Summer means potluck season for me, and I am always looking for new summer potluck recipes. Every week, sometimes more than once a week, we manage to arrange potlucks and they are a ton of fun. In fact, over the years I have become something of an expert in how to organize a potluck!
What is so great about a potluck? You can have them at home or a park, playground, campsite – pretty much any where if the weather is nice. You don’t have to make all the food – everyone is responsible and there are a ton of summer potluck recipes to choose from.
I have a lot of friends from different countries, which means I also get to try their international potluck recipes.
So to help get you started we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite potluck recipes that we think work well for sharing.
A Few Potluck 101 Tips
One of the best parts of a summer potluck is that no one has to go it alone. Plus, a summer potluck means a greater variety of dishes.
While it is true that potlucks are easy (and fun!) we do have some potluck tips to make sure your potluck goes smoothly.
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Don’t Plan to Feed Everyone by Yourself
The rule of thumb for a potluck is not to bring enough to serve everyone. If you have a potluck for twenty people and everyone brings enough food for twenty people… you’ll be eating leftovers for days!
Among our potluck tips is to tell everyone to bring 8-10 servings of their dish. People won’t take full servings, it’s too much fun to sample. And not everyone will want some of everyting on the table.
At a large potluck you might have dozens of dishes and desserts to try. There are so many summer potluck recipe ideas, and you’ll find unique and unexpected items on the potluck table.
Keep this in mind when choosing what to eat. I am always tempted to eat my own food (I would only bring a dish I enjoy to a potluck), but I can make that any time. Instead, try things that are new to you and that you would not make for yourself.
And remember, sample, sample, sample. The larger portion you take, the less you’ll be able to try.
Be Prepared to Take Your Dish Home
Here’s another potluck tip: bring a tupperware (or two) with you. If you’re not hosting, you can offer to leave your leftovers with whomever is, but they won’t want everyone to leave them their food. Plus, you might score some tasty morsels from someone else’s platter. So be prepared to transport whatever is left of your dish home at the end of the potluck.
Note that if the food has been sitting out a long time, you may need to throw it away in stead.
‘Tis the Season
A good potluck, like any good meal, is based on seasonal ingredients. A winter potluck will look very different than a summer potluck.
One of our best summer potluck tips is to use plenty of seasonal produce. You may think a salad is a boring contribution, but if you use fresh vegetables and fruits, I guarantee it will please, and it will be a nice accompaniment to the heavier dishes that others bring.
The Pleasure of Serendipity
Speaking of who brings what… what if you end up with 12 watermelons? What if you end up with 12 cakes and no main dishes? What if you indeed end up with only salads?
(Learn what you can do with 12 watermelons!)
There is some debate among me and my friends about how to organize who brings what. Do you assign people categories? Do you share what you are bringing as a way to coordinate?
We tend to let serendipity rule. And it has always worked out. We have never ended up with only pies for a potluck. But as a friend of mine is fond of saying, “Wouldn’t it be great if we did?”
Another rule of thumb when it comes to potluck tips is bring a beverage. It is not the hosts’ responsibility to provide everyone’s drinks. Bring a bottle of wine, a carafe of sangria, a 12-pack of beer. Or bring a couple bottles of lemonade for the kids.
In short, don’t arrive without a beverage unless you plan to drink water.
Consider Your Surroundings
There are indoor potlucks and outdoor potlucks. Both work, and both are fun. But if it’s an outdoor potluck, keep in mind how hot it is when deciding what to bring, and bring a dishtowel or net food cover to protect your dish from the flies.
When I’m hosting potlucks at our home I usually compromise by serving the food inside, where it is cooler and no bugs, and having everyone eat outside, where there is more space.
Zero Waste is the Way to Go
It may seem like paper products and plastic forks are the way to go, but one of our top summer potluck tips is aim for zero waste! It is easier than it sounds. My friends and I all know to bring place settings (outdoor plates, cutlery, cups, and–yes–even cloth napkins). Everyone uses their own plates and cutlery and everyone take their own home at the end to clean. This is easier if you have mess kits (like you would take camping), but if not, just bring a few outdoor plates and forks.
And speaking of bringing things… don’t forget the serving spoon! I’ve been to plenty of potlucks at parks where there was only one serving spoon for all the dishes.
If you’re at someone’s home, they will likely have some in a pinch, but bring your own anyway, it’s just good potluck etiquette.
