times.
  2. Food Quality – CVap maintains food’s intended quality.
  3. Employee Skill – Under-skilled employees can mishandle food. This increases food costs. Consequently, this causes poor food quality, long ticket times, or an inability to serve high volumes. CVap simplifies operation, meaning staff operates with push-button simplicity. It reduces the labor needed to operate effectively.
  4. High Labor Costs – Many restaurants overstaff to assure operation. CVap reduces staff requirements. This lowers labor expenses.
  5. Food Safety/FDA Compliance – Many facilities utilize HACCP. CVap is particularly effective for HACCP temperature compliance. It records up to two years of data. Downloads are easy.

Kentucky Lamb Hams – Not B-a-a-a-a-d!

Ham. The very word brings to mind the many variations of the savory pork product. In the vast majority of cases, when folks say “ham,” they mean pork. However, I was talking with my friend Valerie Samutin about her lambs on Freedom Run Farm. She told me about the history of lamb ham in Kentucky. Apparently lamb was the protein of choice for Kentucky settlers in colonial times. In order to preserve lamb for winter consumption, they would cure hind quarters, just like we do with pork.

I love to fuse historical traditions with new technologies. Our commonwealth was formerly well-known as a core market for sheep and lamb production. Remnants of that heritage can still be found in central Kentucky, where dishes such as the mutton-based burgoo remain very popular. I decided to use Freedom Run Farm’s wonderful lamb to test the hot smoking abilities of our Winston Smoker Box in a CVap® Holding Cabinet. Hot smoked lamb ham!

Chef Barry Hams it Up

One big salty ham poses next to another big salty ham. The ham on the left is pork. The ham on the right is our late friend Chef Barry.


  • 50g Prague powder (cure) No. 2
  • 80g KY Spice Berries (substitute fresh ground peppercorns if spice berries aren’t available)
  • 500g light brown sugar or turbinado sugar
  • 700g pure sea salt (iodine free)
  • 4-6kg fresh lamb leg, bone in and hoof on
  • Sugna:1kg olive oil mixed with flour to make a thick paste ***optional
  • (You need 80g cure for each 1kg of lamb leg) Approximately 300- 500 grams of cure per leg
lamb hams begins curing


  1. Very important! Weigh lamb leg and record weight! Record day and time of curing start as well and keep for your records! You will certainly need this information later, to determine when the hams are ready.
  2. Make curing mixture with the first four ingredients above. Mix thoroughly.
  3. Rinse lamb leg thoroughly and pat dry with a paper towel. Then rub the lamb with the cure mixture. Don’t worry about using too much. Rub firmly, pushing the leg bone with your thumbs. Notably, there is a main artery there that may not have been thoroughly mind, this process helps work out any remaining blood. Once this is complete, rub more cure around the aitch (hip) bone. This is the exposed bone/joint where the leg was severed from the lamb’s torso (VERY important step).
raw lamb hind quarter
lamb legs
bony end of the lamb legs
  1. Place lamb leg on a bed of salt in a nonreactive container. Plastic is preferable, but an old school wooden rack works too. In this case I used nonreactive plastic seeding trays. Place lamb in a refrigerated environment for a minimum of ten days. Turn daily, and make sure that cure is redistributed daily. If necessary, add more cure. The general rule of thumb for curing is one day per kilogram, but no less than ten days.
salted lamb
very salty lamb ham
lamb ham
lamb closeup
lamb in cvap

Smoking the Lamb

  1. After the curing period is complete, rinse lamb and refrigerate for 24 hours. This allows for good pellicle formation. Pellicle is a skin or coating of proteins on the meat surface that allows smoke to adhere during the smoking process.
  2. After the 24 hour refrigeration, place lamb hams in a CVap Holding Cabinet at 165°F vapor temp and 170°F air temp. Place hickory chunks in Winston smoker box and set timer for three hours. Once cabinet is preheated, place lamb into CVap and hot smoke until internal temperature reaches 155°F. [Note: Although CVap equipment doesn’t usually require vent hoods, the addition of a smoker box will usually require utilization of a vent hood. Always check local codes.]
  3. After lamb reaches 155°F, remove from CVap cabinet, weigh, and record weight. At this time, some folks like to add a sugna (a mixture of fat and flour) on the cut surface of the ham. This is classically done with prosciutto, iberico, or Appalachian mountain hams to keep the cut surface from excessively drying. In this case, I don’t believe that it is necessary, as lamb takes less time to cure and reach maturity than a traditional leg of pork. Keep in a refrigerated environment until the lamb leg has lost 25-30 % of its original weight. Once this weight loss has been achieved, your lamb ham should be ready.
smoking lamb hams

Lamb preserved this way should be shelf stable for up to six months. There is no need to age longer, because hot smoking kills the enzymes that would generate any further flavor complexities. Once the ham has been cut, wrap cut surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Another option is to bone the ham and vacuum seal individual piece that can be cut later.

smoked lamb hams
finished lamb ham
slicing the lamb ham

In this case we sampled to a lot of chef friends, and also shared with Bob Perry at his 3rd annual Kentucky Neurogastronomy Symposium held at the University of Kentucky.

barry yates

About the Author

Chef Barry Yates was a seasoned pro. A certified chef, he owned and operated his share of restaurants. With over two decades at Winston, he was definitely the Yoda of the team. Chef Barry was part culinary guru, part food scientist, part blogger, part pig farmer, part biker, and full-time fanatic about all things foodservice!

