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Potlucks and Cookouts--Twenty Crowd-Pleasing Recipes

Updated on May 20, 2017

The only really good foods are those cooked in the sauce of love.

— Eric Dierker (Yes, THAT Eric Dierker)

Why Is It Called "Potluck"?

The word potluck first appeared in print in two 16th century works(a) by Thomas Nashe, a contemporary of William Shakespeare. “Potluck” originated from the custom of keeping leftovers. Rather than toss out the odd bits of meat and vegetables at the end of the day, inns and taverns would place them into a pot to be kept warm for drop-in guests. Those who arrived late received the “luck of the pot.”

Initially, potluck was mere happenstance but by the 19th century it had become known as a communal meal in which all participants contributed to the feast.

(a)Strange News (1592), and the play Summer’s Last Will and Testament (performed in 1592 but not published until 1600).

Why Do We Love Potlucks?

Potlucks are no longer 'making do' with what is on hand.

Simply put, they are Heaven on Earth for those who love to eat, and they are salvation for those who do the cooking.

As the host of a potluck, you need not worry about the expense of purchasing all of the food for a crowd, or the labor involved in preparing the food.

Potlucks make entertaining calm, casual, and carefree.

A potluck party can be as small as two or three couples sharing a meal, or as large as the guest list for a multi-generational party, a club membership, a church gathering, or an entire suburban neighborhood.

How to Plan a Potluck

(1) Determine how many people will be invited.
(2) Plan the type of meal and how cooking assignments will be made. Here are some suggestions:

  • Assign foods by menu category (appetizer, salad, main dish, side dish, dessert)
  • Assign specific foods to be prepared (you can even provide the recipes)
  • As the host you might prepare the main course and ask guests to provide salads and/or desserts

Potluck Food Safety Tips

  • Proper temperature--Make sure that hot foods are fully heated before packing them for transport. Likewise, insure that cold foods are completely chilled before placing them in a cooler. Do not rely on your ice chest to chill your food to the proper (safe) temperature). I use an insulated casserole tote to keep my "hots" steamy and my "colds" chilly.
  • Don't co-mingle--Do not pack "hot" and "cold" food items together.
  • Perishable foods--There are some foods that are high on the list for risk of spoilage--meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and dairy products. Be especially careful with these foods. It is best to not bring these to the potluck if you are traveling a long distance.



  • Slow-cooker barbecued meatballs
  • Mini corn dog muffins
  • Chicken enchilada roll ups
  • Easy pesto tortellini skewers
  • Ultimate 7-layer dip


  • Chinese salad
  • Broccoli salad
  • Chicken macaroni salad
  • Three-bean salad
  • Basic potato salad

Main Dishes

  • Chicken noodle bake
  • Hot dogs for a crowd (slow cooker)
  • Carb Diva "un-meaty" vegetarian chili
  • Macaroni and cheese with cauliflower and tomatoes
  • Carb Diva's chili macaroni casserole


  • Apple cinnamon cake with apple cider glaze
  • Polka dot fudge bars
  • Carmelitas for a crowd
  • "When Harry Met Sally" chocolate cake
  • The perfect carrot cake (Carb Diva style)

Slow Cooker Barbecued Meatballs


This recipe has been around for as long as there have been slow cookers (crock pots). And now that precooked meatballs are available in the frozen-foods section at your grocery store there is no excuse to not make these even--only three ingredients. It doesn't get any easier than that.

Slow Cooker Barbecued Meatballs


  • 12 ounces chili sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups grape jelly
  • 2 pounds frozen meatballs


Add the chili sauce and grape jelly to a slow cooker. Stir to combine. Add the meatballs and stir to coat. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours.


Several years ago we hosted a family Easter Brunch. My niece Leslie brought this dish to share, and gave me the recipe:

Chinese Salad


  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  • ¼ cup slivered almonds
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 flavor packet from a package of Ramen noodles
  • 1 head cabbage, shredded
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 2 packages of Ramen noodles, crumbled


  1. Mix together oil, sesame seeds, and almonds. Sauté over low heat in small skillet until lightly browned. Watch carefully so that it does not burn. Set aside to cool.
  2. Once sesame/almond mixture is cool, stir in sugar, salt, pepper, vinegar, and contents of ONE Ramen seasoning packet. (Discard 2nd seasoning packet).
  3. Place cabbage and onions in large mixing bowl; pour almond/vinegar dressing over and toss to coat.
  4. Just before serving add crumbled Ramen noodles. Stir again and serve.

