Tacos for 90th birthday party of 50 people
May 3, 2007 4:48 PM   Subscribe

PartyFilter: What is the cheapest, easiest way to make tacos for 50 people? Should I make my own guacomole and salsa?

I read the taco recipes in this previous AskMe thread. Some of them look too easy to mess up when cooking a lot at once, or don't indicate how much taco one person eats.

Googling found suggestions of everywhere from 10-40 lbs of meat (for 50 people). I'm guessing ~35 lbs, but I don't know enough about tacos to guess how much of the other stuff I should buy. How many pounds of cheese, vegetables, rice, beans, etc. do I need to buy at Costco tomorrow?

This is for my grandmother's 90th birthday party on Sunday. Any advice or words of warning are much appreciated. Thank you.
posted by srs to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you make quacomole, mix in the avacado pits when you're done making it. They'll keep it from turning nasty brown colors.
posted by niles at 4:55 PM on May 3, 2007

...don't eat the pits though
posted by niles at 4:56 PM on May 3, 2007

Get the guacamole that comes in bags. It's fairly cheap, it's amazingly delicious, and no one has to know it came from a bag.
posted by ORthey at 5:05 PM on May 3, 2007

First of all, this may go without saying, but if possible, set out a "taco bar" so that everyone can make his or her own tacos with ingredients and proportions of his or her choice - and people can avoid carbs and/or meat as desired.

As to quantities: I don't know the weight, but I would think that two large lasagna-size disposable trays (approximately 12" X 20") of meat mix would be about enough. Get plenty of tomatoes (50 tomatoes?). Sour cream would probably be very popular too.

A final data point: at the big group "taco bar" lunches that I used to organize, flour tortillas were way more popular than traditional hard shells (are tacos wrapped in tortilas still tacos?).
posted by sueinnyc at 5:28 PM on May 3, 2007

Get the guacamole that comes in bags.

That's good advice. Much as I hate processed foods, that's the cheapest and easiest way. Unless you live where they grow avocados, they're expensive, and you need a lot of them to make a little guacamole - plus, limes and spices as well. In addition, there's always the headache of making sure they're just ripe enough for mashing just in time for your party. Go bagged!

For the salsa, the opposite is true. Bottled salsa has to be hot-processed and it's more expensive ounce per ounce than homemade. A very good and very simple salsa fresca can be made by combinining tomatoes, a few cloves of garlic, onion, salt, and cilantro in the food processor. Make it a batch at a time, pulse gently (don't puree), and you can balance out the contents just the way you like. You'll basically need about 3 parts tomatoes to 1 part other vegetable stuff.
posted by Miko at 5:41 PM on May 3, 2007

My closest experience with this was when a good friend graciously made chicken flautas for my last birthday party. We anticipated about 25 people. (Link is just a sample recipe not the one she used.) I think flautas are way more complicated to make than tacos, but it came off very well.

Based on what little help I was in the flauta-making, if I were to guesstimate what you need, I think 35 pounds seems like a lot. 35 pounds is almost 3/4 pound per person. Think of a quarter pound burger. How many would each guest eat on average. 20 pounds is probably more like it. That's 4/10ths of a pound per person. Plus the other food and toppings. The good thing is, any leftover beef will freeze well for later reheating, so if you go with too much, no big deal really.

I would concentrate my labor on that which is most important: making the tacos taste good. Good quality premade guac and salsa, pre-shredded lettuce and pre-grated cheese, etc. Quanitity -wise (and some of this is the exclusive "pulling numbers out of Deej's butt" method) I would say get a at least 64 oz. each of guac and salsa. Extra salsa will last a long time, plus if there are any tortilla chips around, it will be used for that. 2 or 3 pounds of shredded lettuce, and 15 or more tomatoes. 5 - 10 lbs of shredded cheese; remember you will probably be topping beans with it, if you have beans as a side dish.

I won't recommend a recipe, because I really don't have a favorite. I use McCormick's seasoning, usually. But, once it's all cooked, I would put it in one or more slow-cookers to keep it hot and bacteria-free. And slow cookers tend to not dry things out.

Depending on whether you will have people spoon their own taco-meat or not, they can spoon right from the slow cooker, or you can make enough to keep ahead.

I also recommend you cook your own tortillas, and not use the pre-formed ones. Those are ok for a little family dinner, but they break too easily which results in a lot of mess and even less elegance than tacos normally have anyway. One good method my friend had was to dip tortillas in cold vegetable oil (both sides) and stacking them like that prior to cooking them. The oil soaks in, making it easier to bend into the shell shape when you cook it, without it breaking. (No one said this was healthy!)

My philosophy for any party-cooking I have done: better to have too much than not enough. If people hang around a while, you can re-heat more, hours after the party. You can freeze some, send extra home with people, etc. There is nothing worse than running out of food that people are really enjoying. (OK, there ARE worse things, but you know what I mean.)

Maybe an expert will chime in with better numbers, but that's my 2 cents.

