Skip to Content

How do you cook spaghetti for a large group?

Cooking spaghetti for a large group can seem like a daunting task. However, with some planning and preparation, it can actually be quite manageable. The key is to plan ahead, prepare your ingredients, use large pots and pans, and keep the spaghetti warm after cooking. Here are some tips and guidelines for making perfect spaghetti for a crowd.

How Much Spaghetti Do You Need?

The first step is determining how much spaghetti you need to cook. A general rule of thumb is 1 pound of dried spaghetti serves 4 people. So if you are cooking for 20 people you will need around 5 pounds of spaghetti.

It’s better to err on the side of caution and cook more than you think you will need rather than not having enough. Leftover spaghetti keeps well in the refrigerator for several days.

Equipment Needed

To cook spaghetti for a large group, you will need:

  • A very large pot for cooking the pasta – at least 8 quarts
  • A large colander to drain the cooked pasta
  • Long handled wooden spoons for stirring
  • Ladle for getting pasta out of cooking pot
  • Large serving bowl or platters
  • Sauce pan for heating up sauce – 6 quarts or larger

Using extra large pots will make cooking and draining the pasta much easier. Be sure all equipment is clean and ready to use before starting.


For 5 pounds of spaghetti you will need:

  • 5 pounds dried spaghetti
  • 1 gallon of water
  • 2-3 tablespoons salt
  • Sauce – about 4-5 quarts, depending on preferences

Use good quality dried Italian style spaghetti. Plan for about 1/2 cup of sauce per person. Have extra sauce on hand for second helpings.

Cooking the Spaghetti

Here is a step-by-step guide to cooking perfect spaghetti for a crowd:

  1. Fill the large pot with 1 gallon of water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Add several tablespoons of salt.
  2. Slowly add the spaghetti to the boiling water a bit at a time so it doesn’t stick together. Use a wooden spoon to gently stir and separate the strands.
  3. Boil uncovered until the pasta is al dente – usually 8-10 minutes for dried spaghetti. Test a strand for doneness.
  4. While the spaghetti is cooking, start heating up the sauce in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  5. When the pasta is done, remove the pot from the heat. Scoop out about 1 cup of the starchy pasta cooking water and set aside.
  6. Drain the cooked spaghetti into a very large colander. Be extremely careful as the heavy pot will be difficult to pour. Have someone help hold the colander steady.
  7. Return the drained spaghetti to the cooking pot and toss with a bit of olive oil or sauce so it doesn’t stick together.
  8. Add the heated sauce and the starchy pasta water. Gently mix until pasta is evenly coated. Add any extra spices or herbs.
  9. Serve immediately in warmed bowls or on platters. Top with Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

Keeping the Spaghetti Warm

With large groups, it can be challenging to have everyone served hot at the same time. Here are some tips for keeping just-cooked spaghetti warm until service:

  • Keep cooked pasta in the heated pot off the heat. Place lid on top.
  • Pour cooked pasta into a very large preheated bowl or casserole dish.
  • Place serving bowl over a larger pot of hot water to keep warm, like a double boiler.
  • Use a slow cooker or chafing dishes to keep cooked spaghetti warm for service.
  • Serve in courses, replenishing bowls with hot pasta from the kitchen as needed.

With very large groups or lengthy service times, it works best to cook and drain the pasta in batches. Cook one or two pots of pasta at a time and keep warm while cooking the next batch.

Make-Ahead Tips

For convenience, the spaghetti sauce can be made 1-2 days ahead. Let cool and refrigerate until needed. Reheat sauce slowly over medium heat, adding pasta water or broth if it becomes too thick.

The pasta itself should be cooked right before serving. But if needed, here are some make-ahead tips:

  • Cook pasta 2-3 minutes less than package directions for al dente. Drain and rinse with cool water to stop cooking.
  • Toss pasta with a bit of oil or sauce to prevent sticking. Spread out on sheet pans or hotel pans to cool quickly.
  • Refrigerate cooked pasta up to 2 days. To reheat – add small amounts of sauce or pasta water and reheat gently in pans on the stove or in the oven.

While best when freshly cooked, make-ahead tricks can help streamline the process for big crowds.

Serving Large Quantities

When serving spaghetti for 20, 40 or more people, it’s important to have a plan for getting the pasta from the kitchen to the table efficiently. Here are some buffet, family style and plated serving options:

Buffet Service

Set up a long table with the hot pasta in large serving bowls or chafing dishes with serving utensils.
Have heated plates available at the start of the table. Guests can serve themselves in assembly line fashion. Have extra sauce and Parmesan on the side.

Family Style

For more formal dinners, serve family style in large platters at each table. Have volunteers or servers ready to quickly replenish dishes as needed from the kitchen.

Plated Service

For plated dinners, have a team ready to serve each guest individually. Use an assembly line approach with different stations – hot pasta, sauce ladling, Parmesan sprinkling, etc.

Assign volunteers to refill water glasses and remove empty plates as needed so guests don’t have to leave the table.

Leftovers and Storage

Even with a crowd, you will likely have leftover spaghetti. Here is how to properly store and reheat:

  • Refrigerate leftover spaghetti within 2 hours. Store sauce and pasta separately.
  • Use shallow airtight containers. Let cool completely before covering.
  • Refrigerate up to 4 days or freeze for longer storage.
  • Reheat gently on the stove with a bit of sauce or pasta water.
  • Add extra sauce as needed once heated through.
  • Can also reheat in the microwave or oven.

With some strategic planning and these tips, you can successfully make delicious spaghetti for 20, 50 or even 100 people. Just remember – big pots, big colanders, and a well-organized serving system. Buon appetito!


Cooking spaghetti for a large crowd requires preparation and teamwork, but the effort pays off with a delicious meal the entire group can enjoy together. The keys are using large equipment, cooking in stages, keeping pasta hot, delegating tasks, and setting up an efficient serving system. With quality ingredients and some patience, spaghetti for 20 or more is completely achievable. Just be sure to make extra – everyone will want seconds!