Cuban rice bowl with pork, black beans, and plantains
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Do you need to feed a crowd for a certain high-profile sports event? Do you also love puns? Then this Super Bowl buffet is perfect for you! Honestly, it’s pretty great for any other kind of gathering too, or a normal weeknight dinner that will provide you with plenty of leftovers—even pun haters will be happy.

Cooking Sound Like Too Much Work?The Best Frozen Pizzas You Can Order OnlineIf you’re over ordering pizzas for the big game and want a bit more of a meal than buffalo wings and chips and dips comprise, you’re probably still searching for something relatively low-key and easy to put together. After all, it’s hardly the time to throw a fancy-pants dinner party and serve up a five course French meal—although true iconoclasts may beg to differ and wish to put their own spin on the Big Game.

For the rest of us, chili is always a fine choice, yet also potentially divisive. People who are passionate about it are sure to have their very favorite version—all beef, or bean-and-meat; ground beef or cubed; vegetarian or even vegan; super spicy, or on the milder side—and they can be downright intolerant of bowls that buck their own traditions. Politeness dictates eating whatever you’re offered and being glad about it, but there’s no way you’ll truly please everyone with a pot of chili, however impeccable.

So how can you mitigate disappointment, satisfy everyone’s hunger, and still make it easy on yourself? Set up a build-your-own bowl buffet!

All you have to do is make some relatively simple components that everyone can pick and choose from as they please: rice or grains for your base layer, maybe beans for extra bulk, a main protein (or two), veggies, sauce(s), and garnishes. Most of the work can be done well ahead of kickoff, and everyone can customize to their heart’s content, then carry their whole meal to the couch, or wherever they want to hang out  to watch the Big Game (or the commercials, since some are only in it for those…and the food). As an added bonus, these bowls are generally pretty healthy, too.

Here are some pointers on choosing, prepping, and serving your various bowl components:

The Base Layer

This should be something fairly simple and starchy, good for adding texture, helping fill people’s bellies, and most importantly, soaking up all the delicious flavors of the bowls’ top layers as they trickle down. Rice is wonderful (and ridiculously easy to cook, not to mention keep warm pretty much indefinitely if you have a rice cooker), but you could also go with quinoa, couscous, pearl barley, kamut—even noodles, mashed potatoes, or other mashed vegetables (this piece on alternative mashes was for Thanksgiving, but you can smash turnips, yams, cauliflower, and whatever else you like all year long). If you go against the grains, you’ll probably want to skip the beans; although spaghetti and beans is a thing, that’s got to be an acquired taste. If there are low-carb members of your crew, you might offer an additional pot of cauliflower rice; the minor extra effort (and since you can buy frozen riced cauliflower in lots of supermarkets these days, emphasis on the minor) is certain to be appreciated.

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Making Thyme for Health’s Miso Glazed Sweet Potato Grain Bowl

The Beans

While not essential (and downright weird with certain combinations of other ingredients), beans can add a lot in terms of texture, heft, and flavor to bowls of all varieties, from Mexican and Cuban to Mediterranean and Moroccan. While cooking them from their dried state is a worthy pursuit—and doesn’t even take that long if you have a pressure cooker—this is definitely a time when it’s fine to just open a few cans instead.

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Black beans make sense with lots of different cuisines and flavor profiles, but if you’re skewing Indian or Middle Eastern, you probably want to pick chickpeas. Consider the plethora of other options too, from pintos to black eyed peas, even lentils if they make sense with your chosen protein and sauce, or go the other way and use a particular kind of bean or legume as your whole bowl starting point.

The Protein

There are a lot of different ways you can go with the main element of the meal, but since your goal is most likely maximum flavor and yield with minimal effort, we’re probably looking at big hunks of meat, like pork shoulder or beef brisket, or many smaller hunks of meat, like chicken breasts or thighs (or even wings, if you just can’t quit ’em, although in that case, boneless is probably best for bowls). Your oven can handle any of these, but if you have a Crock-Pot, why not break it out for the occasion?

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It can be a great pinch hitter for various Super Bowl food favorites (and yes, that is mixing sportsball metaphors, but the point still stands); check out some of the intriguing possibilities here, but recognize that one of the simplest and best ways to put your slow cooker to work is to chuck in a mass of meat and let it go to work making that animal incredibly tender and delicious. Of course, you can go in any other direction that appeals to you—grill tuna steaks or bake entire sides of salmon, smoke ribs or sausages, sautée tempeh or braise jackfruit.

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Will Cook for Smiles’ Tropical Shrimp Rice Bowls

If you’re hosting a mix of meat eaters and herbivores, it’s always nice to provide an extra vegetarian or vegan protein option in addition to the straight-up vegetables outlined below, but failing that, make sure you have lots of those vegetables so no one ends up with a sad, skimpy bowl. If you’re a carnivore who’s intimidated about cooking for vegans, check out this handy primer for reassurance and suggestions.

