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Potluck Parties

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.

Potluck Recipes

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!

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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.  

Spoon in a pan of Swedish Meatballs.

Swedish Meatballs

Tender little meatballs coated with a lovely creamy sauce — you can give Ikea a run for its money right in your own kitchen!  You can keep these warm in a crockpot for serving.

Chicken Marbella on a lined baking sheet.

Silver Palate Chicken Marbella

The timeless recipe for one of the best chicken dishes ever from The Silver Palate Cookbook. The faultless and brilliant combination of flavors is timeless. Plus, the recipe is pretty foolproof, the chicken is unfailingly moist, and it can be made ahead and reheated if desired. You don’t have to sear the chicken, just marinate and bake.  It’s a fairly perfect chicken recipe. 

Spoon in a pot of Buffalo Chicken and White Bean Chili.

Buffalo Chicken and White Bean Chili

The flavor of Buffalo chicken wings translated into a healthy white chicken chili. If you want to bring this in a crockpot to serve and keep warm, that’s a good solution (and one that your host might appreciate!).

Baked Ziti in a skillet and on plates.

Baked Ziti

The classic baked pasta dish with lots of cheese, it's perfect for a cold-weather dinner with family and friends. There is not one, not two, not three, but FOUR cheeses! Mozzarella, fontina, Parmesan, and ricotta cheeses, but you can make adjustments and substitutions as you like. You can make this casserole ahead of time and keep it covered in the fridge for up to a day. Then bake it when you are ready, adding another 5 to 10 minutes to the baking time if you are taking it straight from the fridge and putting it into the oven still cold.  

Slow Cooker Italian Meatballs

Slow Cooker Italian Meatballs

A perfect classic meatball recipe adapted for the slow cooker, so you can set it and forget it. Again, bring these in the slow cooker for warming and serving if you like.

Spoon in a partially-served dish of Chicken Adobo.

Chicken Adobo

Fall-apart tender chicken in a salty-sour sauce is one of the hallmark dishes of the Philippines, and for excellent reason. This dish is actually best when made a day or two ahead of time, so it’s perfect for potlucks.

Best Potluck Side and Salad Recipes

Vegetable and Brown Rice Salad with Honey Lemon Dressing / Mia / Katie Workman / themom100.com

Brown Rice Salad

Feel free to change up the vegetables (and herbs) according to what is in season and whatever you have on hand. Just keep thinking about color and texture, and whatever you add will be fine. There are a number of brown rice varieties easily available these days, from brown basmati to brown jasmine, and of course, plain regular brown rice works out just perfectly.  Use any type that suits you (or that’s in your pantry).

Black bowl of Greek Chicken Pasta Salad.

Greek Chicken Pasta Salad

This main dish salad is so so pretty, and it can be served at room temperature. While it might start to stray from being classically Greek, you can and should sub in any vegetables that are appealing and/or seasonal. And if you want to use pasta other than orzo, go right ahead. Again, a little less Greek, but that’s very ok.  

Wild Rice and Sweet Potato Salad

Wild Rice and Sweet Potato Salad

So many gorgeous colors and textures in every forkful! Perfect for the holidays. You can make the rice, the sweet potatoes, and the dressing all ahead of time and toss it together before bringing it to your party.

Carrot Raisin Salad

Carrot Raisin Salad

Pretty, inexpensive, satisfying, colorful, and portable — we all need a perfect carrot salad recipe in our repertoire!

Kale Quinoa Salad with Honey, Lemon and Dijon Dressing

Kale Quinoa Salad

Packed with flavor and texture and color, a grain salad to play with for a long time.  Use other cooked grains, use spinach or other chopped greens instead of the kale (nothing too tough or fibrous, since you will be eating them just wilted). Use your favorite vinaigrette in place of this one, or swap out the honey for maple syrup or agave and skip the goat cheese for a vegan salad.

Greek Tabbouleh Salad in wooden bowl on table with water glasses

Greek Tabbouleh Salad

This is a Mediterranean twist on a very classic Middle Eastern bulgur wheat salad with very approachable flavors. It can be served as a side dish, or a main course, and even as part of a creative appetizer or meze spread.  It’s also highly portable.

Indonesian Chicken Salad

Indonesian Chicken Salad

This is the salad for people who might not think a main course salad is really a thing.  The dressing is amazingly flavorful, made with peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar or citrus juice, ginger, and hot sauce to taste. If you want to leave out the chicken you will have a vegan salad, but one with loads of texture and color.

Bowl of Broccoli Salad topped with bacon and cheese.

Broccoli Salad

Beautiful, colorful, substantial, crunchy, and a perfect make-ahead salad for all kinds of occasions. You may have noticed (as I have) that the presence of bacon in a salad turns some members of the crowd from salad-disinclined to salad enthusiasts. Make sure to keep some of the bacon to the side for sprinkling on the top. This not only keeps the bacon crunchy, it gives it pretty good curb appeal. Or leave out the bacon for a vegetarian salad.

Bowl of Mayo-Free Vegan Pasta Salad on a white, wooden table.

Mayo-Free Vegan Pasta Salad

So easy, so colorful, so make-ahead, so crowd-pleasing…and vegan!  This salad will hold at room temperature for a few hours before serving. Double this if you’re going for volume; it’s the perfect pasta salad for a crowd. If you are going to make this ahead of time (and go ahead — up to 2 days), leave the tomatoes out of the salad until you toss right before serving.

Best Potluck Soup Recipes

Bowl of Mushroom Barley Soup topped with green onions.

Mushroom Barley Soup

This is truly a meal of a soup, and definitely for the mushroom lovers out there. Rich and satisfying (and also vegan)!

Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

If you make your split pea soup a day ahead and refrigerate it, you will see that it will thicken up considerably. When it’s reheated, it will loosen up again but still be thicker than when you first made it. If this is what you were looking for, great. If it’s too thick, just add some more broth or even water.

Lentil Tomato Soup

Lentil Tomato Soup

This is one of my most popular soups, and one that you will (like me!) me again and again. This soup is very flavorful, it is incredibly easy to make, and it freezes like a champ. 

Spoon with a scoop of Moroccan Carrot and Cauliflower Soup.

Moroccan Carrot and Cauliflower Soup

A root vegetable soup gets a Moroccan-spiced twist. It can easily be doubled and also made ahead, up to 3 days (and it’s even better when reheated the next day). If you make it ahead of time and reheat it, you will probably want to add a little bit more broth or even water, as it will thicken upon standing and chilling.