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Christmas Party for 40 - theme ideas, main courses on a budget?


This is my 18th year throwing a Christmas party. Started in high school, menus have varied over the years, but I'm always looking to do something new. Like many others, this year will be a little tighter than the past, so I'm looking for main courses that I can do on a budget - probably do one pasta and one meat. Any suggestions for what to do with inexpensive cuts of meat for a crowd?

I also try to have a theme that helps me corral my menu. Past years were the "Very Drunken Christmas" with penne vodka and tenderloin in port sauce, "Colors of Christmas" with stuffed shells, chicken with red pepper sauce, and spinach with rice; or "Chritsmas Circa 1974" with apricot chicken, fondue, etc. This year I'm playing around with the budget aspect, and looking at things like "homestyle holidays", but I can't come up with a nice title that expresses the warm and welcoming, yet thrifty aspect without sounding too depressing. Any suggestions?


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  1. Pulled pork comes to mind immediately; pork shoulder/butt roasts are very inexpensive, usually.....you could set up a crockpot of it to keep it hot and put out rolls and extra bbq sauce. Here's a recent thread about cheap cuts of meat that also might inspire you:

    1. The Zuni Cafe Mock Porchetta is a great recipe that dresses up a cheap cut of meat and opens the door to thrifty sides. You serve it hot, although I think it would also be good served cold, thinly sliced, on buns. Here's a thread:
      As for naming it? Hmmm, you could call it the Christmas of Love or the Spirit of Christmas Past (Or Present of Future) or something a little sappy to distract from the cheapness aspect.

      1. The pork ideas sound good....you could also do lots of sausages to go with the pasta. You can buy those in bulk at Costco.
        As for the name...maybe just go with the flow and try to make light of the economic situation.
        The "Christmas for Clunkers" menu....or "Fannie Mae Holiday"......or "Upside Down Season."

        1. Why not just call it "Homestyle Christmas"? Home style means the menu can be made up of any comfort food...mac & cheese, stuffed red potato apps, green bean bundles tied with roasted red bell pepper strips, miniature size pot pies...instead of pulled pork, why not do pulled turkey barbecue? Turkeys are still on sale in most stores and a 25 lb turkey makes a lot of barbecue; you could either make or buy dinner rolls to make sandwiches out of..I buy extra turkeys to make this all year long. If interested, l have a great recipe for the sauce.

          Other meat suggestions are chicken, meatballs or ground beef or pork; also pasta such as lasagna or other inexpensive pasta mixed with a cream sauce & vegetables. You could do a theme such as Italian, Mexican, French (which would probably be a little more expensive than the others) If you know anyone who owns a restaurant or has access to a food supplier, you can probably buy your meat cheap as well as some of the other items on your menu.

          One last question: is the party for just relatives or is it an open house type of affair? If it's for relatives, you can call it a "Potluck Surprise Christmas" and ask everyone to bring a side or dessert and you can supply the main entree, which will make more affordable for you.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Cherylptw

            I'd love some details on how to do pulled turkey.

            1. re: waver

              I usually cook mine on the grill by splitting it in half like a chicken, rubbing it down with a dry rub of onion powder, granulated garlic, cumin, a little dry mustard, a little (not much) brown sugar, kosher s & p.

              Cook on grill using indirect heat for a couple hours then wrap in a couple layers of heavy duty foil wrap, poke with a few holes and put back on the grill to finish cooking, turning every once in a while, until it reaches 160F. Remove from grill and allow to rest for an hour. Once cool enough to handle, just remove the skin and bones and pull the meat like pork. Sometimes I'll partially cook the bird and remove it after a couple hours then wrap and finish in the oven. You could also do this in a smoker if you wish.

              While the bird is cooking, I puree one large onion and 3 cloves of garlic in a food processor until completely broken down. Add this to a large saucepan with one cup tomato puree, a cup cider vinegar, 6 vegetable juice cocktail, 1 cup (or more, depending on how sweet you like your sauce) brown sugar, 1/4 cup molasses, 1 tablespoon worcestershire, 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, kosher salt & pepper. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until reduced by 1/3 and is concentrated, then whisk in a couple of tablespoons of butter.

              I like to toss the pulled turkey in the sauce and heat in oven for about 20 minutes; serve in buns with slaw or on a plate with sides.

              1. re: Cherylptw

                I love turkey but I would do something different if it was my party...every party I goto in the next month and a half use turkey...I think something different would be nice.

                1. re: LaLa

                  What would you suggest? The OP is looking for suggestions....

            2. re: Cherylptw

              How do you make the meatballs? I haven't made my turkey (no pork allowed) meatballs in the slow cooker in years and I need to wow my coworkers.

