A question that we often hear at this time of the year (particularly from busy parents) is how to prepare a holiday meal for a large gathering of people. Believe it or not, while it's definitely different cooking for a large group of people at home vs. in a professional kitchen, the same basic principles apply.
At this point, we should mention that if you're really looking to make your next holiday meal easy, we have everything you need for your holiday gathering - including roasts, side dishes, desserts, appetizers, and more.
What makes them so easy is that most require minimal prep or are designed to heat-and-serve, which really cuts down on the amount of work, allowing you to spend more time with your guests! That being said, if you prefer to do everything the hard way, then here are a few key tips on how to prep a big holiday dinner for your friends and family:
The most important thing is to be organized and plan ahead. You want to do most of the work long before your guests arrive. Several weeks before the event, figure out the guest list and menu. Make sure you have enough plates, silverware, glasses and serving dishes for the event. Gather all of the recipes for the dishes you want to prepare into one place for easy access.
Even if you don't use recipes, write down an outline of the ingredients for each dish. If you're ordering anything from us, be sure to do it in advance and don't be afraid to take advantage of our feature that lets you schedule your ship date. Make sure you have the kitchen equipment you need to pull of the event. Now would also be a good time to borrow or buy roasters to keep hot food warm on the day of the event (if needed).
Once you have your menu done and recipes in hand, it's time to make your shopping list. Make it as detailed as possible even if you know you already have an ingredient. This should be done several weeks before the event - then as you do your regular grocery shopping, you can start chipping away at the list little by little. Don't forget things like beverages, extra ice and other items you'll need.
This seems to be the most common mistake most people make: waiting until the last minute to thaw your large roasts or poultry. If you have a good cold fridge it can take up to a week for a large 15lb turkey to fully thaw. We recommend allowing a day for every 2 pounds of roast. This will be overkill in most cases, but having it thawed a day or two early will ensure you're ready to go day-of and won't affect your final meal.
This is the key to a smooth event. We recommend making three separate lists: one for things you can do several days in advance, one for the day before the event (this should be your largest list), and one for the day of the event.
Do as much as possible the day before the event. For really large gatherings, it's sometimes easier to go so far as to cook something like turkey the before, then slice it and put all of the meat into reheating pans prior to serving.
This frees up a lot of time on, but one thing to keep in mind when cooking food the day before is to cool it quickly and completely to prevent any bacterial growth. It's also important to reheat pre-cooked food quickly. That being said, be sure to practice good sanitation at all times. Don't let kids or family members help without first washing their hands, and make sure all containers and equipment are clean and sanitary.
Most professional chefs make a list they call the "fire list." This is basically a timeline for the day of your event that tells you when to start things and when to finish things, and it's particularly helpful if you only have one oven.
You'll want to plan what time things go into the oven and what time they should come out. The times should be in chronological order so on the day of the event, you can just go down the list and never forget anything. For instance, things like large roasts can come out of the oven up to an hour before you're planning on serving them - this allows your roast time to rest and frees up the oven for side dishes.
If you have one recipe that needs to be cooked at 400 degrees and another that needs 350, just compromise at 375 and adjust the cooking times appropriately. There are many tricks to keeping hot food hot, but the best is to use electric roasters and slow cookers. This frees up your oven and stove, allowing you to make several recipes ahead of time.
There you have it! If you take the time to craft a detailed plan in advance, it takes away a lot of the stress of cooking for a large group of people. Plus, in addition to your dinner going off without a hitch, you'll get to spend more quality time with friends and family. We call that a win/win.