How to make a Hot Chocolate Bar

Get cozy at your next party with a Hot Chocolate Bar, complete with all the toppings and mix-ins! Check out our hot chocolate bar recipe, as well as our comprehensive guide, which includes our best tips, tricks and more to building one in your home.

A woman holds a red mug of cocoa between her two hands above a hot chocolate bar

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Hot Chocolate Bar Ideas  

It’s always a good time to set up a hot chocolate bar. I always put together one for my cookie related-holiday parties — every year I choose between a cookie decorating party, a fun cookie swap or a gingerbread house party.

It goes without saying that a Hot Chocolate Bar is also wonderful to make throughout the holiday season to spread some holiday cheer.

Hot chocolate bars also work for various other winter holidays. Make one while you decorate the Christmas tree or have one on Christmas Eve.

Beyond December, you can enjoy them for the big game or Valentine’s Day. They’re even great for outdoor events like tailgating, bonfires and stargazing. After all, who would say no to a Hot Chocolate Bar party on a cold day? 

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    They are so fun because everyone will love heaping their mug with marshmallows, candies and cookies and stirring in mix-ins like syrups and booze. Well, adults only on that last one…

    Why I love hot chocolate bars:

    Honestly, putting together a Hot Chocolate Bar is always a good idea and there’s no wrong way to do it throughout the winter months… AKA hot chocolate season. 

    Here are some reasons why I love making them:

    • Hot chocolate bars are a great self-serve option for a party. Then the host (you) doesn’t have to be fixing drinks all night! 
    • You can customize this to your tastebuds and let guests choose from different toppings.
    • Everyone loves hot chocolate. And if they don’t, there’s still room for them at the bar. You can make also provide coffee or apple cider and a lot of the mix-ins will work!
    • It is so cozy, so a hot cocoa bar is perfect for keeping everyone warm. 

    More hot chocolate recipes to try: Strawberry White Hot Chocolate | Peppermint Schnapps Hot Chocolate | Pomegranate White Hot Chocolate | Frozen Hot Cocoa recipe

    What is a hot chocolate bar?

    A hot chocolate bar is a party menu item and activity. It features a spread of fixings for hot cocoa, like marshmallows, cookie stir sticks and cinnamon, mix-ins like syrups and alcohol, plus at least one type of hot chocolate. 

    You can build it on a kitchen counter, a table in your dining room or a space outside, if you’re hosting this shindig outdoors.

    The hot chocolate is usually made in a slow cooker to keep it warm. However, it can be as simple as an electric kettle with packs of powdered hot cocoa. 

    Hot chocolate bars are great for any kind of gathering, from a few people to a big shindig. 

    Ingredients to make a hot chocolate bar on a white surface with pine needles

    What you need to make this recipe:

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    • Small serving bowl for whipped cream
    • Small bowls or mason jars (or your favorite glass jars) for liquids like chocolate syrup and caramel sauce
    • Bowls and plates for items like marshmallows, sprinkles, cookies and candies to mix in
    • Slow cooker or crock pot (or large pot on the stove) to keep hot chocolate warm, or an electric kettle filled with water for preparing hot chocolate mix 
    • Ladle for the hot chocolate
    • Tongs and serving spoons for guests to use to grab and scoop items from bowls 
    • Spoons or stir sticks for stirring
    • Mugs or disposable coffee cups (which you’ll usually see for hot beverages)

    Let’s talk ingredients!

    In addition to the tools above, you’re going to need some ingredients to make this recipe, too! Chances are, you might already have some of them in your fridge or pantry. Scroll down to the recipe card for the full measurements and instructions.

    Here’s what you’ll need to grab at the grocery store:

    • A big batch of slow cooker hot cocoa — this is made with milk, sugar, cocoa powder and vanilla extract). You could also use your favorite hot chocolate recipe.
    • Chocolate chips — any size of chips will do. White chocolate chips are a fun addition, too.
    • Butterscotch chips, peanut butter chips or toffee bits 
    • Peppermint crunch baking chips, candy canes, crushed peppermints or peppermint sticks
    • Cookies — you could use something like chocolate rolled wafer cookies, shown here. Pocky chocolate-covered biscuit sticks or any other long cookie doubles as stirrers, so those are fun. You could also add mini stroopwafels (wafer sandwich cookies with a caramel filling) are wonderful because they get all soft and melty when dipped into a hot drink.
    • Chocolate syrup (or a decadent Homemade Hot Fudge Sauce)
    • Caramel sauce
    • Pecan pieces — or another nut of your choosing!
    • Sweetened whipped cream — you can make your own from heavy whipping cream or use the store-bought kind
    • Mini marshmallows — you can get the plain white kind OR the colored kind for the kiddos. Homemade marshmallows would be a fun addition, but certainly not required.

    You can make your hot chocolate station into anything you want. There are NO rules here. My ingredients above are merely suggestions, so pick and choose your favorite toppings and the ones you think would work best.

    You can make labels for the ingredients, if you’d like, but it’s not totally necessary.

    Customizations and substitutions

    For a dairy-free option: Check out this dairy-free hot chocolate for suggestions on making hot chocolate with water or non-dairy milk, like almond milk. 

