I love cooking challenges and projects. Last weekend I think I met my biggest one so far. My fiancé and I were hosting a little yard party to celebrate our engagement. Well, it turned into an Oktoberfest-themed afternoon for 80 guests – and we decided to cater the whole event ourselves. But the challenge goes on. I’m dedicating this month to teaching you how to host your own Oktoberfest party – one post at a time. This is post number one, giving you a general introduction into feasting German style.
When I say Oktoberfest is a challenge, I’m not only talking about logistics. If you’re a German in America, everyone inevitably asks you about it. But as a northern German, I have an aversion to this Bavarian circus. It’s in my DNA. Overcoming this was the first step.
I’ve never been to the real Oktoberfest, as it seems quite nightmarish to me – awful crowds, expensive beer, annoying music. But here’s the good thing – none of it applies if you’re hosting yourself. You can buy your own cases of Becks, choose your own playlist and, most importantly, we knew that our friends and family would be the most wonderful crowd to celebrate with. So why not own this German tradition and make it something really fun in our suburban backyard?
Which brings us to the real challenge. Bringing together just the closest friends and family, we gathered around 80 people that we had to feed (and water/beer). It takes some meticulous planning, shopping and prepping until you can finally set up your German buffet. The process involved numerous Google spreadsheets, swimming goggles (more on that below) and cart loads of produce.
I did most of the cooking together with my sister. We spent a day preparing everything and putting it in large aluminum trays that we could reheat the next day.
And here’s what we ended up with – the foods I’ll teach you to make over the next month. Oktoberfest or no Oktoberfest – they are German basics and many of them are easy to make and just as delicious any other month of the year.
Our Oktoberfest Buffet
- Pretzel rolls. We decided to go the extra mile of making our own the morning of the party and we’d do it again any time. They’re decorative and delicious.
- Liptauer spread. Technically an Austrian specialty but it’s a nice alternative to just butter with the bread.
- Currywurst im Schlafrock. Pigs in blankets with a German twist.
- Käsespieße. This one I’ll tell you right now – cut the cheese in cubes and make little “kebabs” of one cheese cube and one grape each. If you use little flags, they’re very pretty.
- Cheese & charcuterie board. You don’t need me for this.
- Sausages and sauerkraut. A good sauerkraut is more than a can of cabbage heated up on the stove top.
- German meatballs (Buletten). I suggest making them in the oven because you don’t want the experience of frying 100 meatballs in a pan.
- Potatoe salad with bacon and onions. Instead of the version with mayo – for diversity of salads.
- Pasta salad. With mayo, sausages and pickles.
- Cakes and cookies from the German bakery in town. If you don’t have one near you – we’ll need to talk more.
Some useful advice
- Don’t trick yourself into believing it’s not a lot of work. As I’m listing it, it doesn’t look like a lot. Well, it is. Especially if you’re serving large amounts. I’ll give you the recipes for four servings, but I’ll also add a footnote about the amounts we did and how they worked out.
- Have vegetarian options. Tofu sausages are a no-brainer. As is nut loaf and simply leaving out the bacon, bacon fat and sausages in the salads and the sauerkraut.
- Get a friend on board. I’m serious. Many people will offer to help and you’ll need them. But make sure you have that one special person you can completely rely on, with whom you can communicate easily and efficiently. In my case that’s my sister. We’ve been living in separate countries for at least ten years, but all it takes is two brief words and we’re on the same page with our kitchen tasks.
- Tidiness like it’s Germany. Bah, I hate national clichés, but this one should help you keep things together. This is where I channel my parents. Start in a super clean and tidy kitchen, take cleaning breaks in between. Don’t do three (desirably not even two) things at once.
- Don’t poison your guests. Related to the preceding point. Make sure you refrigerate all perishable food and heat everything up properly before you serve it. Since you don’t have a restaurant kitchen (I assume), this takes some planning. Make room in the fridge, start reheating the food early enough.
- Have fun! You’ll be prepping for two days, so make sure to laugh. Have a beer with it and find the irony in facing 10 pounds of ground beef or looking at a pile of onions to be chopped through your swimming goggles.