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Wedding appetizer buffet with no electricity

I'm getting married in May. The wedding is at 2PM and we will just be doing appetizers instead of a full meal. It's taking place in someone's yard, and the area where the food will be set up is quite a ways from the house, so I'm not sure if we will be able to get power out there. (I considered a generator, but that would be an awful lot of racket.)

So I'm looking for appetizer ideas that won't need to be kept warm. The guest list is not heavy on foodies. In fact, I would say many of them are the opposite of Chowhounds. My fiance's family get-togethers are centered around things like lil' smokies in barbecue sauce with jelly and meatballs in gravy.

So things I'm looking for:

- don't need to be kept warm (kept cool might work; I can have ice buckets)
- nothing too "out there", needs to somewhat appealing to a redneck ;)
- not too expensive
- somewhat seasonal, where possible

Also, I've seen widely-varying numbers on apps/person. As mentioned, this isn't supposed to be a full meal, but I also don't want people to pass out while throwing horseshoes! How many items should I plan on per guest?

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  1. Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. If you are able to keep them cold something filled with different types of mousses. (Cucumber, shrimp, for example).

    1. You wouldn't need electricity if you use chafers with sternos. You could rent a hot box and use sheet pans with sternos between the shelves as a makeshift oven (no need to plug it in)

      As usual, a large piece of meat as sort of the centerpiece of the food table is popular...a spiral ham, roasted beef or pork loin with rolls and spreads usually well received.

      Sandwich pinwheels of cold cuts and cheeses, tuna or ham salads, roasted vegetables. Etc. Made on assorted flavored tortillas, lavash, or other flat breads then rolled, sliced and displayed on trays. Trays of cascading cheese, crackers, fruit and veggies also a usual.

      Summer rolls and deviled eggs can be filled with many variations would also work here. I worked a wedding once where we had a grits station set up; three flavors of grits were prepared and guests helped themselves to many different toppings like sausage gravy, shrimp, bacon, sautéed veggies, cheeses, etc. It was such a hit, we ran out of grits before the reception was over.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Cherylptw

        Roast beef sounds fabulous, but I think with this particular group pulled pork might be my best bet. (Before I had to move away from a full meal for budget reasons, the original plan was a pig roast! I still wish I could go that route, but alas....)

        Ah, deviled eggs would be good. I don't like them myself, but I know the groom's family loves them. And I love that grits idea! How fun.

        1. re: Kontxesi

          Pig roast would have been fabulous! I would have enjoyed being a guest at that reception!

          1. re: Kontxesi

            Hmm..I would think a pig roast would be cheaper than the direction you are leaning in

        2. you'll have people from 2 until 6ish then? many will not have had lunch and you'll still be hosting them at dinner time. unless you tell them it's a hard-stop ending at say 4, you'll need to offer more than just a few bites per person. for a cocktail reception lasting 2 hours the rec is generally 3-5 pieces per person. if it's a longer party, the rec is 6-8 pieces.

          avoid any kind of leafy salad as it will be wilted in no time.

          will you be doing this all yourself? can you enlist a friend or cousin to help keep things tidy and refreshed?

          cheryl's ideas all are good and you can also put a pan on top of another pan that has ice to keep items cool.

          roast chicken legs are fine done ahead and served on a platter at room temp.

          platters of cold cuts with a big basket of good rolls, with an assortment of mustards and condiments.

          are foods like tabouleh and hummus too "out there"? both are fine not being refrigerated.

          you can rent chafers or buy disposables and then still serve the lil smokies and meatballs and maybe a pan of ziti?

          3 Replies
          1. re: hotoynoodle

            I agree with everything here. How many people are you expecting? How many places for people to sit and eat? Is the event going to be set up upon guests arrival? Who is going to be in charge of that (food and decor)? Before, during and after? Some things hoto points out are important to consider. The time of day is not as important as when did they last eat. If everything goes smoothly they had to get dressed, drive, arrive, wait for ceremony, the lovely ceremony, etc. Plus apps are so much more work to assemble and serve.
            I would also recommend renting some items, especially a hot box. My husband works in a tiny kitchen (think 1920 house original kitchen size) and it is essential for daily service. It holds prepared food at the proper hot temperature (175 degrees I think) for hours. Then you could add in roasted turkey really easy. If you can park it close to the food table even better. Disguise is easy with opening towards the back.
            Have you thought about silverware.

