Entertaining for any occasion can be stressful, no matter the circumstances, but what happens when you have a house full of hungry guests and you realize you have run out of oven space? Since most homes only have one oven, cooking for a crowd, whether it be for the holidays or any other special occasion, can be a challenge, but it’s totally doable.
It really comes down to having a game plan before you start. From the initial menu and shopping lists to meal prep and cooking on the big day, planning and organization are key. We’ll talk you through our foolproof strategies, and include some of our favorite make-ahead recipes so that your gathering will be a guaranteed success every time.
Strategies for Cooking With Limited Space
When we’re cooking a big holiday meal, oven space is usually the last thing we think about—and that’s where we can get into trouble. Menu planning is your first step, so you want to think smart. It’s important to include a variety of dishes that everyone will love, but if you’re feeding a lot of people, you’ll need to strategize.
Make the Most of Your Oven Space
Start by thinking about which dish is going to spend the longest amount of time (and take up the most space) in the oven. For instance, if you’re roasting a turkey or ham, those big pieces of meat will take up a lot of space and time (sometimes several hours) in the oven. That means you may only have one rack’s worth of space left to cook something else in the oven, at least while the bird is roasting.
As a rule, we like to plan to have room for one or two other dishes to be in the oven while the main dish is roasting. This could be something like stuffing, scalloped potatoes, or green bean casserole. Recipes that cook a vegetable or starch in the same baking dish as the main protein are also a good strategy. If you can roast some carrots, onions, and potatoes in the dish with your turkey or chicken, you’re getting two dishes out of the way at once.
We also gravitate toward recipes that roast in the oven, but do so quickly. Things like roasted Brussels sprouts and potatoes (or most vegetables for that matter) can be roasted at a high temperature once the turkey (or other main dish) is out of the oven and resting. Most recipes recommend you let a turkey rest for at least 30 minutes before carving, which is the perfect amount of time to throw together a sheet pan of roasted vegetables and warm up any make-ahead dishes that you’ve prepared.
Use Alternate Cooking Methods
Once you’ve decided which dishes are going to require oven space, consider planning the rest of your meal around other cooking methods. Stovetop recipes are synonymous with the season—hello, stovetop stuffing! Recipes like mashed potatoes, soup, and macaroni and cheese can all be made on the stove, freeing up plenty of oven space.
Other appliances, like slow cookers, air-fryers, and your outdoor grill, can be incorporated into your cooking plan. Soup can easily be made in the slow cooker and kept warm. All kinds of seasonal vegetables can be roasted until crisp and golden in the air-fryer. Alternately, throw those vegetables right on the grill if it’s not too cold outside. You could even cook your turkey on the grill and reserve the oven for all of the other dishes.
Choose Make-Ahead Dishes
In addition to embracing other cooking methods, we like to choose dishes that can be prepared in advance and served at room temperature. This leaves you with fewer things to think about on the big day so you can spend more time enjoying the company of your friends and family.
Many hearty salads, slaws, and grain dishes actually benefit from being made ahead of time. Then there are the more obvious items that can always be made at least a day or two in advance. Turkey stock, gravy, cranberry sauce, and the dough for dinner rolls—get those out of the way to keep your stress levels at a minimum. Even mashed potatoes can be made the day before and rewarmed on the stovetop or in the microwave—just add a little more milk or cream to thin out the potatoes if they are too thick.
As for dessert, you can almost definitely make those in advance. Pies will benefit from having some time for all of the sugary juices to settle. Even if you’re making something like a layered cake, the cake layers and frosting can both be made the day before. Wrap the cake in plastic wrap and keep them at room temperature. Store the frosting in the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature a few hours before you’re ready to frost the cake.
Time Management and Problem-Solving
One of the best things you can do to ensure you stay on schedule on the big day is to prep as much as you can ahead of time. Not only does that mean prepping your make-ahead dishes, but also prepping your ingredients. The day before, you can chop vegetables, wash lettuce and herbs, and even measure out ingredients for certain recipes. This will cut down on time the day-of, and you’ll have some wiggle room to work around the limited oven space.
The good news is that most dishes are versatile when it comes to cooking temperatures. If your bird is roasting at 350 degrees, but the stuffing recipe calls for a 375 degree oven, don’t sweat it. Dishes like stuffing and casseroles will be fine at a different temperature. If the tops start to brown too quickly, you can always tent the baking dish with foil to keep it from getting too dark.
If guests arrive early and you’re running a little late, easy appetizers are a great thing to have on hand. Keep your eyes peeled for recipes that can be made ahead or have just a few ingredients. This way, folks can nosh on cheese plates or candied nuts and nurse a cocktail until dinner is ready.
Courtesy of Martha Stewart