Got a big crew to feed? This Taco Bar for 20 has something for everyone and will let your peeps build their masterpiece one taco at a time.
I've made versions of this Taco Bar regularly for the past few years and I finally took some pics of it! It's always a keeper and it will give your friends and family a meal to remember.
I'll put a recipe box below that has ingredients and instructions for EVERYTHING you see in this pic:
But you can always craft your Taco Bar to your liking.
If you visit the site regularly then you'll be familiar with many of these dishes. The idea is to keep it authentic, fresh, and simple. Here's what we're making:
- Brined, seasoned chicken (5 lbs. boneless chicken breasts)
- Refried Beans (original recipe x 2)
- Mexican Rice (original recipe x 2)
- Roasted Tomato and Tomatillo Salsa (original recipe x 2)
- Avocado Salsa Verde (original recipe x 2)
- Calabacitas -- taco filling or side dish for the vegetarians
- Easy Guacamole (original recipe x 8)
Sound like a lot of work? With a few good helpers it'll be ready to eat quicker than you might think.
Here's how I usually go about it...
First, be sure to give the chicken a swim in some saltwater. Brining your chicken gives you a massive bump in flavor and takes the pressure off the seasoning you use.
Try to give it 30-60 minutes in the brine. If your brining bowl won't fit in the fridge then give it a shorter brine on the countertop, somewhere close to thirty minutes. Note: 1/4 cup salt per quart of water is the standard brine ratio.
Brined chicken is loaded with flavor, so additional seasoning becomes less important. For this batch I used:
- a few minced chipotles
- adobo sauce from the can of chipotles
- freshly cracked black pepper
- plenty of Mexican oregano
But feel free to get creative with the chicken seasoning.
Once the chicken is brining you can start roasting the tomatoes and tomatillos. This is a crucial step and really enhances their flavor so please don't skip it!
I think it's best to start roasting them right off the bat, so if you add up the tomatoes and tomatillos for all the dishes it roughly comes out to:
I had some huge tomatillos for this batch so that's why you see less of them in the above pic. They'll need about 30 minutes in the oven to fully roast and I typically roast a few extra of each just in case.
Once those are roasting I usually build a few cutting board stations in the kitchen and go off in search of some helpers!
I find it easiest to give each helper their own dish and have them see it through from beginning to end. Plus they will learn a new Mexican dish in the process 🙂
They can grab the tomatoes and tomatillos from the oven when needed and as long as they have all the other ingredients available you can set them off on their own with the printed instructions. Perfect!
I usually hand out the Rice and Beans first, then the Salsas and Guac, and then I try to cook the chicken and Calabacitas as close to dinnertime as possible.
There's one other important thing to keep in mind for your taco bar...
Crisping up the tortillas right before serving makes a huge difference in flavor!
That's why in the above pics you'll see a griddle for heating up the tortillas. I typically add cheese to some of the tortillas and beans/cheese to others. This acts as a great starting point for your peeps, and having a warm, crispy tortilla for their first bite will make a tremendous difference.
In the past I've done this step with two large skillets on the stovetop and it works just as well, so feel free to use that option.
Okay, the recipe box below has full instructions for this Taco Bar. Feel free to print out multiple copies for all of your helpers! I hope you decide to give it a go at some point -- your friends and family will be forever grateful 🙂
Taco Bar for 20
- 5 lbs. chicken (boneless breasts)
- 10 roma tomatoes
- 18 tomatillos
- 10 avocados
- 5-6 white onions (I used 6 small ones)
- 6 jalapenos
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 8 limes
- 2 green zucchinis
- 1 can chipotles in adobo
- 2 cans whole black beans
- 1 can corn
- 40 corn tortillas
- 20 flour tortillas
- 2 lbs. cheese
- 2 cups white rice
- 4-5 cups stock (I used chicken stock)
- Mexican oregano
- black pepper
- olive oil
- Start by brining the chicken. Add 1 cup salt to a gallon of water (4 quarts) in a large bowl or pot. Dissolve the salt and add the chicken, letting it brine for 30-60 minutes. Cover and let brine in the fridge. If it won't fit in the fridge I usually just give it a shorter brine on the countertop for 30 minutes or so.
- Once the chicken has brined you can drain it and pat dry, then chop it into bite-sized pieces. I usually eyeball the additional seasoning so feel free to improvise. For this batch I added the following ingredients to the chicken in a large mixing bowl: the adobo sauce from the can of chipotles, a few minced chipotles, Mexican oregano, freshly cracked black pepper, olive oil. Combine well. Keep in mind that the brine gives your chicken TONS of flavor and the additional seasoning is just a bonus.
- De-husk the tomatillos and give 'em a good rinse. Rinse the tomatoes as well, then de-stem both the tomatoes and tomatillos. Place them on a baking tray and roast in the oven at 400F for 30 minutes or so. I usually just leave them in the oven and grab 'em when I need them.
- Once you've reached this point I usually find it easiest to build a few cutting board stations in the kitchen and then recruit some helpers! Give them each a dish that they can see through from beginning to end, and give the expert helpers two dishes! The steps below will detail how to build each dish from start to finish. You can print multiple copies of the instructions so each of your helpers has a reference.
