A meat or party tray is a mixed platter of cold cuts which may be laid out at a buffet or party. Typically, meat trays are paired with trays of cheeses, dips, crackers, breads, fruits, and other snack foods for guests, and they are usually garnished with vegetables. Many delis make meat trays which can be stocked with custom foods for special events, and it is also possible to assemble your own meat tray, using sliced meats, cheeses, and other ingredients from a local deli.
The arrangement of a meat tray is usually designed to be at least vaguely artistic, and to minimize hand contact with the food. The meats are often rolled up and spiked with toothpicks so that people can grab the toothpicks instead of touching the meat directly, for example, or tongs will be provided for lifting up desired cuts of meat. The meats may be creatively fanned, stacked, or otherwise arranged so that the tray looks attractive to people approaching it.
The meats used on a meat tray vary widely. Cured meats are commonly on offer, along with roasted meats like beef, chicken, and turkey. The tray is often lined with lettuce or other foliage in addition to waxed paper, and garnishes like vegetables cut into fantastic shapes, carrot sticks, sliced tomatoes, and shredded parsley are common; many people use garnishes to separate the different types of meat on the tray, making it easier for people to identify them. Edible flowers are also acceptable and sometimes quite pleasant garnishes.
In an ideal world, a meat tray is displayed on a bed of ice which will help to keep the meat cool, reducing the risk of food-borne illness. Some cooks also try to avoid mixing meats and cheeses, and they typically encourage guests to stack foods of their choice on plates, rather than grazing directly from the trays. Leftovers can be refrigerated if they have not been out for more than two hours; otherwise, they should be discarded.
If you plan to bring a meat tray to a party, you may want to order it ahead of time from your deli, to ensure that the deli will have the meats you want in stock. This is especially true during the holiday season, when meat trays are on abundant offer at parties both large and small. If you wish to assemble your own, pre-order the sliced meats you need several days in advance, and follow directions for handling and refrigeration to ensure that they stay safe to eat.