You want to host people at home for game day. Or your in-laws are apparently all showing up on your doorstep at once for a “casual” hangout this weekend. Don’t panic. We tapped chefs around the country to help you keep from losing it.
A lot of us tend to get pretty ambitious when it comes to hosting big groups. We shoot for the moon, sweating it out for days in advance. But what if you took every shortcut in the book, and were able to actually enjoy yourself? Here are tips and tricks from chefs around America for doing game day—or feeding any big, unruly crowd—right.
Check the weather
Look at the forecast several days out to decide whether you want that oven, grill, or broiler on—and whether you’ll be serving grub indoors or out. (It’s pretty easy to accidentally heat up your house and then have your guests sweating like mad while your A/C thunks away to no avail.)
Fill the freezer
What’s your freezer situation? Do you need to make stock today so you can freeze it for that chili for two weeks from now? Could you make the chili today, freeze it, and just warm it up on game day? Or could you make meatballs, freeze them, and throw them into sauce to warm them for sliders later? Do it!
Can it be DIY?
Remember how fun ice cream bars were when you were a kid? That pleasure applies to any meal that’s DIY. Think: Taco bars, chili bars, and even salads. I’m a fan of Deborah Madison’s vegetarian black bean chili. I let people help themselves and add garnishes like chopped chorizo, cilantro, sour cream, cheese, avocado, and hot sauce. My friend Pableaux Johnson has concocted a traveling dinner party out of his simple New Orleans red beans and rice. When he cooks the meal weekly at home, guests help themselves, piling on the hot sauce, scallions, and buttery cornbread.
Have one memorable garnish
Chef Jonathan Waxman of New York City’s Barbuto goes the chili route for tailgates, making a vegan chili in advance of game day and stashing it in the fridge overnight. What sets his chili apart, though, are the “corn stick” garnishes made in tiny corn molds that he serves alongside. Whether you splurge on a small amount of high-quality beef, cheese or farmer’s market veggies, see if you can’t have one exciting topping.
Can it be served at room temperature?
Keep in mind that having one big dish that can remain at room temperature is ideal (even if you want to fry up a batch of wings every hour on the hour till your team wins). Jared Bennett, chef of Metropole at 21c Cincinnati, is a fan of vegetable and grain salads for big crowds for just this reason. His go-to this fall? “Quinoa, charred pears, smoked duck, pumpkin seeds, charred beets, wheatberries, pickled onions, and farmer’s cheese.” Yum.
Sheet pans are your friend
As is always true when entertaining, be sure that you will have some fun, too. Your sheet pan can come in handy on this front; I have yet to see someone walk away from a gorgeous tray loaded with nachos. Raquel Pelzel, author of Sheet Pan Suppers—Meatless, suggests the sheet pan mac ‘n cheese, rice and beans, and even chili recipes from her forthcoming book. It’s a smart way to keep dirty dishes in check.
Can it be broiled?
Speaking of sheet pan nachos, if you’ve never experimented with simply broiling nachos—a game-changer that keeps your home relatively cool—it’s a revelation. game changer. It takes far less time to heat a broiler than it does a whole oven, and it’s a neat way to add instant heat or caramelization to toppings, toasts, veggies you roasted the day prior, or really most anything else.
Be sure to have veggies
People eat heavier food almost instinctively come fall and winter, but if you’re doing a chili, wings, or nachos, try to have something light and bright alongside. Even a simple, spicy cucumber salad that you can whip up from the crisper will go a long way. This time of year, I keep a copy of Raquel Pelzel’s Eggplant handy. The single-topic cookbook features eggplant polpettini (meatballs) packed with eggplant, panko, garlic, Pecorino Romano and basil, plus a yummy-looking baba ghanouj (eggplant dip).
Can it be pressure- or slow-cooked?
Even top-notch chefs are pulling out their slow cookers and pressure cookers these days. Tony Mantuano, chef-owner of Chicago’s Spiaggia, throws a few pounds of ribs into his slow cooker along with tomatoes, Chianti, garlic, and Calabrian chiles. Jonathan Searle, Executive Chef of Lockbox at 21c Lexington in Kentucky, simmers his garlicky, spicy green chile pork stew in a slow cooker, serving it with cornbread and light beer. And Hugh Acheson, whose slow-cooking-centric cookbook drops this October, shared his take on Chef David Chang’s famous bo ssam with us. It’s next on my list of things to cook, but please report back to our Facebook page if you try it!
Slow Cooker Bo Ssam
By Hugh Acheson, from The Chef and the Slow Cooker (Clarkson Potter, 2017)
Slow Cooker Size: 6+ quarts
Serves 10 to 12 (great for a dinner party!)
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 to 15 hours
- 1 bone-in pork shoulder (5 to 7 pounds)
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- “Chang-ian” Sauces (recipes follow)
- Freshly shucked oysters, as many as you can afford
- 2 cups cabbage kimchi, coarsely chopped
- 2 heads tender lettuce, such as Bibb or butter lettuce, separated into whole leaves
- Seasonal pickles, such as pickled turnips, cucumbers, radishes, or carrots (or whatever you have on hand), for serving
1. Pat the pork shoulder dry and season it well all over with salt.
2. Place a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the pork shoulder and sear it on all sides, starting with the fatty side, for about 5 minutes per side, until nicely browned. Transfer the pork to a slow cooker with the fat cap facing up. Sprinkle the brown sugar and red pepper flakes over the pork, cover the cooker with the lid, and cook on the low setting for 10 hours, until very tender; it can cook for up to 15 hours if you’d like.
3. To serve, remove the pork from the cooker and set it aside to cool slightly. Place the two sauces, oysters, kimchi, lettuce leaves, and pickles in separate serving vessels. Pull or slice the pork (it will let you know which it prefers) and arrange it on a platter. Instruct your guests to use a lettuce leaf like a taco shell and fill it with some pork, kimchi, sauces, some pickles, and an oyster. And provide plenty of napkins. It’s a tasty mess.
“CHANG-IAN” SAUCE A (SSAM SAUCE)
Gochujang and doenjang can be purchased from any Korean grocery store and most Asian markets.
Makes 1¼ cups
- ¼ cup gochujang (Korean chile paste)
- ½ cup doenjang (Korean soybean paste)
- ¼ cup cider vinegar
In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients, thinning the mixture with ¼ cup water. The sauce will keep, refrigerated, for many moons.
“CHANG-IAN” SAUCE B (SCALLION SAUCE)
Makes about 1½ cups
- 2 bunches scallions (white and light green parts only), thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- ¼ cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
In a small bowl, stir all the ingredients together. The sauce will keep, refrigerated, for about 1 week.
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, Gourmet, and Epicurious. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alexvanburen.