- For the Mexican Rice, add a glug of oil to a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 2 cups rice and stir frequently until opaque and golden brown. Add 2 roasted tomatoes to a blender along with 1 small onion, peeled, and 2 peeled garlic cloves. Combine well. Add the tomato puree to the rice and saute for a few minutes. Add 3 cups stock and 1 teaspoon salt (or less salt if using store-bought stock). Stir well and bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on medium-low heat until most of the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and let it sit covered for another 5-10 minutes.
- For the Refried Beans, start by peeling 4 garlic cloves and roughly chopping 1 onion. Cook the onion and garlic in a glug of oil over medium heat (you can leave the garlic cloves whole). Once the onion is starting to brown add 2 cans of beans (drained and rinsed), 3-4 chipotles in adobo, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and 1 cup stock (or water). You can use less chipotles for a milder version. Let simmer for a few minutes until heated through and then add everything to a blender, combining well. Take a final taste for seasoning and heat. Add more salt if necessary and if you want more heat you can add more chipotles. I usually add the beans to a bowl, cover with foil, and let them sit on an unused part of the stove to help keep them warm. Note: you can always thicken up the blended beans by simmering them over low heat, or thin them out by adding splashes of water.
- For the Roasted Tomato and Tomatillo Salsa, add 4 roasted tomatoes and 8 roasted tomatillos to a blender along with 1/2 small onion (peeled), 2 peeled garlic cloves, 1-2 rinsed and de-stemmed jalapenos (or less for a milder version), 15-20 sprigs rinsed cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. Combine well (I usually leave it a bit chunky.) Take a taste for seasoning. I added another 1/2 jalapeno, a pinch of salt, and a generous squeeze of lime. If possible, cover and chill in the fridge before serving as this Salsa tastes best when cold.
- For the Avocado Salsa Verde, add 8 roasted tomatillos to a blender along with 1 small peeled onion, 2 peeled garlic cloves, 15-20 sprigs cilantro, the flesh of 2 avocados, and 1 rinsed and de-stemmed jalapeno. For a milder version, start with only 1/2 jalapeno. Combine well and taste for seasoning, adding more slivers of jalapeno if you want more heat. Salt to taste.
- For the Guacamole, finely chop 1/2 onion. Use the back of a fork to smoosh the onion until it turns translucent. Add the onion to a bowl along with the flesh of 8 avocados, 2 teaspoons of salt, and the juice of 4 limes. Mush and mix well. Taste for seasoning, adding dashes of salt and lime until you like it.
- For the Calabacitas, start by rinsing and chopping up 2 zucchinis into 1/4" bite-sized pieces. Then finely chop a small onion and get it cooking in some oil over medium heat. Let it cook until it's starting to brown, then add 3 minced garlic cloves and cook for another 30-60 seconds. Take a couple spoonfuls of the onion-garlic mixture from the pan and add it to the blender where it will become part of the tomato mixture. Add the chopped zucchini to the onion-garlic mixture in the pan, along with 3/4 teaspoon salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano. Stir well and let it saute for a couple minutes as you put the tomato mixture together. Add 3 roasted tomatoes and 1/4 of the jalapeno to the blender (there should also be a couple spoonfuls of the onion-garlic mixture in the blender.) Combine well and take a taste. Add additional slivers of the jalapeno until the heat tastes right to you. I used a larger jalapeno for this batch and only needed about half of it. Add the tomato mixture back to the saucepan and let the zucchini simmer in it for a couple more minutes or until the zucchini is tender but still a little firm. If using canned corn you can add it in now as it doesn't need much time to heat up. If using fresh corn kernels you can add them in when you add the zucchini. (I usually drain and rinse canned corn but this is optional.) Take a final taste for seasoning. I added another generous pinch of salt to this batch.
- You can either grill or saute the chicken. I cooked this batch on the stovetop in two large skillets. If you want to do that, start by chopping up an onion. Add it to the pan(s) along with a glug of oil over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot you can add the chicken. Form a single layer with the chicken and leave it until the pieces are nearly cooked through, then flip and cook the second side until done.
- Once the chicken has started cooking it's time to start crisping up the tortillas! You can use a griddle or large skillets. Simple add as many tortillas as you can to the dry griddle or skillets. Top with your choice of beans and cheese (or both!), and let them cook until light brown spots are forming on the underside of the tortillas. Place these semi-crispy beauties at the head of the serving table.
- Arrange the cooked chicken and Calabacitas right next to a platter of the crispy tortillas along with a big stack of plates! Next up is the Mexican Rice and Refried Beans, followed by the Avocado Salsa Verde, Roasted Tomato and Tomatillo Salsa, and Guacamole. Feel free to add a bowl of shredded cheese as well.
- Once everyone eats their way through the first round I will usually do another big round of crispy, cheesy tortillas. Don't underestimate this step even if it sounds like more work. It's a real treat to have these warm, semi-crispy tortillas as the starting point for your taco masterpiece.
- Continue until all 20 of your peeps are satiated and raving non-stop about your Taco Bar 🙂
Want to see the latest recipe? It's this Hatch Chile Soup.