Easy catering suggestions for 50

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Joined May 31, 2018
Hello Everyone,

I am throwing a summer party and expecting the guest count to be around 50. Outdoor venue, basic menu nothing fancy. My problem was the last one I did I was stuck on the grill for most of the function making hamburgers & hot dogs and was unable to really enjoy the party.

If anyone has any easy menu suggestions it would be appreciated! I have heard of one chef that slow roasted whole tenderloins which he brought to an internal temp of 120, then cut into 1" steaks an put on the grill for a few minutes to sear. I thought this might solve the problem but not sure how good the result would be - any input? He also served a baked potato (easy) and corn on the cob.

Thanks in advance!

Steve
 
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A good easy one is southern BBQ. Pulled Pork, Pulled Chicken, and Sliced Brisket (this one is a little more tricky, but if you can control temp, it's not that bad) Served with Baked Beans, Mac and Cheese, Cole Slaw, Fruit Salad, Corn on the Cob, etc.

Not sure how much grill space you have, but you can cook all in advance. Wrap in Foil and then a towel and put in a large cooler. or warm oven. Shred right when the party begins. And keep in cheap aluminum chafers. You will be free to mingle the whole time.

Tenderloin would be good, but very pricey and you would still spend a lot of time at the grill.
 
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Don't know how much equipment you will need to prepare tenderloins for 50, but what I learned on this site is to sous vide the meat and then give it the quick grill. Great technique.
 
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There is no real way to avoid food prep and service from dominating your time at a party you are hosting unless you hire someone to do that for you, which may not be a bad idea.

However, if you are going to do it yourself, you must understand there is no such thing as a "simple menu" when it comes to 50+ people. Even if your only menu item was buttered popcorn, it would still be an undertaking to make enough for 50+ people.

The most important concern you are going to have with preparing food for that many people is food safety. Managing a prep and cooking system on your own that ensures your proteins and any dairy products do not spend one more minute than they have to in the temperature "danger zone" is very important. This factor should be one of your chief concern when selecting your menu choices.

To that end, the simple rule is the more fancy your menu, the more time you are going to spend dealing with food than with your guests. Try to avoid "made to order" items like beef. Not only will it be very expensive but, everyone likes their meat cooked to different temps. Not to mention you will have to use quite a few grills.

Chicken is another choice that should be avoided.

Here are some simple and relatively less time consuming menu possibilities.

- Fruit salad. Fresh fruit is in season this time of year and relatively inexpensive, not to mention a huge crowd pleaser. A little goes a long way and the only prep is very, very easy.......just cut, put in large bowls and refrigerate. This can be done the night before and once served, does not have to be kept cold.

- Potato or macaroni salad. This is another bulk food that is rather simple and economical to make. There are literally countless recipes. The only problem with mac and potato salad is that it should be kept cool. Solution: serve in a metal bowl and place the metal bowl in a larger bowl of ice.

- Hot dogs and sausages. You can buy these in bulk and you don't have to worry about cooking the different ways your guests want their meat. Sausages are cooked until they are cooked through. The same with hot dogs. Serve them up with sauteed or grilled onions and peppers and you are good to go.

- Boiled Salt Potatoes. This one is a recipe from that originated in my home town in Upstate New York. Its cheap and can be made in bulk and kept hot in the boiled water throughout service. Use small, young white potatoes or small red potatoes(white potatoes work better), boil them in salted water (1 cup salt for every 6 cups water) and serve hot with plenty of melted butter.

- Like planethoff planethoff suggested, BBQ would be a reasonably easy menu. Pulled pork and ribs are always favorites and can be made in bulk relatively easily.

- If cost is not a major concern, feature a seafood boil. Just toss any combination of crab legs, clams, mussels, shrimp, lobster tails and claws, potatoes and pieces of corn on the cob all in a large pot of boiling water. Use another pot to melt butter. This would be very pricey, but, also very simple.

If you are going to use grills, I would suggest gas grills and have no less than 4 with topped off tanks and at least 1 spare. Managing charcoal for that many grills is a chore all by itself.

I hope this helps.

Good luck. :)
 
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Oh yea nothing is more time consuming on the grill than burgers and dogs. Every single one of us has leaned that lesson the hard way. I’m with the above posters, pulled pork is awesome, easy, and can be made the day before!! Tenderloin? Ouch that will be expensive and you’ll still be stuck on the grill. Plus you’ll have people demanding “can you cook my steak a little more please, it’s too red I’m the middle.” If you are adamant about steak make hanger steak, it’s huge, it’s easy to cook, and you can designate someone to slice it and douse it with chimicchurri.

