Chef Lorilynn Bauer, co-author of The Art of the Perfect Sauce, offers seven essential tips. 
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Lorilynn Bauer is planning her Super Bowl party. The co-author (with Ramin Ganeshram) of the book The Art of the Perfect Sauce and a former Iron Chef America isn’t missing out on the chance to cook a feast for her family and friends, even though she admits she doesn't watch much football. Bauer plans to serve fish tacos and chicken tahini patties among other dishes—and she’ll also putting out a slew of dips and sauces to accompany her meal, a crucial element of any dinner party, Super Bowl-related or otherwise. She’ll probably be making a chimichurri sauce and her cheese dip that is made with tequila and served in a fondue pot. You’ll probably want to make a dip for your party, too, but pouring store-bought salsa out of a jar and serving it alongside a bag of corn chips may leave you wanting more. Here, Bauer offers her tips for making a dip for your Super Bowl party, plus warns against the most common mistakes people make when preparing this deceptively simple dish.

art of the perfect sauce
Credit: Courtesy of Allison Lehman

Get a head count first

Bauer says it’s crucial to know how many people are coming to your party. If you’re having 15 or 20 people over to your house, for instance, you might think about setting around six different dips.

Everything can be made ahead

Once you know how many people are coming, you should get started on making your dips ahead of time. Don’t be afraid of storing things in the fridge.

“The flavors just get deeper as the days go by,” Bauer says.

A chimichurri, for instance, can be made a day or two before. Same goes for a hot honey sauce for chicken wings. Bauer makes her version ahead of time, then takes it out of the fridge, heats it up in a pan until it’s back to room temperature, and then tosses her wings in it. Planning your menu ahead of time, Bauer advises, makes the process of party-planning less stressful for you and gives you more time to interact with your guests the day of.

Variety is crucial

Bauer explains that while taste is paramount when crafting your sauces, you should also consider including a variety of textures and colors in your dips and sauces. Adding fresh herbs or brightly colored vegetables, like a ripe red bell pepper, to your dishes will give your meals a vibrant splash of color.

Bauer also sets out a variety of heat levels—mild, medium, spicy, or what Bauer jokingly refers to as “have a beer first.” If you find a recipe for a spicy dip or sauce that you love, Bauer says that you might not want to make it super hot the first time you serve it. If a recipe, for instance, calls for five Thai chilies, make a batch with just two the first time around. You can always serve some extra chilies on the side for people who have a taste for spice.

The right texture can make or break a sauce

You’ve probably experienced it—and politely ignored it—at a party before: a cheese dip that is too rubbery, thick, or goopy. To make sure this fate doesn’t befall your cheese dip, Bauer recommends keeping some stock warm on the stove to stir in with your dip in case it starts to thicken up too much. Don’t add any cold liquids—that will make the dip seize up. You should also keep the heat on low while you’re cooking; Bauer finds that many home cooks tend to “scorch” their dips.

Don’t be too worried if your dip isn’t the perfect texture when you set it out on the table. It’s going to be sitting there all day, and it will inevitably thicken up, so Bauer explains that you should “make it a little looser” when you first set it out at the party.

“You can never have enough cheese sauce,” Bauer says, so if you make extra of anything, it should be this dish.

Home cooks tend also to run intro trouble when they douse their dishes in sauce. With a dish that’s supposed to be crispy, for instance, Bauer finds people sometimes toss it in their sauce and then set it out on the table, where it immediately gets soggy.

“All you’re tasting is the sauce and people don’t really finish it,” she says.

Be sparing in how much sauce you use—perhaps even serving it exclusively on the side so that people can add only the amount they want—so that you don’t ruin your meal.

Make sure your dips match the dish you’re serving

Not every dip goes with every type of food, so be sure the flavors of your dips and sauces actually go with what your main courses. A coconut harissa or hoisin harbenero, for instance, goes well with chicken fingers or grilled chicken breast. Bauer makes a peach and bourbon sauce that she often pairs with red meat—it has “burnt sugar, and a little bit of heat.”

“You don’t want just one level in your sauce,” she explains. “[And] if you get a great cut of beef, you don’t want something that will cover the taste of the dish.”

Yes, even temperature is an important factor

Bauer says that you should try to pick both main courses and dips that can be served at room temperature. A dish like crispy quinoa patties or summer rolls do well at room temperature, for instance.

Instead of cooking everything at once and sticking it all out at the table, cook your dishes in small batches and serve at the temperature they're intended to be served at.

Don’t forget presentation

Make it easy for your guests to navigate your spread. You can put sauces in plastic squirt bottles if you want to go the super-easy access route. For a classier look, you can serve the dips and sauces in a ramekins alongside demitasse spoons because “people tend to dip and double dip.” Bauer sometimes even marks dishes and sauces with colored dots so that her guests know which dip pairs best with what dish. She also tends to separate vegetarian dishes from the rest of the meal to make it clear which foods are intended for those with dietary restrictions.