How to Make an Epic Charcuterie Board for Any Occasion

Our expert tips will help you put together a balanced board that looks as good as it tastes.
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Published Sept. 8, 2022.

Charcuterie boards are tailor-made for parties. But from choosing the actual board to arranging all of the items in an attractive way, there's a lot to consider. What's the best way to build the board? What are the best meats (and other items) to include in it?

We literally wrote the book on boards. Boards: Stylish Spreads for Casual Gatherings is full of recipes, entertaining ideas, and tips for creating photo-worthy spreads to impress your guests. (As a food stylist, Elle knows how to make food look good.)

The book contains board inspiration for every theme and scenario, but a charcuterie board is one of the most common and great for beginners. Here's everything you need to put together a balanced charcuterie board that looks as good as it tastes.

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What Is a Charcuterie Board?

A charcuterie board is a stylish way to present meats and cheeses as an appetizer (or even dessert), often for entertaining. Traditionally, charcuterie refers to the meats themselves, but it is now used as a way to refer to snacking or grazing boards filled with meats, cheeses, crackers, and more.

What Goes on a Charcuterie Board?

Charcuterie boards are decadent crowd-pleasers, and though they seem elegant, almost all of the components are store-bought—their simplicity makes them the perfect board for beginners

Charcuterie and cheese board

Here’s what we like to put on our charcuterie boards. Pick and choose from this list depending on what you’re in the mood for (or what you have on hand).

Watch Lan Lam put together a simple charcuterie board.

How Much of Each Item Should I Plan on Per Person?

Consider the amount of people you’re serving, and purchase accordingly to make sure you’re not overspending.

Below are some general guidelines for the most common board components, but take into consideration what meal you’re serving and adjust accordingly. So if you’re serving a board as an appetizer to a bigger meal you may want to scale back a bit—or dial it up if people will be snacking on the board all night.

  • Meats: 2 to 3 ounces per person
  • Cheeses: 2 to 3 ounces per person
  • Nuts: 2 to 3 tablespoons per person
  • Crackers or bread: 4 to 6 ounces per person
  • Vegetables or crudités: 4 to 8 ounces per person
  • Dips: ½ cup per person

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What Are the Best Meats for a Charcuterie Board?

The best meats for a charcuterie board exhibit a balance of texture and flavor. We like to choose a spreadable meat (such as pâté or ’nduja), a hard meat (such as pepperoni or chorizo), something soft and creamy (try mortadella), and a salty option (prosciutto is always a hit).

A small plate with pate and cheese on sliced baguetteHands with red nails spreading pate on sliced baguette

Here’s a primer on cured and fermented meats that are all perfect for a charcuterie board:

  • Prosciutto: Made by seasoning, curing, pressing, and air-drying a pork thigh for as long as two years, this charcuterie board staple has an incredibly dense, silky texture and a delicate, nutty flavor.
  • Serrano ham: The Spaniards call it jamón serrano, literally “mountain ham,” because the sheds where it’s hung to dry are at high elevations. It’s woodsy, earthy, and oh-so tender.
  • Capicola: Made from the shoulder or neck of a pig, capicola is seasoned with wine, garlic, herbs, and spices before it’s cured and hung for months.
  • Salami: Salamis are a huge family of cured, boldly seasoned sausages (including pepperoni). Softer, larger salamis can be sliced at the deli like sandwich meat, while small, hard ones are usually sold whole.
  • Mortadella: Hailing from Bologna, Italy, this far-from-Oscar-Mayer meat is like an herby high-end baloney studded with pistachios and creamy chunks of fat.
  • ’Nduja: Named for its resemblance to French andouille, this spreadable sausage is often made from a mix of pork shoulder, belly, and fatback as well as various less valuable cuts. It’s liberally spiced to a fiery brick red and slow-fermented so it takes on a notable tangy funk.

What Are the Best Cheeses for a Charcuterie Board?

The best cheeses for a charcuterie board are a mix of crowd-pleasing cheeses and more unexpected ones. Start by choosing three to five cheeses with different textures and flavors, as well as different types of cheese, such as those made from goat’s milk, cow’s milk, or sheep’s milk.

A display of cheeses

It’s helpful to think of cheese in the following categories and choose from a few different ones:

Another tip when serving cheese on a board: Cut a few slices of each cheese to show people how it should be cut—yes, it makes a difference!

How to Make a Charcuterie Board in 4 Simple Steps

When setting up a charcuterie board, it helps to break the construction up into four stages. This keeps things organized, and ensures a balanced board.

Charcuterie board stage 1

1. Start with a Focal Point: This is usually the “star” or the ingredients that set the tone for the board’s theme. If there’s no theme, just start with the largest item (or items). Sometimes for larger boards these focal points are more spread out (such as strategically placed dips).

Charcuterie board stage 2

2. Create Sections: Use bread, crackers, and/or fruit as section dividers, creating zones on your board. (You’ll fill them in next!)

Charcuterie board stage 3

3. Fill in Space: Fill in the sections with hearty items like meats, olives, or fruit. This is also the time to add anything you might have in small dishes.

Charcuterie board stage 4

4. Add Finishing Touches: It’s all about the garnishes here. Sneak some dried fruit into the empty spaces and use fresh herbs or even edible flowers to take your board into a new dimension.

How to Fold Meat for a Charcuterie Board 

Have you ever wondered how to fold prosciutto for a charcuterie board? Or create a flower with salami? When you’re putting together a board that’s just cured meats, it can take a little finessing to make it pretty.

But it doesn't have to take a lot of effort; often just a few small touches make all the difference. Tucking sprigs of fresh herbs into your board adds dimension and an instant pop of color. Instead of peppering small dishes of condiments all over your board, dollop some mustard right onto the board and smear it into a long line using the back of a spoon. Then, place your cured meats right on top.

Here are some more suggestions for adding some interest to your board.

Prosciutto wrapped around breadsticks

The Wrap: Wrap thinly sliced meat around bread sticks, pretzel rods, figs, or melon slices. (Bonus: This strategy also keeps the wrapped item from rolling around the board.)

Mortadella folded on a charcuterie board

The Fold: Folding pieces in either half or quarters and then fanning them out on the board not only makes it look attractive, the pieces are also easier to pick up. This is best for circular slices like deli salami and mortadella.

Prosciutto piled on a charcuterie board

The Pile: Take one slice and create a small nest, letting it fold over itself. Repeat with other slices and either group together or use to fill in empty spaces on the board. Perfect for prosciutto and other paper-thin cuts.

Making a salami rose

The Rose: Layer pieces of salami around the rim of a glass, working your way around the glass and overlapping the pieces as you go, until you have multiple layers. Then, flip the glass and meat over onto your board to create a rose. (Check out our article for more tips on perfecting your salami rose.)

Recipes & Expert Food-Styling Advice

Boards: Stylish Spreads for Casual Gatherings

Take boards beyond cheese and crackers. Show off your effortless entertaining style with showstopping spreads that will impress your guests but give you the flexibility to make or buy components as you choose.


Close up of cheese and fruit on a cheese board

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