When I first began hosting parties and cooking for people other than myself in my home, time management was the one aspect of preparing a meal that remained a struggle for me. Despite the thumbs up I’d get on taste, something along the way always seemed to hinder me from getting the main course from the kitchen to the table at the time I intended.
As I progressed, I found the complexity of the meals I tackled increasing along with the number of family and friends I began entertaining. Calculating how long it would take me to complete my cooking became that much more vital while becoming harder to gauge, until it dawned on me.
In its simplest form, cooking is nothing more than a series of tasks — actions that can be broken down into individual steps. And in order to remain on schedule with what it is you need to complete, it is important to “see” it all before actually doing it.
To be a successful host of a party that showcases food you prepared goes beyond having the right recipes. It is knowing how to break down those recipes and when to execute each of their elements.
Having hosted gatherings large and small, I’ve discovered a few behaviors that have quickly become habits that surface whenever I’m about to embark on the food portion of a party. They are fundamentals that can be used for any occasion you are cooking to relieve the stress of feeling rushed, frustrated and lost. And today, I am sharing them with you.
Here are my…
9 Essential Tips for
Getting Food to Your Guests on Time
Create a to-do checklist
It sounds like a no-brainer, but with any party you throw, creating a list is essential. It will keep you on task and prevent you from forgetting to do what needs to be done before your guests arrive. Having a list relaxes your mind as well, allowing you to mentally give your all to your cooking, ensuring enjoyment and inevitably great dishes.
Gather your recipes
Knowing what you are going to cook will take the guesswork out of your agenda when it’s time for you to start preparing your food, leaving you with more time for cooking and no need for making important culinary decisions in-the-moment.
Map out a timeline for what needs to get done in the kitchen
You have your recipes. You know what you are cooking. You know how long each of the steps is going to take. Now is when you start putting timestamps to the various elements of the dishes you are making. Creating a timeline will enable you to keep track of exactly how much time you will have every step of the way during the food preparation process, helping you keep on schedule.
Complete sous chef duties ahead of time
Are there carrots or peppers you need to chop? Garlic you need to peel? Thyme you need to strip from its stems? Mise en place is a French term used in the culinary world that means having all of your ingredients in place. It is an essential step that you should always have done before you start your main cooking. For ingredients that can keep in the refrigerator, start preparing them up to a day ahead of time. Depending on how large a party you are throwing, this can save you hours of prep time on the day of the party, allowing you to build and keep momentum and focus more of your time on the actual cooking of the dishes you intend to make.
Make your marinades, spice rubs and condiments ahead of time
For the same reasons as tip #4, time is precious. And the more you can give yourself the day of your gathering, the better.
Prepare your meat/poultry for cooking ahead of time
Many recipes call for marinating the proteins we cook, whether it is with a wet marinade or a dry rub. Prepping your protein as early as the day before will cut down your prep time the day of your gathering while enhancing the flavor of the protein you are cooking. This will also keep the mess that is inevitably made when we season items on the fly to a minimum, leaving you with less to clean up before your guests even arrive.
Start cooking first whatever is going to take the longest to finish
Staggering your dishes is key in making sure items are not completed too early and become either cold from sitting out or dried out from being kept in the oven for too long. This will also create a continuous flow of dishes from your oven and stove, enabling you to have enough space in both areas to cook what you have planned.
Give yourself at least a 1/2-hour window between completion and dinner time
Things happen that we do not expect. Items that we thought would only take an hour to bake may take an extra 15 minutes. Giving yourself a time cushion will prevent you from going beyond the deadline that you set for yourself, enabling you to remain on schedule with completing your cooking.
Have your plating dishes ready and know where you are going to put them
When you’re food is finally at the point of being brought out to your guests, knowing exactly what serving dishes you are using and where you will ultimately place them enables a seamless transition from the kitchen to your main entertaining space. This will eliminate any delays in getting the food you’ve spent so much time preparing to your guest while it is warm. The integrity of your food is preserved, and all that you have gathered in your home will be able to enjoy your food as intended.