Cooking for a Crowd

If you’re hosting a big dinner or holiday meal this fall, you deserve to have just as much fun as your guests.

Here’s how to take the stress out of hosting. First, invest in some quality kitchen equipment that is both versatile and reliable. Our favorite heavy-duty cutting board has plenty of room for chopping and prepping ingredients, and it’s also sleek and elegant enough to double as a large cheese platter. To build a crowd-pleasing cheese board that brings out the best in each component, check out our comprehensive guide on the subject in this month’s Cook’s Illustrated. You’re also sure to find inspiration in a list of our editors’ favorite no-fuss party appetizers. Now that you’ve gotten the fun started, there’s no reason to stop when your guests go home. This issue is filled with delicious recipes for regular nights at home. With the right tools and a Cook’s Illustrated subscription, you’ll be ready for whatever kind of night you’re having.

The best of the single pitters, this model resembled a plastic toy gun: Just pull the trigger to plunge the straight, moderately thick dowel into the cherry pit. It was easy to insert, stabilize, and remove the cherries, and while this pitter wasn’t quite as neat, quick, or accurate as our winner, many testers preferred its more compact profile and simpler operation.   More on this test

Our longtime favorite skillet still beats all newcomers, with a clean design that includes no unnecessary frills. We appreciate the wide cooking surface and low, flaring sides that encourage excellent browning and evaporation; a steel handle that stays cool on the stovetop and won't rotate in your hand; and an overall weight and balance that hit the sweet spot between sturdiness and maneuverable lightness. It resisted warping and withstood thermal shock and outright abuse with nary a scratch or dent. Its three layers of cladding, with aluminum sandwiched by steel, make for deep, uniform browning.  More on this test

With a powerful, quiet motor; responsive pulsing action; sharp blades; and a simple, pared-down-to-basics design, our old favorite aced every test, surprising us time and again by outshining pricier, more feature-filled competitors. It was one of the few models that didn’t leak at its maximum stated liquid capacity. It’s also easy to clean and store, because it comes with just a chopping blade and two disks for shredding and slicing.   More on this test

The shorter version of our favorite 12-inch tongs, this model easily picked up foods of all shapes and sizes—from dainty blueberries to a hefty jar of salsa—and was extremely comfortable to operate. The uncoated, scalloped stainless-steel tips allowed us a precise grip, making it especially easy to lift and arrange thinly sliced fruit, and the tongs' locking mechanism was smooth and intuitive.  More on this test

This light, maneuverable brush features perforated flaps in the bristles that hold liquid like a bubble wand. It easily trapped watery egg wash, was delicate enough to paint pastry without damage, and brushed barbecue sauce evenly and thickly. Its handle felt comfortable and secure; the angled head helped reach tight spots and kept sauce off the counter when we set it down.  More on this test

Our longtime winner excelled, with uniform, steady heating and good visibility inside the saucepan to monitor browning. Its cup-shaped stay-cool handle was easy to grip, and a helper handle provided another grabbing point when the pan was full. Even after brutal whacking on concrete, this model emerged with only tiny dents inside and one slight dent on the bottom, and it still sat flat on the counter.  More on this test

With all-over tiny perforations that don’t allow small foods to escape, our longtime favorite colander has a draining performance that remains unmatched. Its 1 1/8 inches of ground clearance was enough to keep nearly all the drained pasta from getting hit with backwash. The model cleans up nicely in the dishwasher, and its handles are slim but still substantial enough to grip easily.  More on this test

Coming in a variety of useful sizes that nest for compact storage, our winning set performed ably on almost every test. Its wide, shallow bowls were easy to hold, fill, empty, and clean. They can be used in the microwave and the oven. While the bowls in this set were the only ones to break when dropped, the heaviness of the glass with which they’re made makes it unlikely that they’ll easily fly off the counter.  More on this test

Our old favorite wins again: Its smooth, medium-hard, reversible teak surface provided plenty of room to work, was a pleasure to cut on, and required the least maintenance. It was light enough to lift comfortably (especially since it had finger grips on the sides) but heavy enough to be stable for most tasks, though a few users noted that it wobbled occasionally. It picked up some knife scars but was otherwise highly durable, resisting cracking, warping, and staining, thanks to naturally oily resins that helped condition the board. And it's a stunner: Sleek, elegant, and richly colored, it was, as one tester noted, “less like a Toyota and more like a Corvette.”  More on this test

This perfect, pricey pot bested the competition again. It was substantial enough to hold and distribute heat evenly without being unbearably heavy. The light-colored interior combined with low, straight sides gave us good visibility and made it easy to monitor browning and thermometer position. The broad cooking surface saved us time since we could cook more food at once. The lid was smooth and easy to clean. This pot is expensive, but it was exceptionally resistant to damage.  More on this test