Don’t Be Afraid to Add Texture
While we love a good pasta salad, potato salad, and tamales as much as anyone, remember that just like for a good dish, a good potluck will have a variety of textures. So add something that goes crunch, whether it is a crips raw veggie platter or guacamole and chips.
Wing It…Within Reason
One of the challenges of a summer potluck is timing the food, especially if it is a hot day. So one of our top potluck tips is setting a time to eat. The party can last for hours, but make sure people know that the food will be happening at the front end so they can plan accordingly.
Some things can be left out for hours for grazing, but things that are perishable in the heat can be put away.
Last Minute Party? Yes, please!
The beauty of a potluck is they can be arranged on the fly. If the weather looks nice, text your friends the day before–or even the same day! People can search for some easy summer potluck recipes based on what’s in their fridge and throw something together. Trust me.
The Best Potluck Recipes
So what are good summer potluck recipes and how do you decide what to take to a potluck?
You’ll want to keep in mind the weather, the number of people, and how much advance planning you have when deciding what to make for a summer potluck
But here are a few good summer potluck recipes from our cooking vacations and culinary tours.
While it’s not necessary to have all your potluck food be “finger food,” it does make it easier. This wonderful spring roll recipe from our Cooking and Culture in Vietnam and Cambodia cooking vacation is a perfect and fresh addition to any potluck or picnic, and it’s easy to serve and eat!
These fresh spring rolls are great for a summer day, featuring:
- glass noodles
- bean sprouts
You can click through for the full recipe. Wrapped in rice paper and served with a homemade peanut dipping sauce, these are sure to please.
(Another great finger food idea? Tacos!)
Dips and spreads are always crowd pleasers at picnics and potlucks, and they are easily adapted to make healthy summer potluck recipes. There is no need for a lot of sour cream or mayonnaise. Dips are easy to share, and can be served with a variety of breads, chips, vegetables, and crackers. This one is one of our favorites, perfected by our Richard Davis!
This one has just 5 simple ingredients:
- cannellini beans
- Asiago cheese
- extra virgin olive oil
- fresh rosemary
You can even use canned beans–what can be simpler? I pretty much always have these recipes on hand, so if I’m invited to a last-minute potluck, I always have a ready answer to the question, “what to take to a potluck?”
Another of our favorite spreads, this is also another of our healthy summer potluck recipes. This classic spread hails from our Provence cooking vacations, and is a perfect summertime dish. It’s easy, briny, fresh, and delicious – paired with a bit of crusty bread, it’s like heaven on earth. It’s also a great food for picnics.
It is utterly Mediterranean in flavor, incorporating classic ingredients:
- anchovy fillets
- lemon juice
- olive oil
I like to serve it with a chunk of cheese and a baguette.
I am always looking for summer salad recipes for potluck, and this salad recipe combines enough protein to satisfy. Plus, we love anything from Andalusia, Spain!
This recipe requires advance planning, because of the salt cod, which requires a few steps:
- Put in a water bath, skin side up, at least 24 hours before serving
- Place in fridge
- Change water every 6 hours
- Drain and rinse
In a pinch, though, you could use fresh cod. You could also substitute out the orange for a seasonal fruit like plums.
If you’re wondering what to take to a potluck, and if it’s tomato season, bruschette al pomodoro is a great answer. Simple and filling, it is perfect in the summertime when you have fresh tasty tomatoes and basil. And it’s surprising how many people don’t know how to make a proper bruschette, which need just a few ingredients:
- good quality olive oil
And a good crusty bread, of course, which I like to slice and grill before heading to the potluck. We think bruschetta is Italy’s most popular appetizer!
You might wonder if fried foods make good summer potluck recipes, and the answer in this case is yes. We love anything from Sicily, and these fried rice balls are always popular. They are also approved by both children and adults! Or, try a Roman version: supplí al telefono! What these two versions have in common is the relatively straightforward process:
- cook the rice (or use leftover)
- mix the rice with egg to bind
- form the rice balls around the filling
- dip in egg and bread crumbs
They stay hot for longer than you might imagine, so even if you don’t serve them hot out of the fryer, they are still wonderful.
