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Hosting a Huge Barbecue for 100 Plus People

Our colonial American cousins were among the first people outside the Caribbean to really embrace barbecuing on a grand scale, and it became very much a way of life in the southern states of America. Plantation owners would often give their slaves an all too rare protein-rich meal with the leftover pickings of a hog roast, while later on community barbecues became very popular with politicians trying to curry favour with local voters. The key attractions of barbecuing as a way of feeding large numbers are the relative ease of cooking, the simplicity of the ingredients, and the fact that we don’t need to sit down at a perfectly laid table in order to enjoy the meal. Paper plates resting on the knee, simple condiments and a little side salad or a baked potato usually do the trick nicely.

If you’re planning a big event like a milestone birthday party or a wedding and would like to do something other than a formal sit-down meal, then a barbecue is the perfect option. However with numbers like this it will require a little bit more planning than your typical summer beers and buggers affair! You can of course hire a caterer to do it all for you, but if you’d prefer to do it yourself here is a guide to organising a stress-free feast for large numbers of people.
First of all you’ll need to choose a suitable location as you’ll need plenty of room to set up your equipment or spit roast. Unless you have a huge back garden or live on a country estate, if you do it at home you may well find yourself in a bit of a tight spot with lots of smoked guests as well as smoked meats, so it might be an idea to see if you can head out into the country somewhere. Most parks and woodlands have by-laws that forbid barbecuing for obvious safety reasons, but with a little investigation you’ll find plenty of farmers who would be happy to rent you a field for an afternoon or evening. This will give you and your guests plenty of room to spread out on picnic blankets or fold up stools. You could even create your own mini festival by setting up tents or stalls selling other types of food, and hiring out some proper picnic benches for a more formal seating arrangement.

The next thing to consider is the actual food itself. If you’re going to be feeding more than 100 guests, you’ve got the perfect excuse to go the whole hog, so to speak, and opt for a traditional pig on a spit. Not only does it make for great photos and a real focal point for your barbecue, it will also provide plenty of deliciously tender meat. Make sure you give your butcher plenty of notice and let him know that you want a hog for roasting. This will ensure you get the right type of pig with good quality tender meat. On the day itself you’ll need to give yourself at least 3 hours for cooking, depending on the size of the pig and the type of roasting machine you hire. An 80lb pig will need about 3 hours, a 120lb pig will take about 5 hours and a 180lb pig can take up to 7 hours.

Now, not everyone is going to be a fan of pig on a stick so you’ll need to provide plenty of alternatives, and when catering for 100 plus people this means getting your hands on a number of large, reliable barbecues. A charcoal barbecue is not ideal for this type of catering as there is a bit too much fiddling around and it’s difficult to control the temperature, so in this instance a gas barbecue makes more sense.  Make sure you’ve got two or three seasoned barbecuing experts to man the cooking stations and ensure the food is properly cooked, and provide plenty of entertainment for your guests while the grub is being prepared. The one disadvantage of barbecuing is that it’s almost impossible to feed everyone all at once, but as long as the conversation is good and the weather holds out, most people will be more than happy to wait their turn.

If you’re offering a selection of food, always remember to start with the meat that takes the longest to cook i.e. steaks and burgers, and add things like chicken and sausages towards the end. Cooking chicken breasts from scratch is usually fine, but if you’d like to have chicken wings and thighs then it’s a good idea to cook them in an oven at home first then add them to the barbecue on the day. The final blast of the grill will crisp up the skins nicely and cooking them like this also reduces the risk of food poisoning.

As for accompaniments for your meat, well pretty much all cold dishes and salads are great with barbecued food and they can be prepared at home and brought along on the day in large containers. Favourites the world over include potato salad and coleslaw but dishes like cous cous and rice salads with peas and corn are great alternatives. Big green salads will provide a nice splash of colour to the plate, and tomatoes are great in burgers with a slice of cheese and some relish. Now, slicing cheese for 100 plus people would try the patients of a saint, so to save your sanity, why not buy a load of ready sliced cheese? These days you can get pre-sliced Gouda and Edam as well as the more traditional cheddar. And for a super-quick and practical option there’s always Easy Singles!

So then, a quick recap - the key to hosting a successful barbecue for large numbers of people is to find a good location, do lots of preparation in advance and make sure there’s plenty going on to keep your guests happy while your meat is cooking.

Enjoy!