Cooking for a Crowd

Cooking for a Crowd

We started Thunderbolt Adventure Supply because we love to cook and we love to go adventuring and we love to cook while we’re out adventuring. We love the ease of waking up and having coffee started in less than 2 minutes (seriously!) on our Thunderbolt Camp Kitchen. But when we’re cooking for a crowd we often turn to the grill. Grilling doesn’t have to be just burgers and brats (though I do love a good brat). One of our favorite things to cook over the grill is paella. We add green beans to our paella, or occasionally asparagus, so this all-in-one meal doesn’t even need to be paired with a salad. Some crisp white wine or a nice juicy IPA pairs well with the smokey flavors. Here’s our recipe which we adapted from Alton Brown’s version on Good Eats.

We used to seed, drain, and grate tomatoes on a box grater, but we recently found Pomi brand Finely Chopped Tomatoes in 750-gram Tetra Paks, saving a lot of time and mess, especially when camping. 

Special equipment:

  • Charcoal Grill or Wood Fire Pit with raised hub
  • A carbon steel Paella (we use a 30-inch pan for the quantities below. You can easily half this recipe and use a 15-inch paella)
  • Long tongs
  • Natural lump charcoal or hardwood


  • 750-gram package of finely chopped tomatoes (Pomi brand is good) OR 2 pounds of tomatoes
  • 18 cups of chicken stock which is 4 and a half 32 oz Tetra Paks (Homemade stock is my preference when I’m at home, but boxed, canned, or even reconstituted stock is fine while camping. Just try to get lower sodium stock since it will be concentrated in the cooking)
  • 6 cups Paella or Bomba rice
  • 40 threads saffron (can be purchased online or at specialty stores)
  • 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves stripped from stems
  • 2 tablespoons diamond kosher salt, divided
  • 1 tablespoon smoked sweet paprika
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 6 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and legs (or one or the other)
  • 1 pound Spanish-style chorizo, sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 poblano peppers, seeded and diced
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, diced
  • 6 to 8 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • Ground pepper to taste

The following steps can be done ahead of time and transported to the campsite.

  1. Measure the rice into a zip-top bag and add the rosemary, paprika, and saffron. Seal shut, removing the air, and set aside
  2. If you are using fresh tomatoes, cut them in half and squeeze out the seeds over a fine mesh strainer catching the juice. Push the seeds around in the strainer to get as much of the jelly as possible. Discard the seeds. Then using the large holes on a box grater, grate the pulp side of the tomatoes into the juice and discard the skins. Transfer the tomatoes in a deli container and refrigerate.
  3. Dice your onion and poblano pepper, mince the garlic, and transfer to a zip-top bag. Refrigerate.
  4. Dry off the chicken parts with a paper towel, and sprinkle with 4 teaspoons of kosher salt and some freshly ground pepper. Divide the pieces between two ziplock bags and add the olive oil. Zip closed and squish around to distribute the oil evenly. Refrigerate.
  5. Slice the chorizo diagonally into ¼ inch pieces and refrigerate.

On the day you make the paella

  1. Make a fire in the grill or fire pit using either lump charcoal or hardwood. If using hardwood, choose a slow-burning wood like oak or almond.
  2. Warm up the chicken stock. If you don’t have a large enough pot, this can be done in batches.
  3. When the fire is ready, set the paella over the coals to heat up. 
  4. When the temperature is such that you can’t hold your hand above the pan for more than a few seconds, add the chicken skin side down. Cook until the chicken is golden brown on all sides. Move the chicken to the outer edges of the pan (you can prop the drumsticks up along the edge). 
  5. Add the chorizo and allow it to start to get crisp around the edges. 
  6. Push the sausage to the side and add the onion, peppers, garlic, and green beans. Cook until the veg starts to soften and darken in color. 
  7. Add the tomatoes and their juices (or the boxed tomato) to the center of the pan and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes have thickened.
  8. Add the rice mixture to the center of the pan and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute.
  9. Redistribute the chicken pieces on top of the rice. Add 8 cups of the warm chicken stock and stir to distribute the rice throughout the pan. Now, don’t stir the paella. When you see the rice start to look dry (about 8-10 minutes), add a little stock. At this point, the fire should also be dying down, like you bring the water to a boil for rice on the stovetop and then turn it on low. You might have to reposition the pan to avoid hot spots.
  10. Keep checking the rice for doneness, and keep adding warm broth to the pan as needed. You should also check the level of salt at this time. You want the rice to have a slightly firm bite but not feel raw. If you run out of stock, you can switch to water.
  11. Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a towel (or aluminum foil), and let it rest for 15 minutes before serving.
  12. Try not to fight over the Socarrat (the crispy brown rice on the bottom of the paella)

You can use lots of different proteins in this dish. Shellfish is common and rabbit is traditional. We like to add clams on top near the end of the cooking process. But, when cooking for a crowd, be mindful of shellfish allergies.

Photo credit: @my_rivian

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