Create a nacho bar for your next large party and you’ll be massively popular with all your guests. You can use it for a graduation party, a wedding reception, or a Super Bowl party. And no worries, all the ingredients you’ll need are part of this article, along with a Nacho Bar Calculator so you’ll know the exact amount needed for each item.
Our Wedding Reception Nacho Bar
For my daughter’s wedding, we wanted to incentivize her to stay on budget and allow us to DIY most of it. To do so, we set her a very modest budget for the whole wedding and told her whatever she did not spend, we would double and give to her as cash. We felt it allowed her to use her creativity to stretch a dollar and give her the opportunity to start off her marriage with a bit of extra cash in savings. Consequently, she did an amazing job and you’ll find many of the money-saving tips here on the blog.
When it came time to feed our guests, I loved that the bride and groom picked such simple and fun food for all of their choices. They are a young, easy-going couple and their food stations reflected that side of them perfectly! Feeding your guests is one of the most expensive parts of a wedding, so we made sure that though the food was simple, there was a wide variety of food available and a lot of it! No one left hungry by the end was the goal.
We had the four food stations scattered around the room, one on each wall, including this nacho bar. Doing this kept an even distribution of hungry guests around the room and not a mad rush in one particular section of the reception space. Since the reception space was smaller than we wanted it to be, spreading the food stations around the room really worked well. The only problem we ran into was a short time when the outlets on one wall stopped working from too many food warmers being plugged in, but we had anticipated that possibly happening and had a backup plan ready to go.
How to Make a Nacho Bar
All it takes is a bit of decision-making on what toppings you want, a bit of input on the Nacho Bar Calculator below, then a bit of prep work!
Time needed: 1 hour
How to Make a Nacho Bar
- Determine the number of guests you will have attending your party.
All adults should count as one full guest. Children 10 years and younger should count as ½ of a guest. If you know many in your crowd are big eaters, you might want to increase each adult to 1 ½ guests.
- Decide on what ingredients and toppings you want on your nacho bar.
There are endless options but the most common ingredients are listed below.
- Use the Nacho Bar Calculator in this article to determine how much of every ingredient you need.
The calculator uses the number of guests you determined in step number 1 above.
- Shop for the ingredients and supplies.
In the article are links to supplies and equipment needed for a successful nacho bar.
- Prep all the nacho bar ingredients.
Cook and season the ground beef ahead of time. You can freeze it in airtight containers for up to 3 months before needing it.
Chop all the fresh ingredients and store them in airtight containers in the fridge for up to 3 days before your party.
- Set up the nacho bar table in this order
Disposable nacho containers, forks, and napkins.
Large bowls of tortilla chips
Refried beans in warming trays
Seasoned ground beef in warming trays
Nacho cheese in warming trays
Toppings: salsa, guacamole, pickled jalapeños, and black olives – all kept cool in cooled serving trays.
Nacho Bar Calculator
First, determine how many guests you will have at your party. Each person over the age of 10 should count as 1 guest. Any guest under the age of 10 should count as ½ a guest. If you have big eaters coming to your party, you should increase your count to 1 ½ per person over the age of 10.
Nacho Bar Ingredients per Person
Obviously, you can make your nacho bar include any of your favorite toppings or ingredients so don’t feel like these are your only options. As a point of information, I’ve included the amounts per person that the Nacho Bar Calculator above uses to determine its values.
- Tortilla chips – 1.2 ounces
- Nacho cheese sauce – 1.3 ounes
- Seasoned ground beef – 1.6 ounces
- Refried beans – 1 ounce
- Sour Cream – 0.5 ounces
- Salsa – 0.45 ounces
- Guacamole – 0.85 ounces
- Jalapeños – 0.20 ounces
- Olives – 0.14 ounces
Supplies Needed for a Nacho Bar
For our wedding reception, we used the following list of supplies and equipment to keep everything at the proper temperature. We were careful not to send our guests home with food poisoning as a remembrance gift!
If you are hosting a very large crowd for your nacho bar, I suggest hiring a few high school or college students to keep your supplies fully stocked for the guests. Otherwise, you will constantly run around trying to keep everything full instead of enjoying your party.
Nacho Bar Disposable Food Trays
While you can certainly use other options, having disposable food trays for your guests is extremely handy both for them, as well as for you on the clean-up side. Be careful to not buy too big of ones because people will fill them to the top, no matter how big they are. I prefer the 1-pound size. They are big enough to hold a generous serving but not too big that people will end up throwing away too much food.
Keeping your ground beef and nacho cheese at the right temperature is important for both guest experience as well as food safety reasons! I like these electric food warmers because they have very precise temperature control. However, each container holds 2.5 quarts of food, which could be on the small side for a big crowd.
If you do have a large crowd coming for your nacho bar, consider these disposable warming trays that use small butane heaters. They hold significantly more food in each container. This is what we used at our reception since we fed over 150 people.
Keeping your toppings cold is just as important as keeping your ground beef and nacho cheese hot. Consequently, I have a few sets of these chilled serving trays we used at the wedding reception. We served from both sides of the table and had two sets on each side of the table to keep the toppings from becoming a hold-up in the line.
While the ingredients in a nacho bar are completely up to individual tastes, most guests would expect to find tortilla chips, seasoned ground beef, nacho cheese, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, black olives, and jalapeno peppers. Other options include chopped chicken or pork, fresh pico de gallo, chopped lettuce, and chopped tomatoes.
Traditionally, warm nacho cheese sauce is served with nachos. That being said, many also like some freshly shredded cheese as well. Monterey jack or pepper jack cheese would make delicious additions to your nacho bar alongside the warm nacho cheese.
What sides go with a nacho bar?
Since a nacho bar leans into that Tex-Mex category, sides that have a similar flavor profile would all be perfect matches. Here are a few suggestions if you are needing some ideas:
- Mexican Barley Salad with Beans, Jicama, and Corn
- Cilantro Lime Rice
- Simple Green Salad with Tomatillo Avocado Ranch Dressing
What temperature should the warm food be at?
To keep your guests from potentially leaving your party with food poisoning, it is important to keep both the ground beef and the nacho cheese at a minimum of 170 degrees. Anything lower than that and bacteria can begin to grow.
What temperature should the cold food be at?
Just like the warm food mentioned above, it is important to keep your cold food on ice so no one gets sick. All cold toppings should not be allowed to get warmer than 40 degrees. Anything above that and bacteria can begin to grow.
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