Over the past few years, I have been used to cooking for family and friends, which means I am typically cooking for 5 to 10 people.
At the end of May, I cooked for 24 people which included 12 adults and 12 children. The menu consisted of pulled pork cooked overnight on the Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM), sausages, burgers, chicken wings and jalapeno poppers. I also made home-made BBQ and apple sauce, together with cooking some pork crackling. It took some preparation but overall it all felt very manageable.
Towards the end of June, I cooked for 55 guests at my next door neighbours 80th birthday party. I was pretty nervous about the cook, partly because of the numbers involved, partly because of the age-group and finally managing the cook and getting everything out on time.
For this cook, I did two 4kg Pork Butts from Turner and George, Sausages, Burgers and finished with a Picanha Joint cooked with the Rotisserie.
I cooked the Pork Butts overnight on the WSM, managed well using the FlameBoss (review to follow). They took 16 hours to cook but were ready bang on time and I was able to wrap them and place on a coolbox a couple of hours before pulling.
Guests were due to arrive around 1230, so I lit the first BBQ at 11 am. I had taken the skin off the pork butts and placed in the fridge overnight, with a sprinkling of salt. This was to dry them out to do pork crackling with the pork. I thought I would do these early to get one job out the way. This was not to be!
Call the Fire Brigade
I noticed the ash catcher on my Weber GBS was full of flames. I wasn’t overly worried at that point, but gradually the flames got higher. Opening the BBQ, I had a bit of a fire going on. To say my heart jumped in my mouth would be an understatement. Trying to stay calm, I removed all the pork skin and then closed down all the vents, which had the desired effect of putting out the fire. Lesson learned not to put too much pork skin on the BBQ if I do crackling again.
Not really the start I wanted!!!!
Normal Service Resumed
I pulled the pork just after the guests arrived which bought a little smile to my face as it had cooked perfectly. I served it with homemade BBQ and Apple sauce, on Brioche Buns. By the end of the afternoon nothing was left which was a good sign.
On with cooking the sausages and burgers. Pretty standard fayre but the burgers went down really well. They are from my local butcher and I had half a dozen people asking where they were from – another good sign.
I had prepared Chicken Souvlaki, but the host thought people were getting full, so I didn’t cook these. However, I really wanted to cook the Picanha and I was so glad I did. I had a little station set up in the garden, and after cutting the Picanha into 4 strips, carefully pushed them onto the Rotisserie. An audience started to gather at this point which was a little unnerving, but I just tried to ignore that I was being watched.
The Picanha was just seasoned with some sea salt, and then cooked indirectly on the Rotisserie for around 50 minutes, with added Cherry wood chunks. To serve I thinly sliced the steak, and then served on a platter.
The steak went down amazingly well, with it disappearing super-quick. I got some incredible compliments about it, but I think that was more about the quality of the meat rather than my cooking.
A New Found Respect
I really enjoyed the whole experience of cooking for 50+ people. It took a lot of planning and preparation, and I got a buzz out of the whole experience (despite the slight mishap at the start of the day). I would definitely do it again BUT I don’t think it is something I could do on a regular basis. It was quite tiring and draining. I was totally shattered by the evening and was ready for an early night.
I have a new found respect for people that cook at parties and for large groups on a regular basis. Although I would imagine it gets a little easier with experience, it is really hard work. I think I probably knew that before but it is only when you actually sometime do things that it hits home.
Cooking for large groups is not really any different than cooking for a few people. You basically need to use the same skills and apply it on a larger scale.
As with anything preparation is key. This includes planning what you are going to cook, the timings and also how you are going to cook each dish. Regardless of whether this is 5 people or 50 people it still needs to be done.
You need all the same BBQ essentials. The chimney starter, heat-resistant gloves, instant-read thermometer and decent tools will help with the overall cook. I did check every sausage and burger I served to ensure they were cooked thoroughly.
To get to the point where you are considering cooking for large groups, should mean you have the basic skills to cook on a BBQ. Be confident in those skills and what you know, as again regardless of whether it is 5 or 50 people the skills required are the same.
Finally, just enjoy the experience! You will get a real buzz out of it and it is great sitting down with a beer or glass of wine after the cooking is done, and reflecting on the food your got out and the enjoyment you bought to people.