Cooking for a crowd can be tricky, even for the most experienced home cook. We’ve been hearing the questions you’re asking our retail staff in person and via email about feeding large amounts of people at parties and for holidays. They’re good questions! It is hard to know what and how much to make, or even the timing for when to cook. In this edition of Ask the Butcher, whether you’ve been asked to bring food to a potluck, appetizers to an office party, or are hosting a pig roast, Josh Applestone has some tips for you. Also, he spills the beans on his unique t-shirt collection.
If you want to ask the butcher anything, let us know.
Q: I have to be totally honest: potluck invites scare me. Whenever I get one, I get anxious. I can’t figure out what to make, or how much to make. What would you suggest making for something like a teachers’ appreciation day potluck? And what would you bring if it’s just appetizers instead of dinner to an office cocktail party potluck? Like, how much meat per potluck person do you need for hors d’oeuvres?
Sometimes potlucks are more hassle than not. But people think they save money and build community.
Potluck Pulled Meat
For a crowd, I always tell people to just make a bunch of pulled meat. You can do tacos. I just did something for a friend I’d suggest: a Jamaican-style lamb stew. You start with whatever lamb cut you prefer. I’m going to be honest, too: I always use frozen meat.
I took a whole bunch of frozen lamb I had – some bone-in stew, some shoulder blade chops – and I put them in my oven overnight at 225 degrees with diced sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and Jerk seasoning. Everything goes in at the same time.
In the morning, it is done. When you cook that low and slow, the sweet potatoes won’t fall apart, they retain their shape. Everything falls off the bone so they’re visible and easy to identify. The acid helps cut the fat but it doesn’t dissipate; you can still see it. I didn’t skim any fat off, but for a party you might want to. You can also just stir it into the lamb
You can do this with beef, pork, or chicken, too. It doesn’t matter. Take whatever you have in the freezer, and use tomatoes as the acid to cut through the fat so it doesn’t taste greasy. Use dried herbs or herb mixes. When you’re cooking for this long, fresh herbs are almost a waste.
If you don’t know what to throw in, a good bet is always garlic and rosemary or thyme. You will be fine. I don’t even put in water. Everything has water. If you want it soupy, add water. Then you cover it. I use a heavy ceramic dish. For me the oven is easiest, but if you don’t like leaving your oven on overnight, try an Instant Pot. As long as you know how to program it, you are good to go.
For appetizers, it depends on how much work you want to do for this potluck. You could do tiny little shot glasses of chicken soup if you’re nuts like me and your wife didn’t know you were doing it. Or take some of that pulled meat and put it on crackers or cut up bread – any easy deliverable vehicle — and you’re good.
Ready for the mindblower? Match a bean to it. Kidney beans and pork: people will be blown away! Chicken? Maybe chickpeas. It’s not hard. It’s pulled meat with a vegetable. Everyone immediately thinks for appetizers, you have to do phyllo dough and poufy stuff. No, that’s not for us. A slice of roast beef with a cracker, that’s an app.
How Much Per Potluck Person
One pound of meat should probably make 30 to 40 appetizers. Remember you’re talking about grams of meat per serving. Half a teaspoon is what should be on a cracker. An appetizer is a single bite thing, maybe two if you have a tiny mouth. I can fit three in one shot.
Want an easy one? Sweet potatoes, garlic, and rosemary. Cook and smash it together. Put teaspoons of that on a cracker and you’re done. Want to blow their minds? Add a garnish – a piece of dill. Or edible flowers. No one will eat them.
Q: I’ve got some hogs I’m planning on cooking on a big gas grill. Do you have any favorite pork rub recipes? Also, how do you calculate the amount of time to cook a whole hog on the grill? Is there a calculation to use? I’ve done it 5 times now, but every time is guesswork. It takes me around 14 hours to do a whole hog and we eat when it’s done. Are there any tips?
When it comes to whole hogs, I follow Sam Jones. I suggest his book, Whole Hog BBQ, to everyone. He doesn’t use a rub, just plain salt. Once he was at a friend’s house and the friend only had fancy salt – this means Kosher to Sam Jones. So he puts it on and the skin never blistered correctly. It’s the iodine in regular old table salt that is needed for the blistering and the cracklings everyone wants.
As for timing, you’ve answered your own question. 12 to 14 hours sounds about right. But get a meat thermometer if you don’t already have one. Check the shoulder and the legs by the bone. 185 degrees is the target temperature in those spots for the hog to be done. The thing about gas grills is that you can make them hotter or cooler with the turn of a button. So if you want it to cook in a certain amount of time, just turn up the heat a little.
Q: Where do you buy your t-shirts?
My main source of the best t-shirts I have is my wife, Jessica. She finds the best ones. Some of them are from food touring. We will travel to places and just get t-shirts—like going to a concert. That is what it is really — me eating across this country and Jessica’s good eye.