            1. re: holypeaches

              My fiance is expecting about 6 people to show up. I'm a little more hopeful, maybe 75?

              The tables and chairs will all be set up before people show up, done by my brothers and various other family members. My mom, step-mom, and grandmothers will prep the food before people come (the day before, as much as possible) and will bring it out right after the ceremony.

              1. re: Kontxesi

                Good lots of capable and hopefully willing help around. Whew!
                How about...
                Crudite Platter with marinated artichoke hearts, olives, pickled green beans, pimento cheese stuffed celery, etc.
                Melon wrapped in prosciutto
                cheese straws and those pecan tassies or other spiced nut
                White bean dip in an Italian style with homemade crackers (I can get a reliable, cheap recipe for the crackers)
                Pulled pork sliders with jalapeno slaw
                A grilled chicken wrap maybe with cream cheese spread to prevent sogginess then roasted or matchstick veggies. Roll wrap tight and slice about 2 inches thick to serve.
                Plus all of the other ideas I think would make it so lovely. Of course the food is huge. Go You and Congrats!!
                I think everything listed can be eaten without a fork. Plus a "hot box" is a 175 degree dry contained holding container. IM me if you want further on that.
                Add cake and couple other things...
                What do you think?

          2. Definitely second renting a hot box and chafing/sterno set ups. Go heavy hot apps: meat, cheese and veggie filled pastry pockets; mini corn dogs; meatballs. Then supplement with various crudités and dips you can keep on ice. Round out with cheese,salami and cracker platters with some pickled/brined items.

            1. I agree with every statement already made. Focus on keeping beverages cold but your options to keep food warm to hot is better without electricity than cold in May.

              Congratulations! I hope you have plenty of helpers!

              2 Replies
              1. re: HillJ

                Average temp for that time of year around here is 70-75, so I'm not too concerned about keeping things cool. The only thing I'm thinking of specifically is the crudités, which I'm thinking about doing in individual cups with the dip in the bottom.

                1. re: Kontxesi

                  In NJ 70-75 would still be warm enough for me to be sure I could keep cold things cold for hours and hours. The setup time, the reception time and the second time around for guests who graze. And helpers to keep an eye on things.

                  You've got so many great tips coming in from CH's, you'll be fine.

              2. For keeping food cold without resorting to buckets or big plastic cooler, I love these inflatable party coolers. These are relatively simple ones but you can go all out with themes if you want to:


                1. I'd do a nice cold collation... you can keep it cool with an ice tray.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Kajikit

                    sorry? collation? auto-correct running amok?

                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      This was new to me too so I had to look it up.

                      the action of collating something.
                      "data management and collation"
                      a light, informal meal.

                      1. re: seamunky

                        that's a pretty esoteric usage:


                        collation (countable and uncountable, plural collations)

                        Bringing together.
                        The act of bringing things together and comparing them; comparison. [from 14th c.]

                        (Can we find and add a quotation of Alexander Pope to this entry?)

                        The act of collating pages or sheets of a book, or from printing etc. [from 19th c.]
                        A collection, a gathering. [from 20th c.]  [quotations ▼]
                        Discussion, light meal.
                        (obsolete) A conference or consultation. [14th-17th c.]
                        (in the plural) The Collationes Patrum in Scetica Eremo Commorantium by John Cassian, an important ecclesiastical work. (Now usually with capital initial.) [from 13th c.]  [quotations ▼]
                        A reading held from the work mentioned above, as a regular service in Benedictine monasteries. [from 14th c.]  [quotations ▼]
                        The light meal taken by monks after the reading service mentioned above. [from 14th c.]

                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          I used to work in a print shop in my teens; when I read the word collation, I was like what? Didn't realize it had another meaning, learning something new everyday...

                          1. re: Cherylptw

                            In French collation means snack so I can assume that there is some relation.

                  2. Antipasto would be nice - sliced salami, cheese, and olives with more assembled appetizers like mozzarella and tomato, stuffed or marinated mushrooms

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                      I saw some cute antipasto skewers I was considering. It'll be a little work, but that's what sisters are for!

                      I am also considering caprese tartlets. Would that be something we could make the day before, refrigerate, and then serve at room temperature? Or would they need to be made that day and served warm?