The Veggies

There are actually lots of great ways to work more vegetables into your Super Bowl spread, but when it comes to whole-meal bowls, simply roasting or grilling an assortment of vegetables is a fantastic option. If you’re cooking your protein on a grill or in a countertop appliance, you can cram as many sheet pans full of veggies as will fit inside your oven; cook one type, or mix and match as you see fit—from peppers, onions, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, fennel, and on and on. As long as everything’s cut into similar sizes, you can generally toss them all together with oil, salt, and pepper (and whatever other spices you want to use) and roast at 425 to 450 for 15 to 30 minutes, stirring at least once halfway through and perhaps rotating the pans, but adjust time and temp according to how hot (or not) your oven runs, and check often toward the end to be sure nothing’s burning.

If you make the vegetables ahead of time, just re-warm them before serving; they’ll still be good at room temp too, but if you expect guests to eat at different times and want everything to stay hot, you might want to look into relatively cheap disposable chafing dishes (most of which come with little Sterno cans so you can pretend you run a catering company).

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In addition to offering a medley of cooked veg, you can throw in a raw slaw or salad for good measure. Delicate greens may not be the best choice for incorporating into a bowl full of warm, hearty ingredients, although they can work on top, or on the side. But think about heartier preparations you can put together in advance, like this Carrot Slaw recipe or Fennel-Apple Coleslaw with Poppyseed Dressing recipe, or even quick pickles cut from larger chunks of veggies so they’re a little more substantial than mere garnishes, like rice vinegar marinated carrots and cucumbers for Japanese bowls, or beets and turnips to complement Lebanese-leaning flavors (they’re good to go a few hours after making, but will keep well for weeks in the fridge).

The Sauce(s)

Make sure to provide a generous amount of sauce for people to drizzle or douse. Err on the side of too much so you definitely won’t run out. Obviously, you can coordinate a particular sauce with specific flavors you’ve developed elsewhere in the meal; think mango chutney and raita with curried vegetables and meat, or tzatziki with Greek-inspired tastes like oregano, lemon, and garlic on your protein and veg. If you make a batch of barbecue in your Crock-Pot, naturally, you should offer extra BBQ sauce on the side, and if you cook a marvelous mess of buffalo shredded chicken, make homemade blue cheese dressing to go with it. But if you opt for more neutral seasonings on your proteins and veggies, you can offer multiple sauces in a wider array of flavors, from chimichurri and mojo to gochujang and miso-maple sauce. Salsas can be fantastic too—for instance, pineapple or other fruit salsa to perk up jerk chicken bowls, or a classic pico de gallo (plus a batch of tomatillo avocado sauce or Chipotle-Avocado Salad Dressing) for Mexican flavors.

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The Garnishes

We are definitely not talking about curly parsley sprigs tossed on top for a token burst of color and dubious freshness, but truly exciting little extras that bring even more flavor, texture, and visual appeal to your other, equally wonderful bowl ingredients. Think about tortilla soup and how the garnishes really make the meal. Grated cheese, fresh cilantro, cubed avocado, and crushed tortilla chips all make sense to set out for jazzing up bowls too. In the same vein, consider what other crunchy, creamy, vibrant, pungent, fresh or preserved ingredients make sense with your bowls’ flavor profile. Nuts like roasted cashews and slivered almonds and plump golden raisins are great with Indian or Middle Eastern flavors; olives, pine nuts, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh herbs like basil and parsley (flat leaf, please) make sense with Mediterranean; toasted nori and pickled ginger work wonders with Japanese; and sesame seeds and scallions marry beautifully with Chinese or Korean flavors. Just take a few minutes to really think about your food, and you’ll come up with something inspired and delicious.

If you still want to take on something more spectacular, by all means, throw that French dinner party (escargots served in the shell do kind of look like tiny football helmets…sort of), or assemble an edible stadium that will score big points with your guests (and on social media), but don’t feel like you’re compromising by going the bowl buffet route. It is truly, well, super.

Caviar Is Another Great Option

Because ordering a feast of your favorite restaurant fare is even easier than cooking.
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To commemorate Super Bowl 2019, we’ve teamed up with CBS Sports, TV Guide, and CNET to give away a super prize package including an LG OLED 65-inch TV (courtesy of Daily Steals), a 6.5 Liter Air Fryer, and $125 in gift cards for CBS All Access. Enter for a chance to win before 3:30 p.m PT on February 3, 2019.

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Jen is an editor at Chowhound. Raised on scrapple and blue crabs, she hails from Baltimore, Maryland, but has lived in Portland (Oregon) for so long it feels like home. She enjoys the rain, reads, writes, eats, and cooks voraciously, and stops to pet every stray cat she sees. Continually working on building her Gourmet magazine collection, she will never get over its cancellation. Read more of her work.
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