Ask a Cook: What to Bring to a Summer Potluck
Ain't no party like a potluck party
There's no easier way to feed a summer party crowd than with a good old-fashioned potluck. When everyone pitches in to bring the food and the fun, then everyone gets to relax and enjoy. But one of the biggest questions on a potluck-goer's mind is what to bring. Read on to get real-life answers from people who potluck.
I asked our Allrecipes Allstars — some of our most engaged and passionate community members — how they potluck in real life: If they're hosting, what do they make? If they're guests, what are their go-to dishes to share that always go over big? And boy, did they come through with outstanding summer potluck recipes and ideas. Nothing fancy or fussy. Just tried-and-true crowd-pleasers that earn the wows through simple deliciousness.
Take a look and see what they have to say in their own words. I'm sure you'll find lots of recipe inspiration for your next potluck.
What to Bring to a Summer Potluck
Diana S HB: "As the host, I will always provide all main dishes — our potlucks have different themes, usually per season!"
Kim Mancuso: "When we host, we provide the main dish, and ask guests to bring the sides. For grilling, we usually provide chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, bratwurst (usually 2 from that list). Other non-grilling mains we've done include ham, hot beef or Sloppy Joes (for sandwiches), or pasta with meat sauce."
Lindsay Breeze: "We host an annual picnic at our house. We cook hot dogs and hamburgers. People bring anything they want. Usually people bring appetizers or sides. I always make our baked beans too. At potlucks I've attended they sometimes grill bbq chicken." Paula Roten agrees with Lindsay, and Kim Shupe says, "This is exactly what we do too!"
Stella Marie: "When I host, I usually survey what everyone is bringing and will shore up what's missing. Usually I don't like to ask guests to bring/buy anything too expensive. I also will usually supply the drinks and make a large dispenser of punch, cocktails, or tea. For bringing to a potluck, I'll do everything from Simple BBQ Ribs (kept warm in a crock pot if possible), Bacon-Wrapped Smokies, Cucumber Dill Toasties, and a variety of desserts. Usually I'll ask the host what they're in need of and then find a good recipe to share based on the location/event/theme.
Lisa Altmiller: We always cook the main courses and a side or two for a potluck. People will either ask if they can bring anything, and we will give them suggestions, but most of the time people just make something and bring it along.
Penny Hanstad: I usually set a theme and say, "I will be making grilled chicken, ribs and coleslaw. I will have water, punch, coffee and tea." Everybody then brings their favorite side dish or dessert. I don't eat dessert so I always make sure to farm those out. My daughter is really good with salad side dishes, so I make sure she is in charge of at least one of those. Some people are strong on appetizers so I encourage them to bring those. I usually have one or two appys ready. I like people to bring what their family drinks, we don't drink soda or beer so I am always at a loss on what to buy.
Here's are some of their favorite potluck nibble and nosh suggestions to enjoy before dishing up the main courses.
France Cevallos: "I love bringing appetizers 'on a stick' There's something about individual servings that make things so elegant looking and appeal to everyone. My favorites are prosciutto and melon and antipasto. They are always the first things to disappear and everyone always comments on the presentation. Plus they are easy to make and transport, with no cooking involved and as a bonus, you can make them the night before."
Jaana Smith: "Deviled eggs are always my go-to. My tip is to change up your mustards and pickle juices to see what flavor is your favorite! Around here, people can't get enough of my honey mustard and dill pickle juice combo! To transport, plastic wrap the egg carton and place the eggs back where they came from! :)" [Editor's note: I love this tip!]
Ramona Cruz-Peters: "This is my go-to! I prep it all in the Crock Pot in advance then plug in to either cook or keep warm (depending on when it's being served)."
Lela Raine: "Salsa is always a hit in the summertime. At my house we make this salsa weekly!"
Looking for summer potluck entrees that'll feed a hungry crowd? Give these Allstar recommendations a try.
Lela Raine: "This recipe goes over well for a main dish. It serves 8. Use 2 slow cookers for a crowd of 16."
Kim Mancuso: "We've made this recipe a few times when serving a crowd."
