I absolutely love a potluck party. I like hosting them, I like attending them, and I like thinking about what to bring. And let’s face it — it’s hard to host a large gathering and make all the food on your own. You need your little village to step up. And when you are a guest, in most cases, your host will be delighted if you ask, “What can I bring?” Keep in mind that you can be as creative as you like, or as safe as you like. Either way, your offering will be greeted with gratitude and enthusiasm. Parties are actually much more relaxing when the load is shared, and the food is communal. And we can get together for parties a lot more often! Read on for the lowdown on the best potluck recipes.
According to Anne Byrn, author of What Can I Bring?, the word potluck is said to have been first used in Colonial America. She writes: “If you visited a tavern or home, you were served what was simmering in the pot over the fire, taking ‘potluck.’ The tradition of potluck has thrived in American rural life as a way of building community. People gathered together to raise barns and build homes, worship, and celebrate. And, to fuel everyone, there was a bounty of regional food.” I am not planning to raise a barn any time soon, and I live in a city, but I just love the idea of a potluck.
Before we get into the details of what dishes are best for a potluck, do think about this question: Do I need to do anything to the dish (other than garnish it) once I’m there?
This question is a biggie for a number of reasons. First, when you get to the gathering, do you really want to start fussing with your dish? Also, will your host expect (read: be happy about) you swinging into the joint and needing counter space? Or even more bothersome, oven or fridge space, which might very well be already spoken for. It’s a good thing to think about ahead of time so you’re not tip-toeing up behind your friend whispering things like, “I hate to trouble you, but might you have a whisk/some parsley/an 8-inch baking pan/a container of crème fraiche?” I try not to be that guest, and if I do need something, I attempt to remember to ask the host ahead of time if it’s okay to encroach upon them in any way.
Here are some things I think about when I am bringing a dish (or “toting,” as they say in the South, which I feel entitled to say once in a blue moon because my grandfather was from Savannah, Georgia).
Best Dishes for Potlucks
- Sturdy – Make sure your dish isn’t so delicate that it could fall apart, sink, or get soggy. Dressing can be brought on the side and tossed with salads or added to dishes just before serving.
- Minimal Last-Minute Needs (such as refrigeration, oven or stove space, prep space) – It’s worth repeating! If your dish will need to stay chilled before serving, or need heating, make sure to ask your host if that’s ok. Fridge space is usually at a premium during parties. You might need to bring your own cooler, so you don’t need to ask your host to make room in the fridge at the last minute.
- Seasonal – Think about the weather and whether (ha!) the meal will be enjoyed indoors or outside.
- Ability to Stay at Room Temp – Ask yourself how good your dish will taste at room temperature and if it is okay to safely sit out on a buffet for some time.
- Crowd-pleasing! – The best dishes aren’t fussy, they aren’t complicated, and they don’t need a lot of explanation. However, it is always a treat when someone brings something unexpected, perhaps a recipe from a cuisine they grew up eating.
Whether you’re planning a potluck, or bringing a dish to a potluck party, here are all the things you need to think about + 19 recipe ideas!Tweet This
More Potluck Tips
For the Guest
- If you are bringing a dish, make sure you are responsible for it throughout the meal! As in, ask the host where it should be placed, ask if you can replenish it if needed, and keep the dish looking tidy. And, at the end, ask if you can wash out your own dish before taking it home.
- Bring the dish you said you were going to bring. If you said you are bringing a green salad, don’t switch to a potato salad without asking if that’s ok!
- Try to bring the dish in the dish or container that it will be served in. This will spare your host the need to find yet another large clean platter at the last minute. Also, bring serving utensils if possible, making you the best guest ever.
For the Host
- If you are hosting, you might send an email when you ask for food contributions and ask your guests if they need fridge space, oven space, counter space, or serving platters/bowls/utensils so you can prepare ahead of time.
- Make sure all of the dishes have a label — plain old index cards are just fine for this, or you can get fancier.
- Make sure any allergens are clearly marked.
- Label dishes that are gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan, etc. Double-check with whoever made the dish, and go over all of the ingredients to make sure everything is labeled accurately. Do let people know if there are any dishes on offer with off-limits ingredients so they can decide for themselves what is safe to eat.
- Plan the menu ahead of time. Make sure there is a good balance of dishes, colors, and textures and that the dishes go with each other in a somewhat cohesive way.
- Have extra serving platters, bowls, and utensils in case guests don’t bring their own.
- Have supplies ready for people to take things home. Provide plastic wrap or other ways to cover and protect the food, some recycled containers, and so on.
Best Potluck Main Dish Recipes
Here are some dishes I make during the summer when I am toting or potlucking. Or that might just be served up right in my own backyard.