NOTE: There are several ways to adapt this recipe:

  • Cooked diced chicken or cooked shrimp may be added to the salad.
  • Grated carrots can be added to the cabbage/onion mix
  • One bag of pre-shredded cabbage/broccoli/carrots/red cabbage can be used in place of the head of cabbage


Broccoli Salad

One would think that a salad named for a green vegetable would be healthy--but most broccoli salads are undercover fat bombs--loaded with mayonnaise, Cheddar cheese, and bacon. This slimmed-down version is adapted from a recipe that appeared in Cooking Light magazine in June 2002.


  • 4 cups small broccoli florets (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 cup seedless green grapes, halved
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup lightly salted cashew nuts, broken
  • 1/3 cup light mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar


  1. Combine the first 6 ingredients (broccoli through cashews) in a large bowl.
  2. Combine mayonnaise, yogurt, sugar, and vinegar in small mixing bowl; whisk to blend. Pour dressing over broccoli mixture, and toss well. Chill for 1 hour.

salad macaroni
salad macaroni | Source

Chicken Macaroni Salad


  • 4 ounces salad macaroni, cooked according to package directions, drained, and rinsed
  • 2 cups diced cooked chicken
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup diced dill pickle
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced red onion
  • 4 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped black olives
  • 1/2 cup low-fat or non-fat mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper


  1. Combine first 8 ingredients (chicken through olives) in large mixing bowl.
  2. Whisk together mayonnaise, mustard, salt, and pepper in small bowl.
  3. Pour dressing over chicken mixture; toss gently to coat. Chill well before serving.

I have seen many versions of this salad; this one is from my mother inlaw's recipe box:

Three-Bean Salad


  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 can (16 ounces) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (16 ounces) yellow wax beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can cut green beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 red pepper, seeds removed and cut into 1/4-inch wide strips
  • 1/2 cup minced red onion


  1. In small bowl whisk together vinegar and mustard until well blended. Beat in oil.
  2. Place remaining ingredients in large bowl. Pour dressing over; gently toss to coat. Cover and chill 1 hour.

potato salad
potato salad | Source

Basic Potato Salad

This recipe is adapted from the “Classic Potato Salad” by Betty Crocker. I have included the sour cream, dill pickles, and minced radishes that my mom always used in her potato salad.


  • 1 ½ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 medium stalk celery, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely minced (about ½ cup)
  • ¼ cup finely diced dill pickle
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced red radish
  • 4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped


  1. Cook potatoes according to directions given above.
  2. Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper in large mixing bowl.
  3. Add potatoes, celery, onion, pickles, and radish. Toss to combine and coat evenly with mayonnaise mixture. Stir in eggs and toss gently. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours for flavors to blend.

chicken noodle bake
chicken noodle bake

Main Dishes

Chicken Noodle Bake


  • 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup light cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup nonfat sour cream
  • 1/2 cup nonfat mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 2 T margarine
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1 10-oz can chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp. ground sage seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 6 cooked lasagne noodles
  • 3 cups diced cooked chicken breast or leftover rotisserie chicken
  • 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Place first four ingredients in bowl of food processor. Pulse until smooth. Add onion, bell pepper and 1/4 cup of the parsley. Pulse until combined. Do not over-process (you want to have chunks of vegetables--not a puree). See aside.
  3. Melt margarine in a medium saucepan. Add flour and cook 1 minute; stir in milk and broth and whisk until well blended and thickened. Stir in ground sage, salt, and pepper. Remove from heat; set aside.
  4. Coat a 13x9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Place 3 of the cooked lasagna noodles in the bottom of the dish. Top with half of the cottage cheese mixture, half of the chicken, and then half of the sauce.
  5. Repeat layering with 3 more cooked lasagna noodles, and then the remaining cottage cheese mixture, chicken, and sauce.
  6. Combine bread crumbs and parsley. Sprinkle over casserole. Bake uncovered in preheated oven for 30 minutes.