Howard Wulforst: "If I am not grilling burgers & dogs or chicken & ribs, this is my favorite for a crowd."
Beckie Green Bergeron: "This is great with chicken breasts and chicken tenders."
Elizabeth Comisar: "I love making muffuletta sandwiches for summer potlucks. I can make them the day before and they're always gone!"
Side were, hands-down, the most popular recommendations when I asked the Allstars what they like to bring to a potluck. It's no coincidence that most of these recipes are 5-star favorites.
Paula Roten: "This is my new favorite dish and would be perfect for cookouts and potlucks. It makes a large dish, is pretty, and tastes great!" Tracey Ferrari agrees, saying, "I made this too and it is delicious! Great choice!"
Marianne Welsh: "I'd bring this!"
Paula Roten: "Here's another salad I like. It tastes great alone or as a dip with Fritos or Tostitos."
Beckie Green Bergeron: "I make a tortellini pasta salad that people love."
Lisa Altmiller: "I made this one year for a picnic and people went crazy for it. Now I am asked to make it for all sorts of events. I only make one change, which is to use ditalini pasta instead of macaroni." Beckie Green Bergeron agrees, saying, "We love this!" And Debbie Hendrix says, "This is another one of my go-to recipes."
Lela Raine: "My mom's potato salad feeds a crowd. I fill a large tinfoil roasting pan with ice and then place the potato salad on top."
Sarah E Stone: "My mum's baked beans!! They're SO simple to make and delicious!! We have many military friends who "HATE" baked beans, but will eat these baked beans and come back for seconds (if there are any left). One friend is so adamant about having "Bobette's baked beans" he refuses to eat anyone else's version to the extent others end up requesting my mum's recipe. They transport easily in a casserole carrier."
Kim Mancuso: "Food-wise, I love a big bowl of fruit, which is so refreshing on a hot day. I like to place the bowl in a bigger bowl that is filled with ice to keep it cold."
Debbie Hendrix: "This Spinach Tortellini Salad is always a hit. I use this as a base recipe and often add extras to it like cubed ham. I also make it with fresh spinach not frozen."
Nora Roy: "Definitely flavorful and fun salads. I like to bring ones that have pasta or grain in them. This salad is ALWAYS a hit, I've given the recipe out so many times!"
Nikki Moore Russell: "We love this one of Pat's." Pat Bernitt herself goes on to say, "I live in a warm climate, and this a side dish I'm often asked to bring to neighborhood cookouts/get-together. It's good warm or at room temp, can be made in advance, and holds up well to the Florida heat which already has arrived."
Lindsay Breeze: "This is another one I always make for our annual picnic. My husbands mom used to make it, and I had never heard of it. It's so good. I like to make it because it's a little different from your regular picnic fare. I always get asked for this recipe."
Brian Weld: "This one's the star of the party/pot luck and always goes quick. Take copies of the recipe because you will be asked."
Kim Shupe: "My mom makes a variation of this salad, that she simply calls "Rice Salad" She adds a bit of yellow mustard, some chopped celery, and a whole lot more curry powder. I make it now (thanks Mom!), and it's one of the most requested recipes at any of our potlucks! (And also: we can't forget the watermelon! Fresh cut watermelon is the star of any summer potluck, in my opinion! lol)"
Brenda Venable: "Honestly, I never bring any of this back home!"
Lindsay Breeze: "Cant believe I forgot this one. I served this when my daughter had a friend over. That kid wolfed it down like nobody's business! Great for picnics because no mayo. Also love how easy it is!
Favorite summer potluck desserts definitely fall into the no-fuss zone. Yes, even the Chocolate Trifle — it's a real show-stopper, but it's ridiculously easy to whip up.
Carol Castellucci Miller: "This is a fabulous make-ahead dessert, that is easy to transport and a real crowd-pleaser. This is such a favorite that I give a trifle bowl along with this recipe to new brides! My dollops on the top have become the topic of discussion at many family get-togethers."
Brenda Venable: "And this one is SO EASY, and quite a conversation starter!"
Paula Roten: "These fruit skewers go over really well with kids and adults as well. The presentation is outstanding, plus it's easy to use whatever fruits you have available."