How We: Self-Catered A Community Barbecue Wedding

The sleep deprivation was totally worth it.

Kristy, Pastry Cook & Will, IT Specialist

One sentence sum up of the wedding vibe: A relaxed, summer community celebration.

PLANNED BUDGET: $8,000

ACTUAL BUDGET: $10,000

NUMBER OF GUESTS: 165

Where we allocated the most funds

We spent the most money on our tent, table and chair rentals. Close behind was the food. The meal was very important to me, especially since my name was behind it and my heart was so heavily tied into this meal. I love to feed people almost as much as I love to watch people enjoy the hell out of what I have cooked for them.

Where we allocated the least funds

Booze. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty going around. We had homebrew gifted to us by both my brother and one of Will’s good friends. As well as some homemade wine from a family friend. We did actually run out of beer too soon and had to do some keg runs, because our people like to get their party on.

What was totally worth it

The twenty hours I spent smoking the pork shoulder with hickory bark. I was up every two hours one night to tend to it. Each time, I hunked a bit off the edge and popped it in my mouth. It made the sleep deprivation completely ok.

Countless additional hours to make everything from scratch. I made all of my own sauces and dressings. Although it would’ve been easier to buy bottled barbecue sauce, it made the meal more exciting to people and I was allowed to keep other components on the simpler side.

I splurged on some ingredients to really elevate the meal. We had large plates of local tomato slices and basil. I bought a high quality bottle of extra virgin olive for the tomatoes. I can’t tell you how many people said they were the most delicious tomatoes they’ve had.

Most importantly, taking extra days off work to cook the meal and invite friends and family members to join me. It really extended the event and made it more special. I was there with my mother and aunt and some of my bridesmaids for several days in advance just hanging in the kitchen and it meant a lot to us that they all wanted to be a part of it.

What was totally not worth it

The potato salad. In the chaos of the kitchen, I managed to overcook the potatoes TWO TIMES and had to buy all new potatoes twice. It had pickled celery and a mustard vinaigrette, but it was still the weakest link of the meal.

A few things that helped us along the way

I wouldn’t have been able to create this meal if several stars didn’t align. First, I am a professional cook. So I understand staging, meaning I know when I can prep pieces ahead of time and refrigerate or freeze them without sacrificing flavor or texture. The property we were on was a good friend’s mother’s home. She’s a true gem and loves to host parties. She let us take over her property for several days. (Also, she has a huge kitchen with plenty of storage.) We were able to get there three days ahead of time to start food prep. I had my mother, my aunt and a few friends there during that time. They all know their way around a kitchen.

I hired coworkers and friends to take care of everything the day of the actual wedding. So I didn’t have to do anything but focus on getting married that day. They finished off all of the dishes and set up and transitioned the buffets. Since I worked with them I trusted them to do a good job and they wanted to do a good job because we were friends. I considered hiring staff through craigslist or a local cooking school. But how could I trust them with this huge task and also being in my friend’s home without supervision?

Their presence was the lifeblood of the meal and would not have been so amazing without them. Additionally, I would have been a nervous wreck. Instead I stayed completely out of the kitchen (except during the cocktail hour, which was pre-ceremony, when I snuck in to eat some chicken lollipops in my wedding dress.)

My best practical advice for my planning self

Encourage people to make decisions without your input. At first, I wanted complete control over the meal. Halfway into the second day of constant questions and decision making I was feeling overwhelmed and I had a few break downs. I know that was probably unavoidable anyway and they were pretty minor, but I wish I would have given up more control right off the bat when it came to making the meal.

Look into renting additional refrigeration. We had one entire fridge and about four or five coolers full of food that we fed ice into for days. And watch those damn potatoes!

Favorite thing about the wedding

Reading our vows that we wrote together. The toasts. My sister, brother and Matron of Honor all gave absolutely adorable and incredible speeches. I cried through all of them. And that pork. Holy cow.

Anything else you’d like to add

The menu was designed perfectly for a self-catered meal for 165 people. It was a classic summer barbecue. Nearly everything was prepped in advance and their was minimal heat cooking.

We had an appetizer and cocktail hour before the ceremony that got every one relaxed. During this hour we served chicken lollipops, which were the only actual cooking that happened that day and it was completed in the very beginning of the meal. The main course was smoked salmon, brisket and pork shoulder. Which we did in the days leading up to the wedding. After the smoking was done we vacuum sealed the protein and placed the sealed pouches in hot water for reheating, which helped maintain its integrity and moisture. Everything else was served cold or at room temperature.

The hardest part was figuring out how of each dish much to make. I did some research on the internet and reached out to a chef friend of mind who has lots of experience in catering. After all that I made some educated guesses. If you think self catering is an option for your wedding, I’ve included my menu and prep schedule to help people see more of the details.

It’s worth noting that I purchased some large bus tubs and food storage containers from a restaurant supply store. They helped with organization and were worth every penny. I also bought some large serving spoons, tongs and paper goods there. Getting these items there was more economical. Between myself and the property owner, we had plenty of large nice serving platters and stock pots.

Ironically enough, I outsourced the desserts. A dear friend of mine baked twenty pies. People could not stop talking about those pies. Needless to say, she’s also a pastry cook, and she’s on her way to NYC to do big things as I type this.

It was an intense amount of work and plenty of people were involved. But it was entirely worth it. It prolonged the party and was truly a community event. It means so much to know that the my hands carefully curated the meal that nourished my loved ones on our wedding day.

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