            3. I don't know about NY (I think that's where you are from), but in Alberta Pork is dirt cheap right now because of Swine flu (you can't get it from eating pork). You probably could pick up some nice tenderloins at a bulk store (Costco) for cheap. Or a nice slow cooked pork roast with apples and onions.

              1. Have you considered a whole oven roast beef brisket? It is very easy; just use a low salt rub, cook at 350 without covering for 2 hours, then add enough stock to get 1/2 inch liquid in pan, cover, lower heat to 300 and cook for another 5 hours or until the meat can be easily pulled with a fork. Makes the meat melt in your mouth; try it with sour cream and horseradish sauce and the resulting au jus created by the slow roast. It also makes the house smell great. Sounds like you may need 2 briskets to feed 40. Ditto on the slow cooker to keep warm.

                5 Replies
                1. re: MartiniGenie

                  I've never done brisket before, but I'm usually daring for the party. I've been thinking pulled pork too - that sounds like a great idea. Thanks for all the great suggestions!

                  1. re: mickeygee


                    Brisket is one of those items usually thought of only in Texas...spent some time there as a girl...

                    If you are thinking of going the brisket way, hopefully you have a great butcher you can order from. I have one that I can call ahead and order and get for about 2.50 per pound. This makes for about $50 all total for meat cost. Not bad for party of 40...

                    For a dry rub, use powdered ingredients. The reason I say low salt is because the first time I tried this, I had an overly salty au jus; it cooks down.

                  2. re: MartiniGenie

                    This is not familiar to me but sounds great. How do you serve it? Does it slice or pull? What's the typical weight of an uncooked brisket?

                    1. re: waver


                      I serve it pulled and use either a slow cooker or a warming plate. I have tried to slice, but by the time it gets done, it is really tender. Typically, brisket is around 10 pounds.

                      1. re: waver

                        A proper brisket is sliced against the grain. it could be chopped after, but tender slices are the best

                    2. I think Homestyle Holidays sounds good... You could also call it "Just Like Mom Used to Make..." to evoke comfort food feelings. You could play with the dishes and give some higher end ingredients... Brisket or Pot Roast with a HorseRadish Sauce, a Gruyere Potato Gratin or Mac'n'Cheese with finer cheeses, Green Beans Almondine, Biscuits, Upside-Down Galette or a Strawberry Shortcake trifle or a brown trifle or bread pudding for dessert... Would like to suggest French Onion soup, but too difficult for a crowd that size, I fear. Another entree worth considering is Shepherd's Pie, as it's economical and easy to make for masses.

                      You could also do a "Down Home Christmas" or "Christmas on the Farm" - fried chicken, or chicken fried steak, buttermilk mashed potatoes, greens, mac'n'cheese, buttermilk biscuits, corn, and peach cobbler and bread pudding...

                      1. You could call it, "Home for the Holidays". So many artists have recorded the song at different points in time, people of all ages know it. At once the title conveys a "homestyle" Christmas and the good host's wish that his/her guests always feel at home.

                        1. A number of years ago, when the economy crashed, I had to do a New Year's Eve dinner party for thirty people. I ran a "soup kitchen". The invitations were printed on brown paper bags, drinks served in jelly jars, and I made a number of soups and stews. You can do a chowder, beef bourguignon, mac and cheese, chicken tortilla soup...be creative. It certainly can be accomplished on a tight budget!

                          1. "Big Love on a Budget Christmas"
                            "More Love on Less Dough Christmas"
                            "More Bang for the Buck Christmas"
                            "Post-Crash Christmas"
                            "Hobo Mickey's Christmas"

                            Agree with the majority of posters above who suggest budget meat (pork, chicken, and/or beef), slow cooked in some way, and pulled and sauced.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              I love those theme ideas - might need to have the next few years all set!

                            2. A friend of mine does a whole cajun gumbo kind of thing, with lots of kielbasa and shrimp - she just makes a big pot of it, a big pot of rice, and pans of cornbread. It's cheap, and people really seem to like it.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: jeanmarieok

                                We used the theme "Back to basics" for a recent community event. It really got people thinking and I can think of ways it could apply to your gathering. some of the basic meals: franks and beans, chicken n dumplings, mac and cheese...

                              2. Pork shoulder is an exceedingly cheap cut of meat that goes quite a long way. You could go with a Caribbean theme and serve pernil, pasteles and for a Caribbean-take on lasagna, perhaps patecon. Coquito would also be a must.

                                1. On Secrets of a Restaurant Chef on FN, Anne Burrell made a porchetta that was Tuscan inspired and it looked fabulous. It was made using a pork shoulder which run about $1 lb or less in my neck of the woods. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/an...

                                  She also made a smooth chickpea soup that I can't wait to try http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/an...

                                  This looked to be a very economical and beautiful meal and a Tuscan Christmas could be fun.