How to Throw the Perfect Hot Pot Party
Jing Gao of Fly By Jing shares her tips on curating a delicious spread.
When people think of party food, it’s often overflowing charcuterie boards, mini wraps skewered with toothpicks, and individual cookies or brownie squares. For me, however, the ultimate party feast—something that truly becomes the focal point—is hot pot. Artfully arranged platters of meat and veggies grace the table alongside jars of condiments. In the center is a bubbling cauldron of soup base, which can range from a savory miso soup, bubbling pork broth, or spicy Sichuan stock complete with floating chilies and spices.
“Hot pot is an invention of such fun,” says Jing Gao, founder of Sichuan chili brand Fly By Jing. “During the 10 to 15 years I was living in China, it was taken very seriously. It’s like a lifestyle—a religion.”
Gao used her experiences as a trained chef in China to launch Fly by Jing in 2018, which has expanded beyond the initial jars of chili crisp to include dumplings, mala spice mix, and an electrifying hot pot soup base. With her expertise, she knows exactly how to throw the ultimate hot pot party—and is open to sharing her tips.
Make a DIY sauce bar
“One of the most exciting parts of hot pot is the sauce bar,” Gao says, referencing the popular hot pot chain Hai Di Lao, which is well known for its extensive sauce possibilities. “It’s super exciting to DIY your own bowl and every time it can be different.”
Gao typically has at least 10 ingredients available to make a sauce bar at home, which includes black vinegar, chili crisp, sesame oil, and sacha (or Bullhead barbecue sauce). Minced garlic, sesame seeds, and sliced chilies might also make an appearance, but Gao’s favorite thing to do is take a block of fermented tofu and crush it alongside sesame seeds and oil, chili crisp, and black vinegar for a dip that is, in her words, “funky and deep and super umami.”
Look into a yin-yang pot
There are so many styles of hot pot out there that expand beyond any one country’s borders. Sukiyaki, jim joom, and shabu-shabu are just a handful of examples. If you’re looking for a more expansive experience, then try securing a yin-yang hot pot—one that allows for two different broths to be heated and enjoyed at the same time.
“For the greens, I might cook it in a plain broth. For the meats and everything else, I’d put it into the hot, spicy one,” Gao says. If you have any friends who are vegan or vegetarian, the split pot allows for them to still enjoy a meat-free meal. Or if spicy soup may be an issue for some and a draw for others, everyone can get what they want.
Get the right tools
But it’s okay if you don’t have a yin-yang pot, however. Gao says hot pot can be accessible to anyone and made in any vessel—a rice cooker, an Instant Pot, or an enamel pot all work. But if you want to have the pot in the middle of the table, it’s great to invest in a portable gas stove. “You also need a slotted spoon to scoop your ingredients out,” Gao advises. “That's important because you can lose things in the pot very easily.” It’s always heartbreaking at the end of a hot pot meal to find a graveyard of broken kabocha squash, grey overcooked meat, and bloated udon noodles.
Make sure to get enough slotted spoons, and ladles for soup, so that everyone can continuously eat.
Stock up on a variety of ingredients
Although the soup and sauce is extremely important, the main part of hot pot is the veggies, proteins, and noodles that get swished around and soaked with the flavor of the broth. This is where everyone can have their favorites—fat-streaked pork belly, bunches of bok choy, napa cabbage, fish tofu, and more.
“Get thinly pre-sliced meats because, with hotpot, you want to be able to cook it fast,” Gao says. Thin slices of beef brisket, lamb, pork, and chicken are all typical, and only take a few seconds in the boiling pot to cook before they’re ready to be consumed.
Gao prefers to overstock rather than under. Her favorites include a variety of mushrooms (shitake, oyster, and enoki to name a few), quail eggs, bouncy shrimp paste balls, sweet potato noodles, and dumplings. Try to avoid starchy noodles if you can, which leave a sticky residue within the broth and makes for a viscous soup that’s not as pleasant to sip on.
Pay attention to order
Although Gao encourages diners to buy mostly anything to be stewed in hot pot, there is an ideal order to things. For starters, root vegetables that take longer to cook—like lotus roots, potato, and kabocha squash—should be added earlier in the meal. Thinly sliced meats only need a few seconds to cook in the bubbling soup, so don’t abandon them—just keep them secured on the ends of your chopsticks. Continuously add things to the communal pot to replace ingredients that have already been dug out and consumed, so the party can continue. “There’s an order and an art to it, but, with experience, you get better at it.”
Cherish your time together
“Hot pot is all about community—bringing people together around a table, which is such a fundamental part of dining culture in China,” Gao shares. “The act of cooking the food together over a long period of time is what’s so attractive about it.”