Pull Off The Perfect Potluck BBQ

By Alexis Deboschnek June 12, 2019 

While the season doesn’t officially start for a few weeks, a potluck bbq on a beautiful weekend is the perfect way to kickoff summer. Potlucks have gotten a bad rep - you can thank Cindy's burnt macaroni salad for that - but with a few simple tips and tricks they can be a breeze. Think of it as hosting with half the stress. Whether you’ve hosted a million dinner parties, or are just starting out, here’s how to tackle a potluck in stride.

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Don't Be Afraid To Delegate

The culprit of most potlucks gone wrong is having an awkward mishmash of dishes. There’s too many desserts, enough pasta casseroles to feed a small army, and no vegetables in sight. Depending on how type A you are, you can either assign guests to bring by category - like sides, desserts, snacks, etc. or you can take it one stop future and ask “can you bring a gluten-free side?” Remember, it’s a bbq, so you don’t need to go too over the top, but it’s your job as hostess to help guide your guests into creating a cohesive menu. When assigning guests what to bring it’s also important to note how many people a dish needs to feed. If you have 15 people coming, two desserts that can feed 8-10 will be more than enough. If you have 20, you might want to consider adding a third option.

Prepare the Main

One of the joys of a potluck is getting to share the weight of hosting. That said, as the host it’s up to you to prepare the main course, often a protein. Think of large format dishes that great for feeding a crowd, like bbq chicken drumsticks, slow roasted pork shoulder, or grilled skirt steak. Avoid pricey, special occasion cuts like filet mignon or pork chops.

Set the Scene

Just because you’re hosting a potluck doesn’t mean you need to go super casual. While disposable dishware makes clean up a snap, if you want to lean in to throwing a party, use your dinner plates and real utensils. If you do want to go the disposable route, splurge for printed paper napkins over your roll of paper towels from the kitchen. It’s your party and you can make it as casual or elevated as you want to.

Timing is Everything

With everyone bringing a dish over, your kitchen is going to shrink in size. Encourage guests to bring dishes that are fine left out for a few hours, and don’t need to be refrigerated or reheated in the oven. Counter and fridge space are precious, and you don’t want to spend the first few hours of the party juggling when someone can reheat a casserole. Dishes like potato salad, roasted vegetables, salad, coleslaw, and wings are all great options.

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Address Dietary Restrictions

Dietary restrictions are the new black. As the host, you’re the one orchestrating the meal. It’s totally acceptable to ask people with restrictions to bring something they can eat -- while also considering how it works with the rest of the meal. An easy way to adhere to everyone’s restrictions is to make sure there’s at least one vegan option, and to have options with dairy and bread on the side, rather than fully incorporated into each dish. If you have a lot of friends with food sensitivities at the party, go one step further and create labels of what each dish is and any allergen info.

Store Bought is Fine (Sometimes)

Not everyone likes to or has the time to cook, and that’s okay. The easiest thing to assign your kitchen-averse friends is to bring booze. If they want to contribute to the meal you can have them pick up components to a charcuterie plate, like hard salami, different cheeses, marcona almonds, dried figs, and crackers. Try to steer clear of store bought desserts which can often be too sweet and cloying, and stick with items that are better done my someone else. No one will ever turn down a bowl of kettle chips, and tortillas and salsa are a hard combo to beat.

Don’t Forget Ice

No summer bbq is complete without a bar set up. It’s a party after all! Ask guests to pick up ice on their way over. It’s easy for them to pick up, and one thing off your to-do list. A bucket of beer is a must, but if you really want to wow guests create a large format cocktail. You can assign one of your more creative friends to come up with something - staying in line with the theme, of course - or prep it yourself and have guests add the booze when they arrive. Make sure your bar set up has extra ice, garnishes, and napkins. Guests can top themselves off as they go, and it’s slightly more festive than just cracking open a cold one.

Party's Over

One of the joys of a pot luck is that there’s always leftovers. But much like Thanksgiving, you don’t want to get stuck with an entire fridge full of food that’ll you’ll be tired of in a week. Ask guests to bring tupperware to send home extras at the end of the night. It’ll make cleanup easier on your end, and everyone will be thankful to have something to help their hangover the next day.

Are you a potluck BBQ maven? We want to hear how you pull it off!

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