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5 Tips to Organize an Easy Summer Potluck

summer potluck dishes

Photo by Meredith

Easiest summer party. Ever.

Summer potlucks are a great way have maximum fun, sun, and food, with minimum effort and stress. And even though it might sound like a bit of an oxymoron to say, "plan a potluck" (the idea is to keep the planning low-key for these things, after all!), we have five handy tips that will help you do just that—but with the sole purpose of dialing down the effort even more. And cranking up the delicious, of course.

Related: How to Throw a Last-Minute BBQ Without Breaking a Sweat

1. Decide who's bringing what.

It's nice to give guests a little creative freedom when it comes to their potluck contribution, but at the same time, no one wants to show up with the fourth pie or potato salad number five. So when you send out the invites, provide dish guidelines, but let guests choose what they bring. Something as simple as a shared spreadsheet can come in really handy to keep everyone on the same page. Literally. Simply list out dish categories (e.g. appetizers, salads, non-salad sides, desserts, and kid-friendly items) and the number of each you need. They everyone can sign up and see what's taken in real time. You may also want to include plates, utensils, napkins, and any condiments needed.

Related: Ask a Cook: What to Bring to a Summer Potluck

2. Limit the number of grill masters.

The simplest way to avoid "too many cooks in the kitchen" when it comes to grill space is to either provide the main grilled dish (and maybe a grilled side) yourself, or ask one guest to go in on those items with you so multiple people aren't duking it out for grill time. Just be sure to let everyone know what you plan to make, and do offer them time and space on the grill if they don't happen to be a fan of what you're cooking up.

grilling at potluck
Photo by Mackenzie Schieck

3. Encourage guests to BYODrinks.

In your shared potluck sign-up sheet, you may also want to specify that guests contribute to the beverage situation. And depending on the number of guests, you might consider providing one big batch drink for the group. You can find large pitchers that pour from the bottom for pretty reasonable prices online, as well as beverage buckets to keep canned and bottled drinks on ice.

lemonade at potluck
Photo by Mackenzie Schieck

Crowd-pleasing (and family-friendly) refreshments:

4. Easy ways to keep food safe.

Once your meat and other hot dishes are done cooking, only put out enough for one round of servings initially. Load the rest into a baking dish and put it in a warm oven until everyone is ready for seconds. And for cold dishes, buy a stack of inexpensive aluminum pans and fill them half-full with ice to set salads and other dishes into. Be sure to push the bowls in a bit so the ice comes up the sides of the dish.

potluck tips salads on ice
Photo by Mackenzie Schieck

Potluck salads to try:

5. Invite your slow cooker to the party.

Another foolproof way to safely keep a hot dish hot is to bring a slow cooker dish to the potluck. From appetizers to desserts, there are few things a slow cooker can't do. Be sure to snag yourself a handy carrier to make the trip a snap.

warm nacho cheese tip
Outrageous Warm Chicken Nacho Dip | Photo by Marianne

Slow cooker potluck dishes to try:

One more bonus tip for you:

Don't overthink it! Potlucks are all about ease and keeping it casual. And having a big ole blast. Definitely don't forget about that last part.

More: See our entire collection of summer recipes.

About Mackenzie Schieck

Writer and photographer obsessed with lattes, Mexican food, and stuff that’s funny.