And happy birthday to Grandma! That's quite a milestone. Have fun!
posted by The Deej at 5:48 PM on May 3, 2007

For 5 people, I make 2 lbs of hamburger, 2 lbs of diced tomatoes, 1 lb of shredded cheese, 2 large onions, 1 large can of refried beans, 1 pint of sour cream, 1 full head of lettuce, 1 jar of salsa, and 16 burrito-sized flour tortillas. We usually have enough left over for one or two large tacos the next day. So multiply by 10, and don't freak out about how much it is. The Deej couldn't be more right- MUCH better to have leftovers, than empty pans.

Happy birthday to your grandmother! What a milestone!
posted by headspace at 5:56 PM on May 3, 2007

Definitely do a taco bar so people can put stuff in themselves. Then you can get both hard shells and normal tortillas for those who prefer soft tacos, and different kinds of beans, and all that. At the very least, you need to let people determine the amount of salsa they want, so you may as well give them all the freedom you can. Get tons of everything because what people like may surprise you. It's not like it's a horrible fate to eat a lot of tacos for the next week.

2nd the rec to make the salsa but not the guacamole. Guacamole can be a huge pain and if you don't get enough avocados that ripen quickly enough, you're so hosed.

I just went to a taco party on Saturday and the host put out some very weird stuff, such as pickles. Don't put out pickles. Despite what the host (a Canadian, as opposed to my Southern CA upbringing, which may explain my superior understanding of proper tacos) maintained, pickles do not belong in a taco.
posted by crinklebat at 5:56 PM on May 3, 2007

My neighbors had a taco bar at last year's Halloween party. It appeared that the guests ate an average of 3 tacos* each.

Re: cheese: I'd buy 3# blocks of mild cheddar and monterey jack, and 1# of cotija. Grate them up and offer in separate bowls.

Thirding the guac that comes in ready-made bags. Costco sells it for cheap and it's already got seasonings and lemon juice added, which keeps it from quickly oxidizing. Buy two boxes (equals 8 packets), you open them as you need them and the unopened packets freeze well in case you have leftovers.

Instead of salsa, just set out bowls of the ingredients of pico de gallo: fresh chopped tomatoes, white onions, cilantro, jalapeƱos, wedges of limes. I'd go with 8 cups of each, except for the lime wedges, where a dozen limes should suffice. If you really prefer to have a salsa on hand, just mix up the first four ingredients, squeeze the limes into it and salt to taste. Celery salt is an added bonus, here.

I'd skip the rice unless you're also planning to serve beans. One without the other just ain't right and then you'll also have to deal with dining utensils (as tacos are finger foods and r&b require forks).

(are tacos wrapped in tortilas still tacos?)

Crispy/hard shelled U-shaped tacos are the US fast food variant, traditional tacos are served open-faced upon steamed soft tortillas.

*each taco was served upon (2) 4" corn tortillas, the way Abuela would do it.
posted by jamaro at 5:57 PM on May 3, 2007

Ooh! Ooh! I know! The all time best tacos I've ever made use this super simple pork recipe:
3-4 lb boneless pork roast
1 jar pepperoncin
Place pork in crockpot. Pour entire contents of jar over. Cook on low all day. Remove meat at end of day and shred.

Incredibly flavorful, easy and tender-a great choice for a big party. Much simpler than doing a lot of ground beef and spices. You could do a larger roast, if you had a larger crockpot-heck, borrow several crockpots.

While it's cooking, we head down to our Mexican supermarket and buy a bunch of their homemade corn tortillas (2.50 for 30 or so), cotija cheese, cilantro, and their awesome fresh green salsa (you could buy a milder red salsa, too). Don't bother with guac-just dice avocadoes and toss with lime juice. Heat up black beans or refried beans-stir some salsa into the beans as they heat (good for vegetarians, too-make sure to get vegetarian refried beans). Let folks mix and match-these are amazingly good.

I'd agree that 20 lbs of meat would be good, though that depends on what else you are serving. Are the tacos it, or are you going to have some side dishes?
posted by purenitrous at 6:08 PM on May 3, 2007

Oh, one more suggestion: Get some La Victoria Red Taco Sauce. It's a smooth, sweet, mild sauce that's great on beans, rice, and tacos, alone or with salsa.
posted by The Deej at 6:16 PM on May 3, 2007

If you decide to buy guacamole, check the ingredient list. Many brands have no avacado at all.
posted by rdr at 6:46 PM on May 3, 2007

are tacos wrapped in tortilas still tacos?

Yes, based on experience as a guest student in Mexico. No hard shells at all! But savory seasoned chicken meat (no beef) is rotisseried vertically right in the room. The waitress used a big knife to cut from the stack of slowly rotating meat right into little soft tortillas. Served with small whole grilled onions.
(Homer Simpson drool take aaaauuuggghhh....)

Also: For a 90th birthday party you might want to have one or two dining options beside the tacos.
posted by longsleeves at 7:15 PM on May 3, 2007

chuck roast boil then shred the meat, fry at will to meet demand, with a little onion and garlic.

