Potlucks should be the opposite of stressful: You bring one dish and get a whole meal in return. Technically, you can bring cookies from the grocery store, but I like to elevate the everyday when I can. This philosophy is the thread that runs through my first book, Modern Potluck. It’s also the idea behind the Food52 Shop (and they didn't ask me to say so!), where I spend a lot of time fantasizing and sometimes buying.
Do you need artisan-made totes or French casserole dishes to throw a potluck? Of course not. But I guarantee the tools and serveware on this list will make the experience that much more pleasurable. I did a little "shopping" in the Food52 shop to curate a list of tools that make every good potluck better.
Here are my picks!
Even when potlucks are paper-napkin affairs, I still like to have a few cloth napkins on hand to cover baked goods, wrap around hot cookware handles, and catch the drips from ice buckets.These gingham ones are picnic-perfect.
When you’re at a potluck, ironing is probably not a priority: These stonewashed linen napkins are perfectly rumpled.
Not all potlucks are picnics, of course, but when they are, good blankets are essential. I like one that’s silky soft and made from cotton so it’s easily washable. Plus, blankets can double as a tablecloth in a pinch.
I love a versatile pan. If it’s big, you can bake extra-large batches of lasagna or stuffed collards as well as slow-roast pork shoulder or get a great sear on roasted vegetables.
I include a whole chapter in my book for dishes made in the 9x13-inch pan, including Smoky Squash Mac & Cheese and Polenta Stuffed with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe. While the rectangular style pan is nostalgic, let’s be honest, it’s not sexy. Enter these oval glass baking dishes. The large one will hold most casseroles designed for the 9x13-inch stalwart, while the smaller ones are great for smaller portions or for serving spiced nuts and snack mixes.
For soups and stews, I love a pan that can go from stovetop to oven to table. (And yes, you can totally carry it in your canvas casserole tote—see below.)
Ways to Carry
This casserole tote is not from an episode of Portlandia! It really exists, and I want one. Large enough to hold a 13-inch pie as well as many covered pots or bowls, it allows you to safely carry food to your potluck on the subway or bike handlebars, keeping it horizontal and upright.
In my fantasy, I bring a pie to every potluck. In reality, I’m more likely to make lower maintenance scones or bar cookies. The good news is that the wooden Pie Box keeps many types of baked goods safe and can even be used for serving. (Much cuter than a Tupperware container, right?)
We all know that we’re supposed to keep hot food hot (above 140°F) and cold food cold (below 40°F), right? This is especially important in the summer, when food is only safe in the warm weather for about 1 hour. That’s why coolers are important: They’re easily portable and incredibly effective. For example, these large coolers keep food (and, of course, beer and wine) cold for up to 48 hours!
- As a potluck host, I like to have versatile serving pieces, like a slate board. Yes, it works well for cheese, but it’s also nice for stacking bread or baked goods and can act as a trivet under hot plates.
- I use my stoneware dishes for small indoor gatherings, but I recently started investing in outdoor-safe plates, too. I love this retro-modern melamine set by Russel Wright that looks as good as ceramic but is practically indestructible. Another benefit of melamine is that it’s super lightweight, so the serving pieces are easy to carry to potlucks.
I wouldn’t said a large wooden salad bowl was an essential tool, in no way improvable, but then I saw this one: The wax coating helps keep the bowl in place while you’re dressing your salad.
Disposable plates keep cleanup from large gatherings to sane levels. I’ve become a big fan of Verterra’s dinnerware, made from fallen leaves, because it’s sturdy, compostable, and looks great in an Instagram photo.
This spicy honey is a secret weapon for those who don’t have time or energy to make a dish. Just slice up a pineapple (or buy it pre-cut), drizzle it with this honey, and people will love you. Or, make an easy spread for pita with Greek yogurt, lemon juice, salt, and some of the honey.
Many potluck dishes, like starchy salads, taste bland after they’ve been refrigerated. As a host, I like to keep salt and pepper on hand for a quick re-seasoning or for guests to add more salt and pepper to taste.
What are your tricks for perfect potlucks? Tell us in the comments!