Learn how to cook large amounts of food for crowds of people
When doing an event like a festival, street food market or cooking for a large family gathering, you will be cooking in large quantities to feed all those hungry mouths.
However, cooking large amounts of food is slightly different to cooking for a family of four and there are a few things you need to follow in order to make the day a success.
So how do you make food in large quantities? When cooking large amounts of food you need to find a food wholesaler; consider food storage and safety; know the right type of equipment to use, and know how to increase the right amount of seasoning and spices so you don’t ruin the taste.
There are also a few other things to consider with bulk cooking which I will go into in more detail below.
Finding a supplier
First off you need to find a wholesale supplier for your bulk cooking ingredients. This not only lowers the price of ingredients but saves time opening the packaging and reduces plastic waste.
Some well-known food wholesale suppliers that stock a wide selection of goods include:
Fruit and veg and meat wholesalers are also good places to get competitive prices.
However, if you are cooking for a crowd of 100 people or less it may be worth visiting your local supermarket. Surprisingly here in the UK bulk ingredients in supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl can sometimes work out cheaper than food wholesalers for smaller amounts.
Storage & Food Safety
Before you start to cook in large quantities you need a place to store your food. If you are cooking meat or fish then you need large enough refrigeration to store the meat before cooking. It’s also a good idea to have a thermometer to check the fridge is at a safe temperature, as fridges don’t always give accurate readings.
If you are cooking for over 100 people then you will also need adequate storage space for dried goods such as pasta and rice and fruit and vegetables.
Making food for a large number of people is obviously different to cooking for a family of 4 which means you need specialised types of equipment.
First off you need a generous amount of kitchen surface space to prepare your food. You will also need a large enough oven or gas burner with wide rings for large pots and pans.
Here are some of the typical kitchen equipment needed for cooking in large quantities:
- Large saucepan
- Large stockpot
- Large saute pan
- Large mixing bowls
- Large roasting dish
- Piealla dish
- Food processor
- Large mixing jug
This is just a rough guide and depending on what you intend to cook you will no doubt need other bits of equipment.
Now we are at the stage of cooking food in large quantities there are a few important tips to follow to make sure you get the final product right and don’t ruin all your hard work.
- Don’t double seasoning or spices – As you double the main ingredients (from 2/4/8/16 etc. for things like meat or vegetables) DON’T do the same for the seasoning (salt & pepper) or strongly flavoured spices. Instead, increase the amount by around 1- 1-1/2 every time you double the main ingredients and then taste test as you go.
- Limit the depth of the pan – Try not to overfill the saucepan when you are cooking dishes like curries or stews. This way you can cook the food evenly. Alternatively, make sure to stir the pan regularly.
- Increase the cooking time – For batch cooking you often work with recipes designed originally for smaller portion sizes, which means you will need to increase the cooking time.
- Make sure it’s at the correct serving temperature – Before you serve the food make sure it is kept at the correct serving temperature, which you can check with a thermometer. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends “cooking food until it has reached 70°C and stayed at that temperature for 2 minutes”.
- Give yourself plenty of time – We tend to underestimate how long things take and this is especially true when it comes to cooking in large quantities, especially if you’re new to bulk cooking (which you probably are). This means you want to give yourself plenty of room for error so that you have enough time to correct any mistakes.
Once you have finished bulk cooking you may be ready to serve the food straight away. However, you may have cooked your food the day before so that you are not too stressed on the day of your event or family gathering.
In that case, you will need to let the food cool to room temperature and, again, need a large enough refrigerator to keep it at a safe temperature until serving it the next day.
When you reheat on the day you want to make sure your food is warmed to a safe temperature. Do this by bringing it to the boil and then simmering it until it reaches the correct heat (see above for the correct temperature), which you can measure with a thermometer.
The final step is serving the food to all those customers or guests, which means having something to serve it in. You will, therefore, need disposable plates and cutlery. Try going for biodegradable or compostable disposables if you can to save on plastic waste.
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Best dishes to make in bulk
Some of the best bulk cooking recipes are ones that are cheap to feed a crowd and relatively easy to make. These are often “one-pot” dishes like curries, chillies, stews, paella and rice dishes that can be made in a single pan.
Some favourites include:
- Beef Massaman Curry
- Beef stew
- Sweet potato & spinach curry
- Chicken Biryani
- Noodle soup
- Mac n cheese
- Beef chilli
- Thai green curry
- Seafood paella
And if you want to reduce the cost even further you can do vegan versions of these dishes where the main cost will just be for the vegetables.
Making food in large quantities can be a bit of an art and often a case of trial and error. However, there are things you can do to give yourself the best chance of success and not ruin your big day.
A few things to remember:
- Always give yourself enough time to make mistakes. Cooking the food the night before and reheating it the next day is a good way to take the stress out of things and get ahead of the game.
- Add less seasoning and strongly flavoured spices than you need – you can always add more if the taste is not right, but you can’t take it away.
- Stick to one-pot cooking, like curries, chillies and rice dishes. It’s easier to reheat, less equipment is needed and there is less washing up (which is always a bonus).