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Best foods to serve at a wedding, according to chefs

Updated: Mar 27

Wedding food is difficult to get right, but it can help to go into your first catering meeting with a few crowd-pleasing dishes in mind. Beef tenderloin is a wedding entree classic for good reason. Chilled seafood salads are excellent for a warm-weather wedding, especially when you use fresh and seasonal fish.

Bacon-wrapped dates make excellent cocktail-hour hors d’oeuvres because they provide a perfect blend of sweet, salty, and umami flavors. Chances are, you've seen a tray of bacon-wrapped dates circulating around a wedding cocktail hour before, and for excellent reason. These classic appetizers bring sweetness, saltiness, and savory richness to the table, which makes them an unquestionably popular snack choice for large parties. Phoebe Schilla, a San Francisco-based private chef who's also a Cozymeal class instructor, openly declares herself a bacon-wrapped date fan. She refers to these treats as "bacon candy" and told INSIDER that "everyone young and old, loves bacon-wrapped dates. Plus, it's easy to vary flavors by stuffing [the] dates with different ingredients, too."

Braised meat dishes can efficiently (and deliciously) feed a crowd. Dishes featuring braised meats can easily stand up to long services because their taste profiles grow more complex and intense as time goes by. Chef Jose Meirelles of kosher French bistro Le Marais in New York City first discovered his love for braised meats as wedding entrees when catering Jewish weddings. "Because Jewish weddings tend to be large, I suggest creating a menu with entrees that are slow-cooked or braised, such as short ribs or Moroccan lamb stew. This way, you won't have to concern yourself with the rare vs. well-done debate among guests," Meirelles told INSIDER. Banquet sous chef Melanie Cuartelon of Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida regularly creates wedding menus at her popular event venue and agreed that braised meats work wonderfully for large parties. Her particular favorite is raised short ribs. "Braised short ribs are not only delicious, [but] they're the perfect addition to a wedding menu. The fact that they pair well with so many different side dishes (mashed potatoes, risotto, pasta, polenta, etc.) allows for more customization based on the bride and groom's preferences. Whether the couple has chosen a buffet or a plated menu, braised short ribs make for a beautiful presentation. As a bonus, it's a cost-effective item for brides on a budget," Curatelon explained.

When choosing side dishes for your reception, skip the flavorless steaming and blanching and go for roasted veggies instead. Blanched and steamed vegetables show up constantly on catered menus, largely due to their easy prep, but in most circumstances, you'll sacrifice flavor for the sake of getting large quantities done in a timely manner. That's why roasting your vegetables works much better. It's not difficult to roast high volumes of veggies, and cooking in the oven allows your produce's best tastes to shine. Chef Melanie Manuel of Celesta in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said that "the best dish to serve at a wedding is a roasted vegetable dish. Roasted vegetables retain a sweetness and hold their heat well for guests. [My personal] favorite is curried carrots with turmeric coconut yogurt topped with cilantro and served with a lemon wedge."

Beef tenderloin is a wedding entree classic for good reason. While it's important to keep an open mind and look beyond the obvious choices when planning a wedding menu, certain items boast impressive longevity because they're actually remarkably well-suited for a big and important occasion. A prime example is beef tenderloin. Executive chef Chris Engel of Aureole in New York City recommends choosing an "everyone's darling" dish like beef tenderloin for a wedding. "It's a crowd-pleasing protein and appeals to picky eaters and gourmet diners alike. It's a rich, luxurious cut which will be special and celebratory. At my upcoming wedding, I will be serving beef tenderloin for this very reason," he said. Chef Chris Rolewicz of Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile also enjoys beef tenderloin as a wedding entree, but he has a very specific presentation in mind, "for weddings, I enjoy the classics, like a grilled beef tenderloin with lobster risotto, morel mushrooms, Thumbelina carrots and a pinot noir demi. This has always been a crowd favorite. It's a classic combination for a wedding with a nice presentation."

If you're planning a buffet-style service for your reception, a prime rib carving station provides your guests with fresh and juicy cuts. In comparison to a chafing dish over a flame, the carving station model allows reception buffets to serve freshly-cut meat that hasn't had the chance to dry out. When selecting the specific meat for your carving station, you'll want a particularly juicy version, and executive chef Brandon Ingenito of City Winery, Washington DC, has just the solution — roasted prime rib. "It's tough to beat a classic when you want to serve something a large, diverse group of people at a wedding will love. A prime rib roast is juicy and flavorful. It's also a great way to serve guests one by one so each person’s serving is hot and carved just the way they like it," Ingenito told INSIDER.

It's fine to serve chicken at weddings as long as the dish has personality, like Chicken Francaise. Head chef Jon Beattie of The Renaissance, a top wedding venue in Richmond, Virginia, swears by Chicken Francaise, a breaded and fried chicken breast topped with lemon and butter sauce. "[Chicken Francaise] is one of my favorite entrees for a wedding. [It's] a beautiful chicken breast that is herb-breaded and then pan-sauteed with a lemon-caper sauce. But one of the reasons why I love it the most is that it has a longer holding pattern than a grilled, non-breaded, or skinless [chicken] option. "When you cook this chicken with its already super-tasty crust, again remembering your holding box temperatures, you can [then] drizzle a little of the partnering sauce and you have a perfect entree for your guests," Beattie told INSIDER.

Chilled seafood salads are excellent for a warm-weather wedding, especially when you use fresh and seasonal fish. If you're having an outdoor reception during the summer, dishes that refresh and satisfy at the same time are a solid choice. Chilled seafood salads fall into that category, and if your reception chef can get her hands on some super-fresh seafood, it'll be an unbeatable start to your meal. Executive chef James Carpenter oversees the kitchen at the Southampton Inn, one of the premier wedding venues in the Hamptons. His clients regularly ask for flavorful seafood starters to their reception feasts, and when those requests come in, he has a favorite dish to suggest — lobster mango salad or shrimp salad. "Lobster mango salad with lemon crème fraiche, avocado mousse, and optional caviar is an ideal dish for large, sit-down weddings. This delicious dish can be plated in advance and served very quickly as a first course. It provides an elegant touch for a sophisticated couple's destination wedding in the Hamptons," Carpenter explained.

Consider swapping out the big entrees for small-plate stations. Rather than serving a large entree course at your wedding reception, give your guests the chance to try a variety of items by setting up small-plate stations. Executive chef John Zucker of Cru Catering in Charleston, South Carolina, has seen this concept work beautifully at many of the weddings he's catered, told INSIDER that "one thing I like to do at weddings is pushed small-plate stations. When we do those [stations], people are getting more of a restaurant-style service with multiple choices. A crowd favorite is our braised short ribs with roasted root vegetables and braising jus. It's easy to serve, it holds up well, and you don't have to worry about any issues with over or under-cooking."

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