Whether you’re whipping up a potluck side dish or hosting family for the weekend, one thing is certain: Entertaining is an opportunity to show your loved ones a little extra TLC. It’s, uh, also an opportunity to flex your cooking muscles, thereby establishing your dominance in any and all social settings. Regardless of your motivation, the question is: What do you whip up when it’s time to entertain? Do you have a go-to bundt situation? A group-friendly dip? An entree that is scientifically proven to impress friend and foe alike? The Takeout staff sounds off.
If you need to feed a ton of people on relatively short notice, carnitas are your best bet. I’ve been making this random food blog recipe for out-of-town visitors for years; it’s cheap, easy, and insanely good. Just grab yourself a four-pound pork shoulder, throw it in the slow cooker with some citrus and spices, and cook it low and slow for eight hours. Shred it, follow it up with a quick broil, and serve with lime, onion, cilantro, and warm corn tortillas. It’s the easiest way to convince guests that you have your shit together. My kid brother is visiting from Kansas this weekend, and as I write this, he’s in my kitchen on pork shoulder rub duty. “You’re such an adult,” he told me earlier. Yes. Yes I am. —Lillian Stone, staff writer
Who doesn’t love chips and dip? I’ve found that bringing pico de gallo and guac to any party is a hit, not to mention a relatively easy (and affordable) way to create something from scratch and rake in the compliments. And just because it’s simple doesn’t mean you can’t get a little creative. While I tend to leave guac in its purest form, especially if I’ve come across a perfectly ripe avocado, there’s more room to play with the pico. The base itself is always a crowd pleaser (chopped tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, and cilantro tossed in lime juice), but you can tailor any add-ons to each audience. Dining with some heat-seekers? Amp up the Scoville level with some extra jalapeños or sprinkle in some habanero. Heading to a summertime picnic? Add some mango for a refreshing twist. Looking to make your pico into the whole meal? Slice everything into bigger chunks and add some jicama, mini sweet peppers, cucumber, shrimp, and some salsa verde or hot sauce (plus anything else that sounds good to you, really) for a heartier pico de gallo salad. And of course there are ways to make it work for folks with most kinds of food restrictions. The pico-bilities are endless. —Brianna Wellen, associate editor
I do not like entertaining, because when you are a former chef/current food writer, people have unreasonably high expectations, and I simply do not have the emotional bandwidth for that, nor do I have the desire to do lots of dishes. So on the rare occasion when I do invite people over for dinner, I always make something braised, which I can throw in the oven and ignore while hanging out with my friends.
Braises are supposed to look like a slipshod, “rustic” mess, which means I don’t need to deal with fussy plating or garnishes and can serve everything in big bowls out of one single pot, thus minimizing dirty dishes. Most importantly, braises taste incredible and will impress the pants off anyone special enough to get a dinner invite. Take a look at this recipe (one of my go-tos) and tell me you don’t agree. —Allison Robicelli, staff writer
One word: barbecue. The best thing about cooking low and slow is that you don’t need to mess with your food. And in fact, the more you mess with it, the longer it’ll take to cook, which actually encourages you to try and relax. Plus, when you’re cooking barbecue you’re usually cooking a pretty big quantity of meat all at once, so it’s perfect for entertaining.
For a big group meal I recommend a hefty cut of pork shoulder for multiple reasons. You can get large or small portion sizes (I noticed my grocery stores carry both), and it’s hard to overcook if you’re cooking at such a low temperature. A pork shoulder stays hot for a long time if you wrap it up in foil and put it in a cooler, in case you’ve somehow managed to finish cooking it early, as well.
Conveniently, you’ll have plenty of time to make fresh sides while the meat is slowly cooking off. Or, if you’re like me, you can just ask your guests to bring a couple sides and you’ll still look like a champion since the crown jewel of the spread is your meat. And for serving, all you really need is buns and some barbecue sauce. Done. Don’t stress. Go have a drink with your friends. —Dennis Lee, staff writer
Rick Bayless’ hilariously low-effort salsa baked cheese has only five ingredients—or just three, if your guests aren’t big fans of nuts and herbs—and the only active work involves stirring them together. It’s cream cheese, goat cheese, and jarred salsa. Hardly a showcase of culinary skills. Yet I can never, ever, ever, ever, ever stop serving this recipe when I entertain, because every time I put it on the table, it’s like a spell has been cast over the spread. Guests flock to the dish, crowding around waiting for their chance to sink a chip into it, descending into silence as everyone blows on the hot dip or chews it meditatively. They pause only long enough to ask for the recipe before grabbing another chip. Nothing will ever make you feel so powerful as an appetizer that brings the party to a screeching, blissful halt. —Marnie Shure, editor in chief