At its best, a grazing table is the Disneyland of charcuterie boards and snack plates, but instead of Space Mountain and the Matterhorn you have a cascade of seeded crackers and sliced salami. Much like the happiest place on earth, a well-made grazing table has a clear theme, compelling attractions, and a few adults insistent on never leaving. It should be curated, delicious, and—above all else—fun.
Of course, this isn’t always the case. A good chunk of my grazing table experiences have been at funerals, school conferences, and airport lounges—none of which evoked much culinary wonder. Those tables were more Bright Star Adventure Park than Magic Kingdom.
That said, I’ve got a good eye for what does and, more importantly, does not belong on your next grazing table thanks to some cooking experience (and the advice of some coworkers with catering savvy).
What Is A Grazing Table?
A grazing table is an assortment of snackable foods on a single table commonly found at social gatherings and special occasions. The name is aspirational in that it suggests you’ll return to the table to “graze” on different bites throughout the party. However, if the snacks are bad and the layout is unwelcoming, these tables can become well-furnished compost piles. (I’m here to help you avoid both of these situations.)
What’s Served On A Grazing Table?
Cheese, crackers, cured meats, shellfish, bread and spreads, crudites—you’ll typically find at least one of these things on a grazing table. However, your table should be filled with whatever you and your guests enjoy eating. In an ideal world, my table would be filled with shrimp cocktail, oysters, caviar, and lobster. Put plainly: When choosing your recipes, always prioritize flavor over fashion.
How To Set Up A Grazing Table
First, pick out your table. You need to know how much real estate you’ve got for snacking and decor. Second, consider your palate. Again, it’s your party, so serve whatever you want. If that means (for some reason) building out a table filled with popcorn, anchovies, and chocolate bars, so be it. Third, select plates that you think best present your snacks. There’s a lot of subjectivity here, so stick to your gut. Fourth, choose something to protect your table that matches the aesthetic you’ve built out. This could be anything from a linen tablecloth to a stack of old newspapers.
What Not To Put On A Grazing Table
Here’s a short list: plastic food, propaganda, dirty laundry, sawdust, your diary.
Think of your grazing table like a city. You want to fill it with sturdy, timeless buildings. These are your classic boards, platters, and snack bowls. However, much like a city, if you want to maximize the amount of food on your table, you’ll need to build up. Using something like a cake stand will create airspace so that you can squeeze in those extra snacks you could never live without.
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Serving utensils are necessary, but by no means do they need to be boring. Cheese knives, serving spoons, ladles, big ‘ole forks—these are the little things that make a table pop.
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Start with a tablecloth and then (if there’s room) work your way into other aesthetic features, like flower-filled vases.
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Finger food makes the most sense here. You want people to be able to grab stuff quickly so that the next grazer won’t be stuck behind them. Personally, I like salty snacks like olives, cheeses, and potato chips. They’re delicious and they usually make me want another sip of my cocktail. But, it’s never a bad idea to throw a snacking cake or cookies in the mix.