Photo: © Iain Bagwell

King Ranch Casserole
Why guests love it: This casserole is the ultimate combination of cheesy, meaty and spicy, with Tex-Mex ingredients that are perennially popular. There are peppers and onions, tomatoes, sour cream, chicken, Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses, corn tortillas—and a just-right amount of cumin and chili powder.

Why cooks love it: The recipe calls for smoked chicken, but you can also use a store-bought rotisserie bird and the dish will still taste delicious. You've got options when it comes to how to bake the casserole, too: either do it before guests arrive and reheat before serving, or have the dish assembled and ready to go and just pop it in the oven about 40 minutes before you want to eat.

Get the recipe: King Ranch Chicken

Photo: Maria Robledo

Caramelized Onion and Bacon Tart
Why guests love it: We once heard quiche Lorraine referred to as "bacon cheesecake" and instantly fell in love with the name—and not just because it sounds outrageously good. It eliminates the stigma often associated with quiche (too fussy, too brunch-y, too dainty) and tells it like it is: This is a cake made of cheese and bacon.

Why cooks love it: You can easily make this crowd-pleasing savory tart, which brims with caramelized onions, bacon and ricotta cheese, hours ahead of time and serve it warm or at room temperature.

Get the recipe: Caramelized Onion and Bacon Tart

Photo: cislander/iStock

Slow-Cooker Short Ribs with Dates and Chestnuts
Why guests love it: Short ribs are the definition of special-occasion food: They need to cook for hours, which means they're not something you make every day, and they taste incredibly indulgent.

Why cooks love it: This inexpensive cut is hard to screw up, so even novices can pull off an impressive-tasting meal. It's also one of those dishes that tastes better the next day.

Get the recipe: Slow-Cooker Short Ribs with Dates and Chestnuts
pulled pork

Photo: Christina Holmes

Pulled Pork
Why guests love it: Cooking barbecue-sauced pork slowly, over low heat, makes it so deliciously tender that it can be pulled apart into strips. It's customizable, too, so partygoers can pile it onto a bun or eat it with a fork, with or without coleslaw.

Why cooks love it: You can easily make enough to feed many in your slow cooker, so this is a low-effort, high-payoff dish.

Get the recipe: Pulled Pork
Baked Ziti

Photo: Joe Keller/Keller + Keller

Baked Ziti
Why guests love it: Baked pasta with melted cheese and bright, zippy tomato sauce is a main course with simple flavors that even picky eaters will happily dig into.

Why cooks love it: It's less work than making lasagna (no layering necessary) and you can also prepare it days ahead of time.

Get the recipe: Baked Ziti with Charred Tomatoes
Lemon Chicken

Photo: Signe Birck

Lemon Chicken
Why guests love it: Chicken is familiar, and lemon is a universally loved flavor. For people who avoid spicy foods, this is one rendition of chicken for a crowd that's interesting without being dangerous.

Why cooks love it: Roasting individual pieces of chicken (versus the entire bird) means there's little fussing in the kitchen. Plus, pieces cook more quickly and have just as much flavor as a whole bird.

Get the recipe: Roasted Chicken with Lemon, Thyme and Shallots

Photo: Con Poulos

Why guests love them: They're unassuming and approachable, and easily eaten standing up (with toothpicks, even, if you make them small enough).

Why cooks love them: This recipe has you bake the meatballs, which makes cleanup a lot simpler; you can reheat them in the oven right before serving (or heat them up in a slow cooker set to "warm").

Get the recipe: Beef Meatballs
Pasta Salad

Photo: The Jewels of New York

Pasta Salad
Why guests love it: The combination of pasta plus vegetables plus dressing pretty much instantly conveys "summertime party."

Why cooks love it: It's a dish that actually tastes best when you make it a few hours ahead of time, so the components have time to mingle and deepen. And this lightened-up take on the classic has fresh tomatoes, cannellini beans, hazelnuts and mint, making it much more balanced than the usual.

Get the recipe: Summer Pasta Salad