This is basically and Italian version of a deviled egg, and who doesn’t like deviled eggs at potlucks? The key ingredient is the tuna, as it’s a riff on the more traditional “salsa tonnata” that you will find in northern Italy, which includes simple, flavorful ingredients:
- good-quality canned tuna in oil
- anchovy filets
- lemon juice
- salt & pepper
You just add it to the cooked egg yolks, then pipe or spoon it back inside to make a truly unique deviled egg.
Who doesn’t love these savory, spinach-filled pies? You can make individual pies, which are an easy finger food, perfect for grazing. Or you can make a large casserole-type pie, served cut in squares. Either way, these pies incorporate the best of Greek ingredients, including:
- olive oil
- phyllo pastry
Another great thing about spanakopita is they are delicious even at room temperature. And they withstand a hot day well, too, so these types of pies perfectly answer the question of what to make for a summer potluck.
Every potluck needs dessert and Tiramisú is always a favorite! The plus is that you can make a big dish of it to serve a lot of people. The down side is does not withstand the heat well, it does need to be served and eaten. But it’s so delicious it’s worth the effort!
Tiramisú is a bit like an Italian trifle: a layered dessert made up of:
- lady finger cookies soaked in coffee or a liqueur
- sweetened mascarpone cheese mixed with egg
Unless you make your own lady fingers, it’s a really quick and easy dessert that will wow the crowd.
The next time you’re asking yourself what to make for a summer potluck, remember that it never hurts to have a great beverage recipe for potlucks! These red and white sangrias make for a festive night! You make them by the pitcher-full, so they are by nature perfect for serving a lot of people. You also don’t need to use really expensive wine in order for them to be delicious.
You can click through for the recipes, but they employ classic ingredients:
- fresh juice
- summer fruits
- herbs and/or spices
- dried fruit
- sparking water or soda
One tip if you’re traveling with your sangria: put it in a large mason jar for easy transport!
Potluck Food Safety Tips
One thing to remember if you’re having a summer potluck is to be mindful of summer food safety, especially if it is a hot day. Potluck food can sometimes sit out for hours, and you don’t want it to turn a great party into a trip to the emergency room!
Here are some picnic food safety tips!
Store and Transport Food Properly
If you are dealing with meat, eggs, or dairy, remember to keep them cool. Transport them in a cooler, placing them on the bottom. You can even serve them on a bed of ice or a cooling pack. And if it’s an especially hot day, put them back in the cooler when people aren’t eating.
Keep the Drinks Separate
One of our summer food safety tips that people don’t often think of is to keep the drinks and the food separate. If you keep them in the same cooler that cooler will warm up a lot faster, since every time the cooler is opened you loose some of the coldness. Don’t have two coolers? Keep the drinks on ice in a bin or an extra large bowl!
Say No to Uncooked Eggs?
Uncooked egg in mayonnaise (or tiramisú!) can be particularly tricky on hot, sunny potluck days. I’m sure you’ve seen a macaroni or potato salad that has sat in the sun too long: yuck! If it’s a very hot day, use pasteurized eggs, or, better still, chose something less likely to spoil and easier to keep cool.
Some last questions we get asked when it comes to planning the perfect summer potluck are:
What Can I Bring to a Potluck without Cooking?
Fruit and salad are two of the easiest things to bring to a potluck (and, of course, fruit salad!) They also keep longer than meat and dairy. Try a crisp kale salad with seasonal fruit and nuts. If you want to be less healthy but please the kids, pick up a package of hot dogs to throw on the grill – just don’t forget the buns!
What Should I Bring to a Potluck Last Minute?
Salads and fruit are easy to through together last minute. But there are a lot of other summer potluck recipes that take very little time and ingredients you may have on hand. Some of these we listed above (bruschette al pomodoro, Tuscan bean dip). You can also pick something up on the way. Fried chicken is a popular last-minute contribution to potlucks, but in our circle of friends the easiest and tastiest option is to pick up a dozen tamales on the way!
What is the Easiest Thing to Bring to a Potluck?
We joke that when all else fails, bring a watermelon! Everyone loves a watermelon at a summer potluck. Just don’t forget to bring a knife to cut it. Another easy thing to bring to a potluck are the makings for s’mores.
In short, potlucks are one of our favorite ways to entertain in the summer, whether you’re doing it for a Fourth of July party or just a casual weekend with friends. They make a fun and easy way to get together with friends without a lot of fuss or advance planning.
You can search our recipes in the blog for more great summer potluck recipe ideas. And feel free to share some of your own ideas in the comments!
By Peg Kern
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