How to Win at Hosting Brunch

March  2, 2018

Who doesn't love a breakfast sandwich—especially when you can customize your own? We're celebrating the bacon, egg, and cheese and highlighting the easiest way to host a stress-free brunch with our partner Panera Bread.

I’m not sure about you, but I’ve got a track record of being pretty over-ambitious when it comes to hosting. Over the years this has led to some culinary wins—butterflied, stuffed pork loin wrapped in prosciutto that I somehow cut and tied right on the first try; a Milk Bar-style confetti cake, complete with cake truffles, for a 40th birthday party. Some spectacular failures come to mind, too: There was the Christmas Eve I lit the oven on fire (don't ask!), and countless other dinner parties where I spent the majority of the evening sweating and fretting in the kitchen instead of just hanging out, eating, and having fun.

Over the years, I’ve made a conscious effort to become a more chill host—to spend less time cooking and more time enjoying my own parties. For this reason, I've come to love hosting crowd-pleasing, make-ahead brunches over any other meal.

A sandwich assembly line. Photo by James Ransom

My favorite brunch trick of late is setting out a huge spread of eggs, breakfast meats, breads, toppings, and sauces so my guests can make their own breakfast sandwiches. Why? Most elements of the spread are make-ahead except for a few simple things you can throw in the oven before guests arrive, there's ample opportunity to satisfy my over-ambitious itch, and if I want to take the easy way out, I can always just buy everything at the grocery store, put it all in cute bowls, and call it a day.

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Best of all, my guests get to be as creative as I do when they make up their plate. By setting out an array of things that all go together well, whatever combo they come up with will be delicious. And if someone wants to keep it simple, they can. (I don’t want to hold anyone hostage to my idea of an impressive meal; maybe you just want a classic BEC!).

Should you want to host your own breakfast sandwich party, here are some tips for execution:

1. Set out a spread.

The sky is truly the limit. I usually think about the offerings in terms of egg + cheese + meat + vegetables + flavor + sauce + bread. Choose 1-3 options for each of those categories, and there are countless combos guests can make. If you want to go the extra mile, add sides like fruit salad or hash browns. Some suggestions:

  • Eggs: Sunny-side-up; baked with hard or runny yolks; sheet pan frittata-style. (See more on that below!)
  • Cheese: Consider melting cheese over half of the eggs, or select soft varieties that will melt easily, like Talleggio, brie, or fontina.
  • Meat: Bacon, breakfast sausage, veggie sausage, chorizo, smoked salmon, prosciutto, country ham… even burger patties work.
  • Vegetables: Sautéed spinach, chard, or kale; fresh baby kale, spinach, or arugula; sliced fresh tomato; fresh herbs like basil, Italian parsley, or cilantro; sliced avocado (not a vegetable, but you get the point!).
  • Extra flavor: Crispy-fried onions or shallots; sliced pickles (any variety is great, from cucumber to beet); pickled or candied jalapeños; sauerkraut; spice mixtures to sprinkle like togarashi or everything bagel spice.
  • Sauce: Chile oil, hot sauce, blender hollandaise, jam, aioli, or spicy honey. See more below!
  • Bread: Deli rolls, biscuits, bagels, focaccia, sliced baguettes, even waffles or sliced and griddled doughnuts if you're feeling ~adventurous~.
The easiest way to poach a dozen eggs at once: in a muffin tin. Photo by Bobbi Lin

2. Make the oven your best friend.

You can cook pretty much everything on sheet pans in the oven for less mess and more even cooking. Specific tips below!

  • For bacon or sausage: Lay them out on a rack on top of the sheet pan so the fat drips down; then you don’t have to drain them on paper towels before serving.
  • Batch-cook your eggs: Butter a muffin tin, pour 1 tablespoon of water into each slot, and crack an egg on top for the easiest way to poach eggs a dozen at a time. Bake for 8-10 minutes in a 350°F oven.
  • Or go sheet pan eggs-style: I’d also recommend going for plain scrambled or frittata-style sheet pan eggs if you’ve got a really big crowd. You can slice the sheet pan eggs into squares and arrange the squares on a platter, or just slice, set out a spatula, and serve straight from the pan.
  • No toaster? No prob: Toast your bread on sheet pans in the oven too.
  • Choose oven-friendly sides: You can make breakfast potatoes or even sheet pan hash browns ahead of time in the oven too. Out of room? Go for skillet-sized hash browns made on the stovetop.

3. Batch-make as much as you can.

You're hopefully already batch-cooking your eggs, but you can do the same thing with all sorts of stuff, from your sauces to your drinks.

  • A 3-in-1 Sauce: Get more mileage out of a homemade sauce like aioli by dividing it into different bowls and mixing in different flavoring options, from pesto to harissa to chimmichurri to lemon and garlic. (You can also do this with store-bought mayo—trust me, no one will be able to tell!)
  • Batched brunch cocktails: Scale up your favorite brunch drinks and serve them from pitchers so you won't have to play bartender all day. If you think more than a few folks will want virgin options, go with classics like the bloody mary or mimosas, serving the booze on the side so guests can add their own to their taste.
  • Coffee for a crowd: If you don’t have a solid coffee machine capable of cranking out carafe after carafe, make a large batch of strong cold brew toddy a few days ahead. You can mix it with any type of milk or water day of… cold OR hot! See this story for more details.
From left to right: ham egg whites and cheese on whole grain, bacon over easy egg and cheese on brioche, sausage scrambled egg and cheese on ciabatta.

Want to keep those brunch vibes running through the work week? Our partner Panera Bread loves customizing breakfast sandwiches just as much as we do—in fact, they've got several options you can pick and choose from on their menu. The latest is an elevated take on the classic bacon, egg, and cheese made with freshly baked brioche, thick-cut bacon, Vermont white cheddar, and an over easy egg.

Do you have any brunch tricks of your own? Share them in the comments!

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Cory Baldwin

Written by: Cory Baldwin

Food52's director of partner content Cory Baldwin has been an editor at food, travel, and fashion publications including Saveur, Departures and Racked.