Cooking for a crowd- Buffet style

When cooking for a crowd, it is best to play it safe and error on the side of low salt and spice (hotness).  You never know which of your guests may have health issues or heat aversions; salt and hot sauces can easily be added later by the guests themselves.

As the hostess, you want to maximize your time with your guests rather than spending the entire time in the kitchen; so choosing a menu that you can prepare ahead of time is important.  Budget is also a factor in choosing the menu.  Soups and stews are an inexpensive way to feed a large group; they contain lots of broth and vegetables to help lower the cost without sacrificing flavor or volume.  Meatballs and slow roasted shredded meats like pork, chicken, and beef are a good option for a main protein choice, albeit a little more pricey.  The addition of sauce can make the meat choice match any party theme. As for sides, pasta and potato salads are crowd pleasing sides that can easily be thrown together the day before.  Green salads are healthier options to toss together shortly before guests arrive.

If your theme allows, chili is a good option too.  You can dress-it-up with fancy cornbread, sour cream and chives, or dress-it-down with chips and hot dogs.

I made this for the January birthday party at the senior apartment complex at which I work.  The residents are a mix between diet-restricted, low-sodium, low-fat, low-spice, low-sugar to no-holds-bar anything goes.  The spices in the chili where limited to flavor, and not hotness.  Jalapenos and Frank’s hot sauce were offered as sides for any hot-tongued takers.

potluck chili - ingredients 2


  • 6 lbs ground turkey or beef
  • 4 onions, chopped
  • 2 green peppers, choppedpotluck chili - ingredients 1
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 T chili powder
  • 2 T cumin
  • 1 T cocoa powderpotluck chili - ingredients 3potluck chili - ingredients 4
  • 1 T cinnamon
  • 8 t salt
  • 96 oz stewed tomatoes with juice
  • 4 – 30 ozcans kidney beans, rinsed and drained



Brown the turkey in a large pot over medium heat.  potluck chili - ground beefRetain juices.

Add onion, green peppers, tomatoes, and kidney beans.  Mix thoroughly.

Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, cocoa, and cinnamon.  Stir to mix thoroughly.potluck chili - mixed

Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 4 hours or overnight.  The longer you let simmer, the more the flavors mix and develop.

Add salt one teaspoon at a time.  Mix and taste between each addition.

potluck chili - cooked

Provide multiple topping choices on the side such as:

  • jalapeno peppers
  • Green onion
  • Cheddar cheese
  • corn chips
  • sour cream
  • baked potatoes
  • cornbread
  • hot dogs

potluck chili - plated