    For the gluten-free people: If anyone in your party is sensitive or allergic to gluten, keep the cookies separate from the other toppings. Ask guests to pick up cookies last so there is no cross-contamination.

    It would be a good idea to have out some gluten-free cookies like Christmas rice krispie treats for those folks, as well.

    For a smaller party: Low on space? Consider making a Hot Chocolate Board instead. It’s much the same but instead of taking up an entire countertop or table, you just need a smaller board to stash all the mix-ins on. 

    Boozy hot chocolate bar: Provide several spirits and liqueurs that pair with a cup of hot chocolate. Brandy, rum and whiskey all go very well with chocolate, so they’re perfect choices. You can also use flavored spirits and sweet liqueurs like Irish cream, vanilla vodka, coffee liqueur and cinnamon whiskey to jazz things up. 

    A hot chocolate bar on a countertop with various toppings and a small slow cooker of hot cocoa

    Hot chocolate bar on a budget

    It’s easy to get carried away with something like this, but you don’t really need much beyond the basics to have a great hot chocolate bar. 

    Here are some tips for setting up a super simple, stripped-down hot chocolate bar without breaking the bank: 

    1. Make homemade hot chocolate. It’s a little less expensive to do this with milk and a few bags of chocolate chips than a few boxes of mix.
    2. Keep toppings light. You don’t need much more than marshmallows, whipped cream, ground cinnamon and some cookies. And, you can… 
    3. Ask guests to bring toppings. You can assign them an item to bring, like hot chocolate sauce or candy canes, or let them be creative and bring something that sounds good to them. 
    4. Ask guests to BYOMug or bring paper coffee cups. No one will mind bringing a mug along. This saves you on having to buy disposable hot beverage cups AND on dishes! Although expect to have a few mugs available for those who forget. (And someone will forget.)
    5. Use stuff you have on hand to set it up. Things you might already have in your home can be used as parts of the bar. Use drinking glasses or cereal bowls to contain the toppings. 
    A hand stirs a slow cooker of hot chocolate on a hot chocolate board

    How to make a hot chocolate bar

    Setting up a hot chocolate bar is pretty simple. 

    First, choose your surface. I set down a cutting board with a small cake stand on it on my counter. (If you have a lot of toppings, you could use a tiered tray for them.) You could also do this on a spare part of countertop space or a table.

    If you’re using a slow cooker, make sure there’s an outlet nearby.

    Next, choose a bunch of bowls for the fun toppings you’re going to use. Choose different serving utensils for these, too. Spoons, tongs, toothpicks all work. Just before the party begins, pour the ingredients into the bowls/jars.

    Get the hot chocolate ready and place it in a slow cooker near the board. It needs about 1-2 hours to cook or you can prepare it another way and add it to the slow cooker to keep warm.

    When the party begins, let your guests fill their mugs with cocoa and garnish them to their heart’s content. 

    Keep tabs on the hot chocolate and refill it if it gets low. 

    Pro tip!

    You can put your cocoa bar together a few hours ahead of your party, but make sure to leave spots for anything that should be refrigerated, like whipped cream. Use a similarly sized bowl as a placeholder, then swap them out at the start of the party.

    Best hot chocolate toppings and mix-ins

    You can have so much fun with hot chocolate toppings. My ideas above are what I always use for mine, but the ideas are limitless.

    Here are some more ideas:

    • Spreads like peanut butter, Nutella or cookie butter are great for stirring into hot cocoa.
    • Sprinkles are always fun for kids. Chocolate jimmies and hundreds-and-thousands in festive colors are both great ideas for a DIY hot chocolate bar.
    • Ice cream is a fun topper. Keep a glass of water handy to rinse off the ice cream scoop* (affiliate link) between servings. Try plain vanilla or something chocolatey, like fudge brownie ice cream.
    • Mini bottles of alcohol for the 21+ will be most welcome if your crowd is into that. A few ideas to try are Kahlua, Baileys, Rumchata, Fireball, Jameson, bourbon, brandy, spiced rum or coconut rum.
    • Ground spices like ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg or even gingerbread spice* (affiliate link) are fun to sprinkle on top of whipped cream or marshmallows
    • Candy, especially the chocolate variety, is wonderful for toppings or mixing in. Try cut-up Snickers bars, peanut butter cups, and Almond Joys, as well as crushed candy canes at the holidays.
    • Edible glitter will get everyone excited. It’s a great way to make your hot chocolate feel instantly festive! 
    Chocolate syrup pours on top of a red mug of cocoa topped with whipped cream

    Hot Chocolate Bar vs. Hot Chocolate Board

    If a hot cocoa bar isn’t an option for you, you can still set up a successful hot chocolate board instead.

    It works similarly — just set everything out on a big cutting board or tray next to the hot cocoa and let guests build their dream mugs.

    Hot chocolate bars might work a little better for bigger parties to prevent a bottleneck. That way the toppings can be more spread out, and people can move through them more like a buffet than a station.

    Hot chocolate boards are great for smaller parties, like book clubs or girls’ night or a small gift exchange. 