Rice salad is seriously underrepresented at bbqs.
 
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When I make potato salad for parties I make the German version. Vinegar and olive oil is much less subject to spoilage/bacteria than mayo.

Rice salads, yes. Underrepresented. So are chickpea salads. I make ahead a to die for version with chopped red onion, lemon, olive oil, cumin, and cilantro. It goes fast.
 
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You can make big trays of TexMex salad-dip much in advance, use foil trays, and then either heat in an oven or let sit on a grill for a while.

Start with a big batch (3# dry should do it, I'd think) of mashed pinto beans, and stir in chopped onion. Season to taste and spread out in the trays. Now cover the surface with grated cheese, shredded radish, sliced pickled jalapeno, cilantro (maybe cilantro on only half the trays, as some people hate it), more chopped or sliced and well-rinsed onions, shredded lettuce, seeded and chopped tomatoes, etc. Have a couple of big bags of tortilla chips sitting next to the trays. Easy, cheap, healthy, and extremely filling.

I second the suggestion of a rice salad. If serving the beans above, also provide a rice salad based on the same flavor profile. Anyone who loads up a plate of both isn't going to eat all that much more!

A gigantic salade Nicoise or similar will also go a long way and can be made almost entirely in advance. If you can get good French-style boules, you could turn them and the salad into pain bagnat, which has to be made hours ahead anyway. Slice and serve.
 
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Wow! You guys came up with some really good suggestions! Now I just need to decide. Keep them coming if you like. Thanks!!!
 
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If you have a Russian or Eastern European grocery around, you could make fromage frais (unpleasantly known as cervelle de canut). Buy 2-4# of Tvarog, which is dirt cheap farmer cheese. For each pound, stir in:

1/2 cup minced fresh herbs (think French here)
1-2 Tb wine vinegar
A lot of fresh-ground black pepper
1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced

Once well mixed, taste. You want it to be a little on the salty side, so keep stirring and adding kosher salt until it seems so to you.

Scrape the mass onto doubled cheesecloth (in as many batches as you must depending on the size of the cheesecloth). Pull up the corners and knot together to form a loose ball. Thread a wooden spoon or the like through under the knot and hang the ball in a deep measuring cup, jug, or whatever, in the fridge. It should be well clear of the bottom of the container.

Let hang 2-3 days. A good bit of water will come out, which you can feed to your plants. When ready to serve, remove the spoon, untie the ball, and gently unmold on a plate. Serve with lots of crackers.

If you have herbs in the garden and a Russian grocery around, I think you can make 4# of this for about $15. Expect compliments and leftovers.
 
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If you're a little adventurous, a whole turkey galantine can be made for very little, and it's impressive on a platter. If you season it well, people will also dive in headfirst. It's a pretty standard thing: Julia Child, Jacques Pépin, all those folks have recipes. A good bit of work, but you do it days in advance. The same goes for any pâté preparation, but many of those will get expensive.

I was once tasked to prepare nibbles for 100 on a shoestring, but lots of people were willing to donate if I was specific. I did the fromage frais, three pâtés, a big Niçoise, and fromage fort. The latter I approached as stone soup, if you know that old folktale.

Fromage fort: throw all your old cheese (cut in chunks, no mold) into a processor. Add a little minced garlic and some sweet butter. Turn on the machine and add some dry white wine. Keep working it, scraping down, until it's basically smooth. Pack in a crock and refrigerate until needed.

So I got a local store to donate a bottle of wine (this was a charity thing). Then I begged the other organizers to give me all the old cheese from their fridges. Guilt being what it is, and the others having done stunningly little toward the event, everyone ran out and bought some inexpensive cheese. Cost to me: 3 cloves garlic, 1 stick butter, a little effort. Yield: 10# excellent fromage fort. It was very popular.
 
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Is potluck acceptable among your friends? You could provide a main dish or two, perhaps something else but have everyone bring a dish. Quite popular in this area.
I did a small catered party. The client asked for a roast tenderloin, cooked medium rare, served room temp, sliced for small sandwiches. Sliced about half the loin on site, set on a platter with knife handy so guests could cut any more they desired. Some nice rolls, precut on the side and some condiments. Salad, scallop potatoes also room temp and asparagus with lemon dressing.
You could probably do a pork loin that way too.
I agree rice salads are great. Also other grains, like quinoa, bulgur, etc. Something different with various veggies and a dressing.
 