Fried Chicken and Steamed Rice Held in CVap Stay So Nice!

Cvap Steaming rice

Uncle Jack Fried Chicken is a Malaysian restaurant chain. They use our Collectramatic pressure fryers. Ordinarily, they serve chicken from a display warmer. To maximize holding time, they limit the warmer to 35°C (95°F), putting a limit on the amount of time they could hold chicken before it was no longer fit to sell. We suggested they test our CVap holding cabinet, in the hopes of extending holding time and improving food quality. We tested fried chicken and steamed rice. The results were exciting!

Holding Cabinet Preparation

The CVap cabinet was set at food temperature 54°C (129°F) and food texture at + 28°C (82°F). We gave the cabinet 45 minutes to preheat.


The chicken moved from the fryer to the holding cabinet (15 pieces). Chicken was crispy outside, moist inside. The meat was very hot to touch. The taste was really good.


Cooked rice (wrapped in oil paper) was put into the same holding cabinets with fried chicken. Initial rice quality was moist, sticky, and fragrant.

13:05pm: (holding 60 minutes)

The chicken was still crispy outside (though slightly less crisp than when first removed from fryer). Interior was still hot, and the color was unchanged. The chicken breading remained crisp.

13:05pm: (holding 60 minutes)

Chicken was still crispy and moist. Color was good. Food retained flavor, with minimal freshness loss.

13:55pm (holding for 2 hours)

The skin remained crispy, though not as crisp as when initially fried. Flavor and moisture were still good. Color had not darkened.

14:00pm (rice held for 2 hours)

Rice was hot and tasted fresh. Not dried out at all.

15:35pm (3.5 hour holding time)

The chicken tasted good. Its skin remained crispy, and its meat, moist. Although it was not “just cooked” fresh after 3.5 hours, it was still at a safe temperature. It remained appetizing enough to serve.

15:40pm (after holding for 3.5 hours)

Rice was hot, and texture was good.

CVap Holding Cabinet Test Conclusions

Electricity Consumption: 800 watts

Holding Capacity per Cabinet: 13 full-size sheet pans, each rack equals one basket (4 heads) chicken or 338 pieces

Goals for Future Testing

  1. Extending the holding time for the chicken without compromising the texture, taste, and food safety.
  2. Testing other products, (wrapped rice was incorporated).
  3. Improving staff workflow.
  4. Staff can pre-prepare chicken during lean hours in preparation for peak hours, shortening the waiting time while producing the best-tasting fried chicken.
  5. During lean hours, customers can still savor the taste of freshly fried chicken.
  6. Minimize food shrinkage.
  7. Minimize food waste.
  8. Consequently, extension of holding times for other foods is possible since CVap cabinets are versatile enough to hold both crispy and moist foods. So holding fried chicken and steamed rice together was not a problem!

One Final Note – CVap Technology is Great, But It’s Not Magic.

The very nature of fried foods (crisp outside with moist interior) promotes evaporation. CVap technology is the best available to maximize holding time, but even CVap, using the necessary high differential setting (the difference of food texture setting over the food temperature setting) will eventually lose the battle to maintain food temp and freshness. It’ll hold fresh longer than the competitors, but if the food is crunchy (fried chicken, French fries, etc), it can only be held for so long.

On the other hand, moist foods, such as rice or noodles, are perfect for CVap and can be held for many hours with no loss of temperature or quality.

The consensus of the Uncle Jack test was that it was possible to lengthen the chicken’s holding time. More testing is needed to perfect the texture, taste, and crispiness.

Award of Equipment to White Bear Lake Area Schools

CVap cabinets are great for school nutrition

Winston Announces 2017 Award of Equipment to White Bear Lake Area Schools

The 2017 Winston Equipment Grant Award was given to White Bear Lake Area Schools in Minnesota. This annual grant award program was established in partnership with the School Nutrition Foundation (SNF) to help deserving schools serve hot, nutritious meals to their students.

Grant winners may choose any ten pieces of Winston’s CVap® equipment. WBL Area Schools selected ten CVap holding cabinets.

The schools’ Student Nutrition Services Director, Bridget Lehn, is frank about the challenges her district faces. They’ve been making do with aging equipment, but she’s optimistic about the effect new cabinets will have. “New equipment will increase meal participation due to the improved quality of food. Our current warmers are either scorching food or not keeping it warm enough. Some of the warmers are adding excess moisture or drying out product, all due to inconsistent heating or lack of insulation. Word of mouth moves quickly; the kids are very intuitive and will notice the improved food. When they tell their friends, participation goes up.

About White Bear Lake Area Schools
The White Bear Lake Area School District serves all or parts of Birchwood, Gem Lake, Hugo, Lino Lakes, Little Canada, Maplewood, North Oaks, Vadnais Heights, White Bear Lake and White Bear Township. It includes four Early Childhood program locations (birth-K), nine elementary schools (K-5), two middle schools (6-8), a two-campus high school (9-12), an Area Learning Center, and a Transition Education Center. The school district serves nearly 9,000 students PreK-12.

bridget lehn sns - award winner

Bridget Lehn, SNS