                      1. re: Kontxesi

                        I think you could make the day ahead but if you planned to drizzle with balsamic and oil maybe save that for day of or skewer them and someone can dip the skewers in the marinade in the morning. Blargh, no sisters for me! I would love to see my dad skewering caprese though!

                        1. re: Kontxesi

                          tart dough will get soggy in the fridge. they don't need to be served warm, but can be baked and then held at room temp. put a basil leaf in the bottom as a "shield" to keep the juices from making the pastry wet.

                          you can combine the caprese/antipasto idea though -- skewer a small grape tomato, top that with a piece of basil, a cube of cheese and a cube of salami. marinated veggies, like mushrooms or artichoke hearts, can go on there too. drizzling stuff like oil or balsamic on skewers means people are more likely to drip on themselves though. i'd avoid that.

                          1. re: Kontxesi

                            In the tarts, there's cream cheese but a real caprese salad is just basil, tomatoes & mozz. You can blind bake individual tartlets the day before.

                            On the day of, make a big bowl of the salad (cheese cut in small cubes or use small fresh mozz. balls, halved) and I'd suggest blistering and using cherry tomatoes (can be done the day before). Then when you're ready to serve, it'll take minutes to fill those baked tartlets with a set of tongs. Since you have help, it will be a breeze. Drizzle the top of them with your dressing before serving.

                            If you wanted to combine antipasto ingredients, consider making salami or pepperoni cups in the oven (day before) and fill these with the caprese salad mix.

                            1. re: Cherylptw

                              It seems I missed the word "tartlets." I love the idea of salami cups. How long do you bake?

                              1. re: fldhkybnva

                                15-20 minutes depending on the oven. I usually do these as crisps, dried in the oven on sheet pans but they can be done between two muffin tins.

                        2. All of the above are wonderful. Think elegant picnic.

                          Slice your own with roast beef, ham, and turkey. Between biscuits or rolls.

                          Whole fruit and cheese.

                          Fried chicken. Crawfish towers. Trays of sausage and veggies.

                          Enjoy the day.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                            oh biscuits!!! you could have the caprese ingredients composed without crust as kind of a crustless quiche. with the biscuits there,and some sourdough sliced bread, or foccacia, you don't have to worry about the tricky crust prep ahead of time.

                            For me, whole fruit is difficult to eat in public. I'd go more for a cut fruit salad.....separated by fruit if you have guests who don't like mixes....I prefer it all mixed together. Cheese in cubes for those who like me love to mix cheese with fruit.I love blue cheese but many don't. Some spiced nuts...they hold for a long time.

                            Cheese straws.. savory pecan thumbprints....cukes in a rice vinegar/fresh ginger/mint combo with or without peanuts and bit of seam oil.

                          2. I recently went to a bridal shower. The menu was various types of hummous, beet, eggplant. The main feature was small sandwiches that had been individually wrapped and put on trays.(they looked quite nice all wrapped up) As you are having an informal get together perhaps something like this would be of interest to you.

                            1. Fried chicken! Tasty at room temp and not terribly expensive. Hell, I wouldn't be above getting a big order from a restaurant and putting it on a pretty platter :)

                              2 Replies
                                1. re: pinehurst

                                  When I saw the mention of horse shoes, I said "Fried chicken!" Maybe even KFC.

                              1. I would consider getting one or more of these table top coolers. They are huge (6' long) and are designed to fit on a standard 6' folding table.


                                1. Congrats on your upcoming marriage!

                                  What about borrowing some gas grills? Certainly less expensive than renting a hot box. Could just be used to warm things up that have been previously cooked.

                                  1. If you think of it as a picnic, it gets pretty easy.

                                    1. where? I'm assuming the south, i'm from NC ..... wondering how hot it usually gets in May where this is happening...keeping anything with egg or mayo in it cool enough to avoid food poisoning might be challenging....

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Madrid

                                        Virginia, 70-75 degrees expected.

                                        1. re: Kontxesi

                                          ..and humid. I'm in NJ, I know what humid is!

                                          1. re: HillJ

                                            Actually, May isn't terrible for humidity. I just don't go outside in June, July, or August. :| (I'm an Arizona transplant. I've lived here since I was 9, but I've never adjusted to drinking my air.)

                                            1. re: Kontxesi

                                              Thank goodness. Here in NJ, we never know. The temp is not reliable year round anymore.

