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How to Cook for a Large Group

If you’re hosting a family gathering or a get-together with all your friends, you’ll have your work cut out for you. Cooking for a large group is time intensive, and it presents coordination problems; for example, how do you keep everything warm simultaneously?

Don’t worry. There are many individual strategies that can help you.

Invest in Your Kitchen (and Appliances)

First, make an investment in your kitchen and the tools and appliances you have at your disposal. Part of the problem with cooking for a large group is not having enough space or accommodations for all the foods you want to cook. But if you have plenty of pots, pans, and cooking appliances available, this won’t be an issue.

It’s much easier to cook for a big group if you have both an indoor and outdoor setup. An indoor kitchen and an outdoor kitchen, together, can give you tons more space – and allow two cooks to operate simultaneously. But even if you can’t afford such an option, you can get an outdoor flattop grill from or another outdoor cooking appliance to make your life easier.

Simplify Things

When cooking for a large group, try to simplify things. This isn’t the time to experiment with a new recipe or cook something that combines 50 different ingredients. Most of your guests won’t recognize the difference between a complex dish and a simple one, and even if they do, they’ll understand why you opted for the simple one.

This should save you a lot of time, allowing you to spend more time socializing and less time hovering over the stove. It can also reduce your stress and make the entire experience more enjoyable.

Prepare a Round of Appetizers

Want to keep your guests happy and entertained? Prepare a round of appetizers to serve while you’re finishing up the main course. Your appetizer doesn’t have to be complicated, and you can make it long in advance; even a simple charcuterie board can serve this purpose well.

Use a Mix of Hot and Cold Dishes

One of the most difficult juggling acts in the kitchen is keeping everything hot at the same time. But this task becomes much easier if only some of your dishes need to remain warm; if you serve a mix of hot and cold dishes, your work will be cut in half.

Keep Warm Foods Warm

There are a few interesting strategies you can use to keep your warm foods warm.

For example:

·       Stack and compress your foods. The more surface area you have, the quicker heat will dissipate. If you have less surface area, you’ll retain heat better. Accordingly, you should consider stacking or otherwise compressing your foods to prevent them from losing too much heat. Note that in some cases, this can prolong the cooking process, so it isn’t applicable to every dish or prepared food.

·       Use the warming function on your oven. Your oven probably has a warming function, and even if it doesn’t, you can replicate one by keeping your oven at a very low temperature. Keep this on and use it to maintain a place of warmth for your hot dishes. Just make sure you don’t leave them in long enough to dry out.

·       Keep foods in saucepans on low heat. If you have foods in saucepans, consider keeping them idling at low heat. Adding a lid to those pans can help retain heat even better.

·       Serve on prewarmed plates. Are you serving food to your guests directly? If so, consider prewarming your plates to prevent heat loss upon transfer.

Prep Whatever You Can in Advance

Spend time preparing whatever you can in advance. The day before you cook, you can do things like chop vegetables, measure out your ingredients, and even cook or bake things that don’t need to be served fresh. If you have multiple days to prepare, you’ll have even more time to knock out these types of tasks.

Utilize Your Slow Cookers

More than 50 years ago, the first slow cookers changed our cooking philosophies and kitchen options forever. Today, there are more options than ever before. Slow cookers are awesome for reducing effort in the kitchen and keeping dishes warm – so take advantage of them.

Get Help

Don’t feel like you have to do everything yourself. Consider enlisting the help of family members when orchestrating and cooking dishes, or consider turning all of your guests into veritable sous chefs. If nothing else, you can ask each guest to bring a side dish to minimize the effort you need to spend.

Serving food to a large group of people is challenging, but it’s also rewarding. If you can use these strategies to reduce stress and improve your overall experience, you’ll be able to make the most of this enriching social activity.

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