Apple Cinnamon Cake with apple cider glaze

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar (divided)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon (divided)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 pound Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons apple cider
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Butter and flour a 9-inch square baking pan and set aside.
  3. Mix flour, 1 cup brown sugar, granulated sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons of the cinnamon, salt, and ginger in a large mixing bowl. Add the oil and stir until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer 3/4 cup of the mixture to a small bowl. Stir the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon into this reserved mixture and set aside. This will be the topping on the cake.
  4. Mix baking soda and baking powder into the remaining flour mixture. Add the apples. Whisk together the buttermilk and egg in another bowl. Add the buttermilk/egg mixture to the apple mixture and stir just until combined.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle reserved topping evenly over the batter.
  6. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cool slightly.
  7. To make the icing whisk together the powdered sugar and apple cider and drizzle over the cake.

Polka Dot Fudge Bars

ingredients for dough

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups oats (not quick-cooking or instant)

ingredients for filling

  • One 12-ounce package chocolate chips
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In mixing bowl cream together butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until well blended. Stir in vanilla.
  3. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir into butter/sugar mixture.
  4. Stir oats into mixture.
  5. Spread 2/3 of dough into greased 15x10-inch pan.
  6. To prepare filling place chocolate chips, milk, butter, and salt in medium saucepan. Simmer, stirring constantly, over low heat until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in walnuts and vanilla.
  7. Spread chocolate mixture over dough in pan. Dot with remaining dough.
  8. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

© 2016 Linda Lum


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    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 12 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bravewarrior - Thank you so much. I think any food that can be eaten without utensils is perfect for an outdoor picnic. I hope you give the mini corn dogs a try.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 12 months ago from Central Florida

      Another group of yummy recipes! I love the corn dog muffins idea. Easy, and transports well while mingling at a party. No need to carry a plate around with you. I'm sure it's a huge hit with kids, too.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 12 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Oh Lawrence, you make me smile. The only cure for that rumbly tummy is to make some of these recipes right now! If you do give any of these a try, please let me know. I always welcome feedback from my friends.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 12 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Just reading this is making my tummy rumble (and I just had breakfast!)

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 12 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Kyriaki - I am so glad that you found me, and that I was able to provide some recipes that you might enjoy. It is easy to prepare, inexpensive, and very satisfying when the weather is hot.

    • Kyriaki Chatzi profile image

      Kyriaki Chatzi 12 months ago

      Great recipes!! Thanks for sharing! I am definitely going to try out the Chinese salad... It caught my attention!

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 12 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Nancy M - I am glad that you like my collection of recipes. I hope you will get a chance to try some of them. Thanks for visiting.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 12 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Pink Piccadilly Pastries - It was my pleasure. They look absolutely amazing. Thank you for such a well-organized hub and beautiful photos.

    • profile image

      Pink Piccadilly Pastries 12 months ago

      Thanks so much for including my recipe for Carmelitas! It is a definite crowd pleaser!! I look forward to trying some of these other yummy recipes!!

    • Nancie M profile image

      Nancie McKinnon 12 months ago from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and Seoul, South Korea

      Excellent collection of recipes! Thanks for sharing.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 12 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish - That makes me SOOO happy. Thank you so much and good luck with your event.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 12 months ago from USA

      Great recipes here. The parent booster group I lead has an annual potluck for incoming freshmen families and these are some terrific ideas that will please everyone.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 13 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Hello DreamerMeg. I'm so glad that you like my collection. Blessings on your day!

    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 13 months ago from Northern Ireland

      What an absolute treasury of recipes and ideas! I can use some of these without even inviting guests and I think Christmas might see some of these too. Thank you.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 13 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, you can't possibly get any smarter! Thanks for stopping by. Let me know if you and Bev try one of the recipes. Would love to get your feedback.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      see, I love learning things like the origin of "potluck." Now I am smarter than when I began this article, and I have you to thank for it. :)

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 13 months ago from Washington State, USA

      It was my pleasure Eric and this was a fun hub to put together. The only problem is that looking through all of these recipes and selecting the photos makes me hungry.

      I hope you have a great 4th weekend.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 13 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Linda this is great and I will definitely pick one for my next potluck. Hey that is really cool that you used my line like that. It makes me very happy.

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