                                      2. I really enjoyed a buffet of rice with various Cajun sauces/stews to top (Etouffee, Gumbo, ...), bought in big food service bags from a local Cajun restaurant and served from sterno chafing pans (disposable foil). It seems this was a standard way they "catered" events. The food was delicious and everyone loved it. So easy to keep the buffet up -- open a new bag and top off the pans when they get low.

                                        Served with $3 chuck and microbrewery beer.

                                        Little bit foodie, little bit country.

                                        1. I would bake a ham, glaze it pretty with cloves and brown sugar, and set it out next to a big basket of little roll and/or little cocktail-size rye bread and several kinds of mustard. Either let people carve a bit and make little sandwiches or speed things up for a crowd by having a designated carver. The ham will be fine at air temperature for hours (hopefully in the shade and not bright sunlight). I have served this at many parties and it is always a winner.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Querencia

                                            or one of the great country hams from Virginia.

                                            1. re: Madrid

                                              Yum. We've got a place one county up that has amazing country hams. Good idea!

                                          2. We serve a bourbon-mustard glazed pork loin at our Mardi Gras party every year. We roast and thinly slice it a day or two ahead of the event, then set out plates of sliced pork with cut rolls, mayo & mustards for the party. You could season the pork differently if the bourbon-mustard flavor is not your thing. We generally buy the Smithfield cryo-pac loin and slice it lengthwise before marinating, and slice crosswise after roasting so the slices better fit the rolls for the little sandwiches.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: AreBe

                                              My go-to pork seasoning is cinnamon-based, but I don't think that's what I'm going for. I'll have to try out a few ideas if I go that route. The bourbon part sounds good, but I still haven't learned to like mustard. I'm trying! :)

                                            2. -Individual tortilla chips topped with nacho ingredients
                                              -Tortellini/salami/tomato/mozz/olive/etc skewers
                                              -Cold shrimp wrapped in a snow pea on a toothpick jabbed into a head of cabbage
                                              -Sausage wrapped in puffed pastry, sliced then baked
                                              -Bacon wrapped dates (or anything)
                                              -chicken or tofu satay skewers with peanut sauce
                                              -snow peas or cucumber slices with hummus
                                              -dill pickles wrapped in cream cheese and dried beef
                                              -deviled eggs
                                              -mashed potato martinis - martini cups filled with mashed potato then a variety of things to top them with (cheese, sour cream, broccoli, gravy, salsa, etc)

                                              I agree that a couple chafing dishes could really increase the variety of things you're able to offer.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: sauterc

                                                "mashed potato martinis - martini cups filled with mashed potato then a variety of things to top them with (cheese, sour cream, broccoli, gravy, salsa, etc)"
                                                at room temp?

                                              2. We did a party and it was pretty hot out. We got food grade buckets and placed them in bowls of ice. Had 2 kinds potato, pasta,wheat berry,asian noodle, 7layer. Depends how fast people are going to eat. Take the 'dangerous' stuff off first. Set up a shade tent so the food is always sheltered. Couple cold pre bbqed salmons/over ice. A cold pre sliced roast beef and or ham with buns for sandwiches. Big roast at costco 30 bucks. Couple of those. You can probably rent chafing dishes/steam trays and use ice underneath instead of water and heat.

                                                1. I think you are better off having room temperature (cold) food than to bother with chafing dishes etc...there are so many delicious foods that are great serve room temp.
                                                  Frittatas, stratas, salads, meats, salmon, bread, savoury pies. It will not be about the food so really no need to stress.
                                                  I think you should plan on 12 bites per person.
                                                  Great bread, selection of cheeses, a ham, mini stratas, individual spanakopita, tomato/bocconcini skewers, smoked salmon mousse on cucumber rounds/bread....

                                                  1. Have you considered making it a pot luck?

                                                    My cousin's wedding was really excellent at a campground, members of both families brought their best dishes *AND* the recipes.

                                                    It was a really great way for the families to get to know each other and no strain on the bride and groom (wedding lasted 7 minutes on the coast in Oregon - reception went on til the wee hours). It might sound pedestrian but it was one of the best weddings I have ever been too.

                                                    You might also ask your family if they have anything that would help. An RV with Kitchen and a power supply could be handy if there's room in the yard / space.