Soon, we’ll start seeing some familiar sights in our neighborhood: blue and silver balloons tied on mailbox posts, lines of cars stacked along our narrow streets, white tent poles in backyards manicured within an inch of their lives. Yes, it will soon be the season of graduation parties, with their accompanying excitement, well-wishes, and gigantic platters of food.
I, for one, love a graduation party. My own was memorable for many reasons—a long-time crush finally professed his love for me! A drunk uncle walked into a glass door!—but mostly because of the food. As a stellar home cook, my mother piled plates high with egg rolls, shrimp fritters, shaking beef, and so many other irresistible delicacies.
But what surprised us was the plate that emptied out quickest: the platter of cut-up Publix subs, displayed in a savory sunburst. Publix subs are an institution unto themselves in the South, but the evidence confirmed what I’d always known. Sandwiches are the timeless hit for any crowd, especially during an event where guests are constantly coming and going.
So to gather some sandwich-making tips, I called up the one-and-only Diane Morrisey, a brilliant cook with over 957,000 followers on Instagram. She’s also a mom of six kids (her youngest is in college now) and a former caterer, so she really understands how to cook for a crowd, especially on a budget. For graduation parties (Diane has thrown 30 of them in her day!), she says, “You want items that can remain at room temperature without the quality diminishing as it sits out.”
So what’s the trick to crowd-pleasing sandwiches that are simple, affordable, and satisfying? Below, Diane shares six tips for making big batches of tasty sandwiches that won’t keep you tied to the kitchen for hours at a time.
1. Add or Subtract Components to Create Vegetarian Options
Diane’s own family is a mix of omnivores and vegetarians, so she’s a pro at balancing different dietary preferences—a must with any party-throwing situation. But that doesn’t mean recreating the menu every time. She says, “I like to make Caprese sandwiches with chicken cutlets. You can easily make them vegetarian just by taking out the chicken.” Just cut them into smaller servings and let everyone get a taste of what they want.
2. Sauces and Spreads Take Sandwiches to New Heights
“See, I get really excited about sauces! I love condiments: mustards, pesto, romesco sauces, and so many fun dips. When I see somebody make a sandwich with no sauces on it, I say, oh my god, what a wasted opportunity. I think like a mom on a budget, so I sometimes turn to a bean dip as a way to elevate a sandwich,” Diane laughs. For a Diane-approved bean dip, mix some canned beans with herbs, lemon, and garlic for a protein-rich spread that will take your sandwich to savory new heights.
3. Consider Seasonality
For both freshness and affordability, look for produce that’s most abundant at the time of your gathering. Diane says, “I’ll roast some asparagus up and put that on a sandwich. In the summer, you better believe I’m gonna have tomatoes on all my sandwiches.” In late spring, you’ll see artichokes, avocado, beets, peas, beans, zucchini, and so much more.
4. Embrace the Pinwheel
Where I live in the Midwest, a party isn’t a party without a faithful ham-and-cheese tortilla pinwheel. But Diane gives her pinwheels a new twist, replacing the tortillas with buttery, warm puff pastry. “Puff pastry pinwheels make life a lot easier for the hostess! Some people might not call that a sandwich, but pinwheels have the same components of a sandwich—meat, maybe cheese, certainly the bread.”
I bookmarked Diane’s Reuben pinwheels (they have over three million views!), but she offers other options: “Once you have the technique down, you can make a pinwheel with anything; they’re incredibly versatile. You can do roast beef, Swiss cheese, and horseradish with arugula. Or if you’re vegetarian, you can make a Mediterranean one with feta, artichoke hearts, roasted peppers, and kalamata olives.”
She suggests wrapping your pinwheels in plastic cling, then parking them in the fridge for up to two days prior to the party. On the day of, all you have to do is unwrap it, slice it, and bake it. Music to a busy host’s ears!
5. A DIY Bar Is Your Friend
To make things even easier on yourself, set up a sandwich bar for guests to help themselves. Diane gives some brilliant ideas: “You could make a big crock pot of pulled pork, barbecue chicken, or Italian beef. Have some different types of rolls, like brioche rolls, little croissants, or biscuits. Add coleslaw or pickled vegetables on the side. But the biggest slam dunk hit I’ve ever had was a chicken cutlet bar. I served it with garlic broccoli rabe, roasted peppers, pesto, and caramelized onions.”
This also makes storing leftovers a cinch—no soggy sandwiches for weeks on end! And if you’re feeding vegetarians, you can put out some ready-made tofu cutlets, thick slices of fresh mozzarella, or a few rounds of roasted eggplant.
6. Don’t Forget the Sides
A sandwich is great and all, but a sandwich with a flavorful side salad and a bowl of crispy chips? Chef’s kiss. “Add a pasta salad, some slaw, or a green salad to bulk up your menu. You can serve them at room temperature and make them ahead of time as well,” suggests Diane. I also find that fruit and veggie trays are well-picked-over at the end of a party, and they’re especially good if you have young nibblers around.
Whatever you serve at your next party, be sure to take some time to enjoy the food and conversation. After all, a happy host is often the mark of a great party!