And real tacos are not crunchy shells.
posted by Max Power at 7:36 PM on May 3, 2007

if you use seasoning packs and doing a largish batch, don't add all of the water. The package instructions assume lots of water loss by steam, and that doesn't scale linear for 20 or more pounds. Start with about half the instruction's water.
posted by yesster at 8:35 PM on May 3, 2007

Try allrecipes.com. it lets you put in the amount of servings needed and adjusts quantities accordingly. Just pick out a taco recipe and work from there.

As for advice or words of warning? If you are catering for a mostly sr. citizen demographic, you might want to skip the beans! But seriously, if you are worried about cooking and estimating for such a large crowd, check out one of the local mexican semi-fast food places (moes, lime fresh mex grill, moes, etc.) It may end up bein more affordable.

Good luck! Hope grandma loves it!
posted by necessitas at 9:10 PM on May 3, 2007

To be clear, the guac in a bag from Costco is fantastic, but I've never seen any other store-bought guacamole that was servable. I think the brand is called Avoclassic. Just don't think anyone is suggesting you grab a few tubs of Dean's. Since you are going to Costco, there's no need to consider making your own. That stuff is better than what you would get shopping for avocados.
posted by team lowkey at 10:49 PM on May 3, 2007

I second purenitrous' suggestion. Get yourself a picnic ham (not cured in any way) or a pork shoulder and slow roast in a covered pan in the oven or in a crockpot. It is super cheap and that fatty pork is tastay. Pico de gallo all the way. Not only will it make a tastier substitute for salsa but you don't have to set out tomatoes as a seperate veggie if you don't want to. Go all flour tortillas. The last time I did a taco party, not a single corn tortilla got used except those I ate myself.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:37 PM on May 3, 2007

Along with the guac, Costco offers a 'Mexican Blend' of bagged shredded cheese, about 2.5 lbs each. It's sold under their Kirkland brand and it's perfect for tacos. And buying shredded cheese will save you from shredded knuckles.

Taco bar, mmmm. Good idea.
posted by artdrectr at 11:41 PM on May 3, 2007

I don't often cook for 50, but do host extended family night every other week. Here are my thoughts:

Head to a party store to buy disposable metal dishes, like roasting pans. Those will make cleanup easier. Also consider a plastic tablecloth to go underneath your setup. Less scrubbing after, and looks festive.

The Setup, presumably on a bar or countertop or long table:

1.) Plates

2.) Tortillas - some crunchy from the box, some soft flour, some soft corn. You can go authentic here but don't be ashamed to buy them at your regular grocery or costco.

3.) Slow cooker with meat. If you don't want to do shredded beef or pork or chicken (these are all great, by the way - check allrecipes.com as mentioned above) and want to stick with ground beef, cook up those 20 pounds tonight or tomorrow, ahead of time, in batches. My secret trick to break up the large lumps is to use my potato masher while it's cooking-- keeps the ground beef small like I like it. Add seasonings, etc., and then refrigerate. A few hours before the party throw all the meat in a slow cooker to reheat and keep warm during the party.

4.) Cheese, lettuce, tomatoes- buy pre-shredded at costco or local grocery.

5.) Sour cream, guac from a bag, salsa. Salsa in the food processor is easy peasy and make-ahead-able. We like this recipe minus the jalapeƱos plus some fresh lime juice. We also use the mild Rotel. Pulse in the processor until it's at your desired consistency. You might do two batches-- one spicy and one mild. Make it Saturday night or Sunday morning and let it hang out in the fridge overnight.

6.) Chips

7.) Rice and beans, maybe. Consider buying these premade-- we get ours from a local mexican restaurant and it's not too expensive.

8.) Napkins and forks

9.) Drinks. Consider cans-- no cups that way.

Set out your Setup tonight or tomorrow so you know if you need to buy more large containers. You'll want large bowls for cheese, lettuce, chips, etc., which can be found at the party store. And don't forget a large accessible garbage can. Have fun!
posted by orangemiles at 7:03 AM on May 4, 2007

teamlowkey -

There is actually another brand that makes great guac-in-a-bag but I can't for the life of me remember what.
posted by ORthey at 9:44 AM on May 4, 2007

I'd almost say skip the beans, but then if anybody is vegetarian they will be really disappointed. IMHO you need to have at least some beans to cover this contingency. Plus, it gives the meat-eaters a little more variety for their tacos, too.

I'd suggest black beans instead of/in addition to the refried type. You can probably get 2 huge cans of them at Costco for $5-10 or so; just empty the cans into a big pot and put in plenty of ground cumin, stir, then cook until warm. Viola, ready-to-serve Mexican black beans. You can put some hot pepper in, too, but I'd skip it for the senior set.

p.s. If you have leftovers and/or want even more of a feast, you could make some seven layer dip, since you'll already have pretty much all the ingredients. This no-cook recipe is really popular at parties. Just mash up some of your pre-cooked beans in place of the bean dip it calls for.
posted by vorfeed at 2:56 PM on May 4, 2007

Nthing the Costco guac support. It's pretty good.

And do consider the roast pork taco idea! Pork is delicious, rich, unexpected, carries flavor well, is authentically Mexican, and may be cheaper ounce for ounce than beef.
posted by Miko at 8:36 PM on May 5, 2007

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