With Memorial Day just around the corner, a lot of people will be thinking about what to take for potluck dinners. Its interesting how a large group of people can gather, with each family or attendee expected to bring one “dish” which can be a meat entree, salad, vegetable side dish, dessert, or whatever the person wants to bring, and yet the entire gathering always seems to end up with a perfect mix of interesting foods to choose from. The bigger challenge can come in choosing a dish appropriate to take hot or cold food that will keep it warm or cool and not spill during transit.
How to Host a Potluck
Many potluck dinners are done as simply as inviting a lot of friends, telling each of them that its potluck, and finding out what they decide to bring when they arrive. But some structure can assure a successful potluck. For instance you can ensure that an appropriate number of dishes are done for the main categories (numbers are approximately for each 15-20 persons attending):
- Appetizers (2-3 people)
- Breads (1 person)
- Salads (1-2 people)
- Side Dishes (vegetable, rice or potato) (3-4 people)
- Entrees (2-3 people and yourself)
- Desserts (2-3 people)
- Beverages, either non alcoholic or alcoholic (many potlucks are BYOB but you may want someone to make a non-alcoholic punch or invite some to bring wine)
Ask each of your most reliable friends to bring from different categories to assure a mix, but don’t worry if you get 5 desserts and only 2 side dishes, its just a casual party. If you want to plan it more carefully, designate from each category, making it easier to give a more challenging task to an experienced cook and let the single person who doesn’t cook bring a bottle of wine or buns. Duplicates are rare but usually end up being of popular items anyways. But by all means let some people just bring a surprise if they want to!
What You Should Do
- Its always a good idea for the host or hostess to make a generous main entree in case people back out at the last minute or bring unexpected items.
- I would also prepare a beverage such as a large container of lemonade, and a dessert, just to have a few of the necessities covered.
- Expect to provide standard items like butter, condiments, table seasoning, etc. for a variety of foods.
- Although it is expected that each guest will bring only cooked food, and deal with their own issues of keeping things hot or cold, you should be prepared for some requirements in terms of stove or oven usage, refrigeration, heating, and even cooking.
- It works best to set up a long row of side tables which will hold all food and beverages, as well as plates, cups, napkins and utensils; if you can have it accessible from both sides that’s even better.
- Have extra serving dishes and utensils on hand too for those who bring a bag of buns or store bought baked goods.
- If you are inviting friends with special dietary needs, it can be assumed that they will bring something to meet their needs whether it be vegetarian, vegan or gluten free, but as an act of kindness you may want to provide some options for them as well, as often the only items available to them are the foods they bring.
- You can even do a theme potluck, having everyone bring a national dish like Mexican or Italian, but expect some strange contributions from people who just don’t know what to bring, and be prepared to label dishes people may not recognize.
- At the end of the party, either each guest will take their own leftovers home, or you may want to invite guests to bring storage containers to take a variety of leftovers home with them. Have a variety of extra disposable containers available.
The dishes that tend to be the most popular at potluck dinners are foods that people can easily recognize, with classic recipes having no unusual, unexpected ingredients that people might not like. Click links for recipes.
- Haystack (The Best 7-Layer Dip Ever)
- Easy Crockpot Sweet and Sour Meatballs
- Sugared Peanuts
- Honeyed Chicken Wings
Try to avoid salads that will wilt. The salad bowls noted below when filled with ice are great for potluck dinners. When faced with a big crowd, classic style salads often go over best.
- Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
- Easy Mushroom Rice
- Hashbrown Casserole
- Kittencal’s Cabbage Rolls with Tomato Sauce
- Boston Baked Beans
- One Dish Chicken and Rice Bake
- Hot Tamale Pie
- Baked Spaghetti
- My Family’s Favorite Sloppy Joes
- Easy Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
Choose desserts you can pre-slice for easy serving.
- No Bake Peanut Butter Cheesecake (I call it Toblerone Cheesecake…if you only try one of the recipes here, try this one!!!) *****BEST EVER*****
- Lemon Lovelies
- “Whatever Floats Your Boat” Brownies
Have a supply of pop and water on hand, and invite a few people to bring punch, wine or beer, in addition to supplying a large container of lemonade, iced tea or punch yourself. Its often easiest to take a punch bowl and the ingredients (including ice) and assemble there.
I was recently gifted a great cookbook, The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever, by Beatrice Ojakangas and Susie Cushner, and it earns its name. It has so many recipes, whether you want to bring savory or sweet, entree, vegetarian, side dish or baked goods. I highly recommend it to those of you who get invited to or hold a lot of potluck dinners. If you’re in charge of making a salad, there are a lot of great ideas in Salads: Beyond the Bowl: Extraordinary Recipes for Everyday Eating that don’t cross over the borderline of too strange to eat, because most people at a potluck want to be able to look at the food and at least have some idea what is in it. One of the top rated cookbooks for potluck dinners is Handmade Gatherings: Recipes and Crafts for Seasonal Celebrations and Potluck Parties. It delves into the decor and entertainment as well as offering a wide variety of recipes.
If you’re going to bake brownies or a cake or other dessert, covered bake pans are the way to go. Anchor Hocking has been making them for years, and they work great, with good long lasting covers that fit well. The cover can be slipped under the container while food is served so it doesn’t get lost. This one comes with a thermal carrying case and a hot/cold pack to keep food cold or hot for hours. Of course it can be used for savory casserole dishes as well as baking.
If you’re taking a salad, coleslaw or cold bowl of food to an outdoor picnic, keeping it cool can be a challenge. This bowl is designed to be partially filled with ice to keep the contents chilled.
Slow cookers are an ideal method to cook and transport food for a potluck, especially with a thermal tote for transporting. West Bend’s tote keeps food hot for up to two hours during transport, and even doubles as a grill.
If you host or attend a lot of potluck dinners you may wish to invest in a chafing dish to hold a large quantity of food hot. The nice thing about fueled models rather than electric is that they work in outdoor locations like parks or campsites where large family gatherings are often held. This model runs on Sterno cooking fuel and comes with a full sized food tray. You can also purchase a Winco SPFD2 Steam Table 2-1/2″ stainless steel divided pan if you anticipate wanting to keep two separate kinds of food hot at the same time.
This very pretty insulated carrier is perfect for taking a 9 X 13 pan to a potluck dinner. The ultimate in hot or cold food transport, this carrier is constructed of built-to-last, easy clean 600 denier material and has a large main compartment and an expandable top compartment that are designed to accommodate most 9 by 13-inch baking dishes. Both compartments feature SuperFoam insulation plus Therma-Flect radiant barrier to keep food hot or cold for hours and an Ultra Safe easy clean lining. A large exterior zippered pocket is great for carrying accessories like cutlery, napkins or bbq tongs and two handles with snap-together handle wrap allow for easy transport. Great for holidays, parties, potlucks, picnics and more. Also available in pink.