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How about keeping it real simple?
Big pot of stew (keep it on a low simmer) or curry
Rice (in a bain marie or rice steamer)
Variety of salads

Or bring and braai....
That's sort of the standard where I live. You provide the venue and the grill/charcoal and everyone cooks their own meat.
You just do some salads
 
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Youre basically acting as caterer here, one who has limited time at the event,
due to another appointment in an hour or two. In your case, that would be
mingling at your own party. Its all about efficiency in catering.

I've done hundreds of BBQ events, most of which I was grill master.
On a typical event of 150 people, I would show up and grill 3 or4 meats,
drop in chafers, and serve for an hour. Pack up and go.
Typical fare was chicken, steaks and some kinda sausage or seafood, or of course,
hamburger- hot dogs. And sure, there were some parties I "attended" after cooking.

The key is to use as much precooked stuff as possible. Except beef. Fresh, and
they cook fast. I would typically buy those big packs of Hilshire Keilbasa. It was precooked--
I cut it into 3 inch servings, and heat thru on the grill, slightly blackening the skins.
About 10 minutes.

The other key is, you do ALL your cooking, transfer to holding chafers for
service. Doing custom cooking, even hamburgers and dogs, is not only not necessary,
but that's whats killing your time.

So what about guests that want a burger or steak, rare, medium etc. ?
Again, that is the skill and method of you, the grill master. Pull em off at various temps,
and layer them in the chafer pan so you know where they are. Or for self service you can
use separate pans, labelled. Same with chicken vs dark & white meat.

You may be wondering if Im suggesting you precook burgers and hold in chafers. YES.
I've done 2 thousand burgers this way and never had a complaint, ever.
Because they're fresh. (there are other tricks to keeping them that way too.)
The thing about beef is, cooking, cooling down then reheating can change it.
But cooking and HOLDING doesn't, at least not for a long time.

Thats my take off the top....
I think we'd do well to hear from Chef Billy on this as well.
 
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Another idea is a taco/fajita bar. Pre cook chicken, steak and sauteed peppers and onions. hold in chafers. Have tortillas, shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream, lettuce, guacamole, etc.

Plus side is you can have chips, salsa and guac as an app
 
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I'll have to remember this thread when I plan my next party. So many great ideas.
Maybe I should be writing some down.
 
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Me too chefwriter! I have a folder I store different categories of favorite bookmarks in. There are a ton saved for this forum.
 
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besides, with a username like that how can you possibly NOT write em down?!

Its a good idea which i always forget to do, then I find myself searching for an
hour for a thread I KNOW I saw like 6 months ago.
 
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planethoff planethoff taco/pasta/fajita/stir fry bar is a great idea, those were actually my favorite type events
to do. I did a custom cook line, similar to mongolian bbq/teppenada, but it can also be done as self
service as you mentioned, either hot or cold.
The reason i enjoyed these the mmost is that as the guest is "following" their plate along the line,
i could talk, joke and interact with them much more personably than is possible on a
standard service buffet. And since theyre your friends/guests, that method could work
well for you too. And theyre fun.
 
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How impressive would a slider bar be and is good enough for a dinner? Pulled BBQ pork & chicken, maybe add teriyaki beef, meatballs or chicken tenders. Cole slaw, potato salad & fruit or I am liking the idea of rice salad. Should I include a hot potato dish, maybe the salt potatoes idea? Thanks again, you guys rock!
 
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You can be as complicated or as simple as you like. The more moving parts that you have, the less time you are going to spend mingling with your guests.

I would suggest avoiding chicken altogether unless you have excellent food safety skills and you have a few extra pairs of hands to help out with the prep. Safely prepping enough raw chicken for 50 people will almost certainly result in the chicken spending too much time in the temperature danger zone.

The slider bar is a viable option. But, I would suggest choosing one or the other.......sliders or bbq.

The pulled pork/bbq idea is good because you can literally make these the day before, refrigerate and heat up the day of the event, unlike the sliders that should be made that day.

Meatballs are always a good choice that also can be made the day before and heated up in the oven the day of the event. Make them small and serve them with a sauce to be named later as a substitute for the sliders??

The same with the slaw, potato/fruit salad etc....they can all be made ahead of time and served the day of the event. If you are going to go with the "hot" potato dish, I would strongly recommend the salt potatoes, especially if you are going with a bbq menu. They are cheap to make, can be made in bulk and are a "set it and forget it" dish that only needs to be boiled. The potatoes are held in the hot water and your guests can serve themselves from the pot. Too easy.

Remember, at the end of it all, you are still putting on an event for 50 people. So, being able to spend time with your guests is only going to happen after the food is served no matter what you serve, unless, of course, you have the event catered. :)

Good luck. Don't forget to let us know what you decided and how it turned out! :)
 
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