Top 10 foods to bring to a potluck

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By: Joe Kuharic
jkuharic@flavor574.com

Debbie R/Flickr

We’ve all been there. The invitation to the holiday potluck hits your inbox, and you experience a moment of delight – “Oh, a party! Cool!” – followed quickly by crippling indecision, or even dread – “Oh, I have to bring something. Crap.”

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When asked to “bring a dish to share,” you’re faced with a bit of a quandary. Do you impress everyone with your culinary skills and risk ending up with leftovers, or go with a boring but tried-and-true classic? Or, do you take the easy way out and just pick something up from the store?

Basic potluck etiquette
The following stipulations and assumptions apply:

  • The host will provide the main meat course (e.g. hot dogs, burgers, grilled barbecue chicken) as well as the complementing buns and condiments. You can’t get away with bringing the mustard. Sorry.
  • The primary goal of bringing a dish is to have the least amount of leftovers possible. (You want people to want to eat your food.)
  • The secondary goal is to have a dish that requires a minimal effort for someone to eat. In other words, finger food good. Needing a special fork manufactured strictly in Germany on the third Tuesday of months with 31 days…bad.
  • Cold dishes are to be avoided due to the difficulty involved in keeping them cool. Also, seriously, there’s always a ton of potato salad left after any party. Just don’t do it.
  • Our list assumes a minimum of 10 guests will attend the party, with each bringing one of these dishes. When more guests are added, err on the side of more finger food and desserts.

But decide quickly! As you ponder your contribution, your options rapidly narrow as your co-workers or friends claim their offerings.

So — next time you attend (or host) a potluck, use this guide to the 10 essential items every potluck meal needs. You can thank us later. (As long as it’s not with leftover potato salad.)

1: Deviled eggs
The versatility and mobility of deviled eggs gives them the top position in this list. Everyone has a unique recipe for this dish and partygoers flock here first. It’s rare to have a bad deviled egg, and you don’t have to worry about keeping them cold for the entire party because they’ll disappear lightning-quick.

2 and 3: Cookies, brownies or cupcakes
Desserts have been lumped together into two positions on our list. They’re necessary for the party and can be mixed and matched depending on your time and baking skills. They’re portable and (most of the time) not messy. Cakes and pies may be substituted in a pinch, but they’re less desirable for this king of party because they can be incredibly messy and difficult to handle — and there’s generally fewer servings to go around.

4: Vegetable tray/assorted meats tray
Partygoers may be shy about being the first to dig into a cheesy potato casserole or going for seconds of baked beans, but no one is shy about hovering over a veggie or meat tray. Many options and varieties exist for these trays, so you can get fancy and no one will complain.

5: Chips and dip
This may seem like a no-brainer, but every party needs them. They’re quick and easy to purchase, and you can get adventurous if you’d like by bringing your own homemade dip. You want to avoid going too unique on the flavor dustings (probably avoid wasabi flavored chips) in favor of some good dipping chips, but don’t be afraid of classics like barbecue, cheddar and sour cream, or cool ranch.

6: Cheesy potato casserole
People love cheese and people love potatoes. Put the two together, maybe add a little bacon, and you’ve got a dish that’ll be lucky to survive the first round.

7: Broccoli salad
This dish is a sweet, crunchy and light alternative to many of the heftier dishes that show up at potlucks. It’s a somewhat cold dish, but the spoilage risk is low.

8: Green bean casserole
This is a stalwart dish. People know exactly what’s in it, and few folks will pass by a good green bean casserole on their first pass — or even when they go back for seconds.

9: Baked beans
Like taco salad, this dish is placed lower on the list because of its messiness and the necessity to keep it warm. But baked beans are reliably popular, they can be made either sweet or a little spicy, and you can add meat for additional flavor if you’d like.

10: Taco salad
Taco salads are versatile and contain a lot of different flavors and textures. The messiness of this dish places it lower on the list, but it’s a nice addition to any party.

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