Cooking for a Crowd: Tips and Tricks

Cooking for a crowd doesn't have to be overwhelming. While the thought of designing a menu, prepping the food and cooking might seem like a challenging task, the process can be simplified with plenty of planning. Considering the size of your party and the time of the event can help you devise a menu that's as doable as it is delicious. Plus, by considering these factors, you'll serve a meal that suits the occasion. Before your next gathering, consider these tips and tricks for cooking for a crowd.

Gaya Shiny Ash Celadon Dinner Plates (Set of 4)

Designing the Menu

A successful gathering depends on a well-designed menu that you're confident in cooking. While you might be inclined to serve a new dish that will dazzle your friends and family, sticking to a trusted recipe that you know and love is a safer bet. Fortunately, many simple recipes are easy to cook for a crowd, and they always leave guests pleased.

When you're creating a menu, envision your event. Are you hosting a formal plated dinner party or a casual backyard barbecue? Does your guest list include just couples, or is the whole family invited? The number of guests is important to consider as well. A larger crowd, one with 20 or more people, calls for foods that you can easily prepare in large quantities. For a more intimate gathering, a plated meal or heavy hors d'oeurves might be your best bet.

Another important consideration is the time of your event. A gathering at a meal time, such as 12 p.m. or 6 p.m., calls for a more substantial menu than a mid-morning or mid-afternoon get-together. So, choose your event time wisely and design your menu with that in mind.

Evaluating Menu Options

The meal you serve to your family might not be the same one you serve to a house full of guests. After all, that three-course family meal might be easy to make in quantities of four or five, but it'd be a challenge to make dozens of the same meal. Fortunately, plenty of crowd-pleasing meal ideas can easily feed a group. Consider these options when designing your menu.

  • Food Bar: Let your guests serve themselves by creating a build-your-own food bar. A taco bar requires just taco meat, shells and tortillas and all the fixings. A baked potato bar calls for some spuds, butter, sour cream, cheese, bacon, chives and any other toppings you can imagine. Let your guests get creative as they create their own meals.
  • Grilling: Fire up the grill to feed a crowd. Whether you're grilling chicken and steak kebabs or hamburgers and hot dogs, grilling allows you to make a large quantity of food with ease. Plus, much of it can be prepped in advance. Add a few of your famous side dishes to complete these meals.
  • Casseroles: Casseroles can feed a large group, and they're easy to prep beforehand. Host an Italian night and serve a few casseroles, including lasagna or baked ziti. Garlic bread and a salad add the finishing touch.

Prepping Food

Once you've designed your menu, devise a plan to get the food ready before your party. Do as much prep work as you can before the party begins. Doing so allows you to clean the kitchen before guests arrive, and it frees up your time so that you can socialize. Chop up vegetables, season meats and prepare any side dishes that can easily be reheated. Rely on a crockpot to keep food warm. Set your dinner table or buffet table so that it's ready for your completed foods.

Preparing Food

Obviously, not every dish is able to be made hours ahead of party time. Some items will require last-minute prep. Before your party day arrives, determine when you need to start cooking. For example, your lasagna might take an hour to prepare and an hour to bake. Determine which foods need to be cooked at the last minute so that they are fresh and hot. Write out a timeline so that you don't forget any foods and prepare everything in the proper order to ensure you throw a successful event.

Serving Your Meal

Your meal is ready, your guests are hungry and it's time to serve. Offering your meal buffet style or family style is the easiest option. This method allows your guests to choose the foods they want and the portions they need. Plus, it saves you the hassle of plating each meal. Use a kitchen island, dining room buffet table or even a portable folding table as your buffet. Select your favorite serving platters to display your foods, and don't forget serving utensils so that your guests can move effortlessly through the buffet line.

Audrey Dining Buffet - Parchment

With some thoughtful planning, cooking for a crowd can go off without a hitch. Follow these tips to plan an event, design a menu and cook foods that will please a crowd.

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