    How to store leftover hot chocolate:

    If you wind up with leftovers, no sweat. You can enjoy it again later!

    Let it cool and store it in an airtight liquid container in the refrigerator for up to a week. (I like to use a large mason jar.)

    Reheat in the microwave in 30-second bursts in an individual mug. If you want to reheat a large portion of the cocoa, pour it back into the slow cooker to warm up.

    What to serve with hot cocoa

    Hot chocolate goes with everything in the wintertime.

    Set out a few kinds of cookies, such as Hot Cocoa Cookies and a non-chocolate cookie like Christmas Funfetti Cookies.

    Something snacky — like a bowl of nuts, Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites or Chex Mix Puppy Chow — is great to have too.

    A sweet dip like Chocolate Cheesecake Dip is always a hit.

    Don’t forget to have some savory items available too for anyone to combat their sweet tooth, like a veggie tray with Garlic Hummus or a dip like Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip.

    Erin’s Easy Entertaining Tips

    • Ask guests to bring their own mug! This is a great way to cut down on dishes. Make sure to clear the sink before the party so they can rinse them out before heading home.
    • Ask guests to bring a different hot chocolate toppings or mix-in to the party and build the bar as guests arrive. This can help keep costs down, too.
    • For bigger parties, you might want to have extra hot chocolate warming in slow cookers in another room. When one runs out, then you have a backup. (Ask to borrow a friend’s slow cooker — no need to buy a new one just for the occasion!) You can also use an Instant Pot on the slow cooker setting. 
    • Send everyone home with a jar of peppermint hot cocoa mix or festive chocolate spoons to enjoy at home and remember the occasion.
    A woman holds a red mug of cocoa topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What should be included in a hot chocolate bar? 

    Hot chocolate bars should include at least one type of hot chocolate, either kept on the stove or in a warmer such as a slow cooker. In addition, there should be toppings like whipped cream, marshmallows, candy and chocolate syrup. 

    What alcohol goes with hot chocolate? 

    You can mix several spirits and liqueurs with hot chocolate. Brandy, rum and whiskey all go very well with chocolate, so they’re perfect choices. You can also use flavored spirits and sweet liqueurs like Irish cream, vanilla vodka, coffee liqueur and cinnamon whiskey to jazz things up. 

    A hand sticks a rolled cookie into a whipped cream topped mug of cocoa

    Quick tips and tricks to making the best hot chocolate bar

    • If you usually make savory stuff in your slow cooker, use a slow cooker liner to keep it tasting sweet (and not reminiscent of last week’s chili). 
    • Vary up the toppings based on what you like and what your guests like!
    • Make sure to provide a variety of toppings and mix-ins, especially some interesting and creative ingredients, to get guests excited about making their mug of hot chocolate.

    More board ideas:

    More hot chocolate recipes:

    A woman holds a red mug of cocoa between her two hands above a hot chocolate bar

    How to Build a Hot Chocolate Bar

    Get cozy at your next party with a Hot Chocolate Bar, complete with all the toppings and mix-ins! Check out our hot chocolate bar recipe, as well as our comprehensive guide, which includes our best tips, tricks and more to building one in your home.
    5 from 1 vote
    Servings 8 servings
    Prep Time 2 hours
    Cook Time 15 minutes

    Ingredients
      

    • 8 cups slow cooker hot cocoa
    • ½ cup chocolate chips
    • ½ cup white chocolate chips
    • ½ cup mini peanut butter cups
    • ¼ cup Andes Peppermint Crunch Thins or Baking Chips
    • 6 oz. chocolate rolled wafers
    • ¼ cup chocolate syrup or hot fudge sauce
    • ½ cup sweetened whipped cream or the canned stuff
    • 12 candy canes
    • 12 individually wrapped chocolates
    • ½ cup mini marshmallows

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    Instructions
     

    • Choose your surface. I set down a cutting board with a small cake stand on it on top of my countertop. You can easily do this on a cleared countertop or even a table.
    • Choose a bunch of bowls for the ingredients you’re going to use. Choose different serving utensils for these, too.
    • Pour the ingredients into the bowls/jars.
    • Get the hot chocolate ready and place it in a slow cooker near the board. It needs about 1-2 hours to cook, or you can prepare it another way and add it to the slow cooker to keep warm.
    • When the party begins, let your guests fill their mugs with cocoa and decorate them to their heart’s content.

    Notes

    Make ahead tip: You can put your cocoa bar together a few hours ahead of your party, but make sure to leave spots for anything that should be refrigerated, like whipped cream. Use a similarly sized bowl as a placeholder, then swap them out at the start of the party.
    Keyword chocolate, christmas party, hot chocolate, how to host, how to host a party, party planning
    Course Mocktails & Nonalcoholic Drinks
    Cuisine American
    Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

    A woman with dark curly hair wearing a black tank top in front of a white wall

    About the Author:

    Erin Parker is a Southern gal living in Texas with her husband and two daughters. She started The Speckled Palate to share what she was cooking as a newlywed… and over the years, it’s evolved to capture her love for hosting. Specifically, the EASIEST, lowest key entertaining because everyone deserves to see their people and connect over good food. Learn more about her

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