The 6 Best Things to Bring to a Potluck, Experts Say

These easy-to-make dishes are always a hit.

Everyone loves a potluck. These festive parties take tons of pressure off the host and allow guests to sample foods from other visitors. Sometimes, a potluck will have a theme. For example, the host might ask attendees to bring a dish from their culture or to prep a side that pairs well with a specific main. But many times, the item you bring is totally up to you. And that, of course, can lead to lots of confusion. If you find yourself hemming and hawing over what to cook, let the pros assist. Here, chefs and entertaining experts tell us the best things to bring to a potluck.

READ THIS NEXT: The 6 Best Things to Ask Guests to Bring—If They Offer.

What to Bring to a Potluck

1. French potato salad

A bowl of French potato salad with herbs
Candice Bell / iStock

Potato salad is a classic side dish that works just as well for a summer barbeque as it does for a winter feast. Meggie Turansky, founder and recipe developer at No Frills Kitchen, opts for a French version.

"Made with a vinaigrette instead of mayonnaise, there isn't much of a worry for it to be sitting outside or on the countertop for prolonged periods," she says. "It only really gets better the longer it sits—so the perfect make-ahead dish!"

Load it up with lots of veggies and fresh herbs for a tasty, vegetarian-friendly side.

2. Baked ziti

Baked ziti in colorful yellow baking dish
Shutterstock

Is there anything cozier than baked ziti? Melissa Santell, entertaining expert and author of the cookbook Hi, I'm Hungry, says it's her go-to dish when asked to bring a main dish to a potluck.

"I love that it's a riff on the traditional American casserole with Italian undertones, and as an Italian American, it just makes perfect sense—fresh ricotta cheese, melted mozzarella, tomato sauce and pasta, all baked together to create one tasty bite," she says. "It's easy and inexpensive to make, yet still one of those dishes where you'll see guests go back for seconds."

You can make it ahead of time and heat it up in the oven when needed. If you're not into the idea of pasta, opt for a different type of baked dish, like enchiladas or chicken and vegetables.

READ THIS NEXT: 6 Things You Should Put Away When Guests Come Over, Experts Say.

3. Bread basket

An overhead shot of a bread plate at a breakfast table
Nikada / iStock

If you don't have the time—or skills—to cook a dish from scratch, create a custom bread basket.

"I love to visit local bakeries to scope out the best freshly baked bread to pass around the table," says Santell. "Bread is something that's time-consuming and skill intensive to bake, so I'd rather leave that to the professionals."

A fun way to gussy it up is to make your own flavored butter at home, suggests Santell. You can serve that with your bread basket for a pre-made potluck item that feels totally personalized.

4. Mac and cheese

Mac and cheese. traditional american dish macaroni pasta and a cheese sauce
ivandzyuba/iStock

It's a simple fact: Mac and cheese is always a hit. Jakob Miller, chef and founder of Barbecue Pals, likes to make one with a twist.

"I add a blend of different cheeses, such as sharp cheddar, gruyere, and parmesan, to create a rich and indulgent flavor profile," he says. "The creamy texture combined with a golden, crispy breadcrumb topping is simply irresistible."

You could also zhuzh yours up with bacon bits, veggies, or a unique type of pasta shape. The dish will appeal to both kids and adults—and it's almost certain you won't have leftovers. (So, if you want them, make two trays!)

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5. Jalapeno poppers

Baked Jalapeno pepper with feta cheese wrapped in bacon
ALLEKO/iStock

Potluck appetizers are best served small. That way, guests can sample a ton without getting full. Miller's favorite option is a bacon-wrapped jalapeno popper.

"The combination of the smoky bacon, the heat of the jalapeno, and the creamy filling creates an explosion of flavors that tantalizes the taste buds," he says.

Plus, they're easy to make in big batches and can be easily transported. If you have any vegans or vegetarians in the group, make them sans bacon.

6. Whatever the host asks you to bring!

A closeup of a group of friends cheersing with pint glasses full of beer
ENZELEN / Shutterstock

If you don't fancy yourself a chef, there are other items you can provide for a potluck. Ask your host the best way to contribute.

"A bottle of wine, a 12-pack of beer, an extra folding table, or even a few chairs could be something that'll help them host a better event with less stress," says Santell. "They might even ask you to bring a deck of cards or a board game for an after-dinner activity—whatever you can contribute will always be appreciated."

Juliana LaBianca
Juliana is an experienced features editor and writer. Read more
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