Cooking for a crowd of 300 people generally requires more hours of preparation than actual cooking time. It's the planning ahead that makes things run smoothly on event day. A good choice for a large group, sloppy Joes fit the bill of easy, inexpensive fare. When cooking for this many people, recruit a couple of friends or community volunteers to help share the load. Also, prepare to cook for an additional 40 or 50 people to accommodate those wanting seconds and any guests that may show up unexpectedly.
Things You'll Need
2 stockpots, 80 quarts each
1/2 cup vegetable oil
60 lbs. ground beef
1 1/4 gallon large yellow onions, diced
1 1/4 gallon green bell peppers, diced
1 gallon celery, diced
1 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 cup dry mustard
1 cup garlic powder
2 tbsp. salt
2 tbsp. pepper
1 tbsp. chili powder
4 No. 10 cans tomato sauce
3 cups brown sugar
4 hotel pans
350 hamburger buns
4-oz. portion control scoop
Rent large stockpots and hotel pans from a rental supply store if these are not already available. If possible, rent a kitchen facility for the day at a community college or local church. These kitchens generally have industrial-sized equipment, such as ovens and cookware, making large batch cooking easier than trying to cook on a small home unit with several small pots and pans.
Gather the ingredients. When shopping for large amounts of ground meat, vegetables or canned sauce, buy in bulk from restaurant supply stores or food warehouses. If these aren't available in your area, talk to the manager at your grocery store and place a special order for large quantity items.
Get the prep work done by dicing all the vegetables before you start cooking. Do this a day in advance if necessary and store in airtight plastic containers or self-sealing bags.
Turn the heat on under two large stockpots and add the onions, celery and green peppers along with 1/4 cup vegetable oil into each pot. Sauté the vegetables until they soften, but do not let the onions brown completely.
Separate the meat into two batches and place 30 lbs. in each pot. Brown the meat, breaking up the larger pieces as it cooks. After the meat browns, drain excess fat out of the pot before adding the seasoning. When using these large pots, it may be easier to remove the meat from the stockpot, using a large spatula, and set it aside before carefully pouring away the fat.
Add the salt, pepper, dry mustard, chili powder, garlic powder and Worcestershire sauce in equal measure to each pot. Stir the mixture frequently to prevent the meat from settling on the bottom of the pot and burning.
Add the tomato puree and brown sugar equally between the pots and bring the filling up to a light boil. When using tomato-based sauces, it's important to stir the food often to prevent burning. Use a long handled spoon or spatula to stir the food at the bottom of the pot.
Cook the filling at a low simmer for two to three hours. The longer the ingredients have to cook, the more time the various flavors have to blend together. After one hour, taste the filling and add additional seasoning if necessary.
Turn the heat off under the burner and transfer the filling into large hotel pans for service. With such a large volume, it's best to use a large scoop, such as a pitcher, to transfer the filling. Cover the pans with foil and put them in the oven on a low temperature setting, 250 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, to keep warm until ready to serve.
Use a portion control serving utensil when plating the sloppy Joes so each person gets the same amount, reducing the risk of running out of food. Serve 4 oz. of filling for each sandwich, either by using a 4-oz. scoop available at most kitchen supply stores, or a half-cup measure, which also does the trick. Use ketchup instead of tomato puree and omit the brown sugar if desired.