ENTERTAINING

It’s the easiest dinner party you’ll ever host. And maybe the most productive. But there is some planning involved, mostly to ensure you don’t end up with 25 pounds of chili.

By Scott Edwards

It’s a joke that I wore out a couple winters back, but it’s no less true now: Every crock-pot dinner’s good for a few extra pounds. The aroma hooks me in the morning. My brain’s confused—Is that short ribs? We just ate breakfast—but my stomach’s always prone to persuasion, no matter the hour or the circumstances. By afternoon, there’s nowhere to hide. The scent’s everywhere. It’s on my clothes. And every whiff is a distraction, to which the reply is always, Sure, I could eat.

This time of year, we’re eating crock pot three, four times a week. Why not? It’s about as low maintenance as cooking gets. Plus, the recipes skew heavily toward stews, braises and soups, the kind of piping-hot, hearty dinners that blunt the end of another gray, numbing day.

Shortly after it was discovered that many of our friends were following the same routine, a flurry of link-sharing erupted, everyone eagerly offering up their tried-and-true recipes. From that, a proposition emerged: We should throw a crock pot party.

It’s as easy to pull off (and filling) as it sounds. And unlike the potluck, which always (always) ends up turning out like a buffet of nuked and cold afterthoughts, the crock pot party ensures a smorgasbord served at its height—as long as it’s done right.

Think counter space, not seating
Not to push this on anyone unwillingly, but the host should be the one with the largest kitchen. Ample counter space is critical. (Tables count too as long at they’re within reach of outlets.) Think how much your one crock pot eats up. Now multiple that by five or six.

In that vein, include as many friends as you want—there’s going to be more than enough to go around—but limit the crock pots. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. And don’t worry about seating or table settings. Lay out stacks of plates, bowls and napkins (disposable is perfectly acceptable), along with some flatware, and leave it at that.

Menu planning and parting gifts in one shot
Among the cooks for the night, coordinate recipes. This serves two purposes: Foremost, it removes the possibility of redundancy. Awesome as pumpkin-turkey chili may be, one crock pot of it is enough to cover seconds. If anyone’s left wanting more, they can make it themselves. Which leads us to the second point: This party’s doubling as a tasting, so make the recipes available to everyone. Save yourself the trouble of keeping track of who wants what and compile them in an email, either the recipes themselves or the links to them, and send it out to your guest list.

BYOT
There will be leftovers, rest assured. So encourage your guests to bring their own Tupperware. Just make sure they don’t start poaching their shares prematurely. Before everyone starts digging in, make an announcement along the lines of, “The leftovers are fair game when the kitchen’s closed, and only then.” That’ll free you up from the burden of policing the crock pots all night long.

BYOB, too
Everyone not charged with bringing a crock pot is responsible for supplying the booze. Don’t worry about coordinating who brings what. People tend to gift whatever they enjoy drinking. And, really, pretty much everything pairs well with crock-pot meals. They’re easy like that. Which is kinda the point here.

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