How to Ace Your Holiday Potluck

Potluck cooking and hosting can be a brilliant way to approach holiday entertaining. The plan might be for a meal to which everyone contributes, or perhaps just a host asking for a few contributions to round out his or her menu. Here are some foolproof tips and recipes for anyone hosting or attending, whether it’s a joint-effort dinner or brunch, eggnog party, cookie swap, or New Year’s Eve festivities.

Tips for hosts and organizers

  • Assigning guests to bring a specific dish helps ensure you’ve got all the holiday favorites covered.

  • You’ll probably be asked for suggestions on what to contribute, so it’s good to have some ideas on hand. 

  • Have a few extra kitchen items handy before guests arrive so things will run smoothly: Trivets for protecting the table from hot casserole dishes, extra serving utensils in case guests don’t bring their own, a slow cooker for soups or stews that need to stay warm, extra pot holders, and extra dish towels or paper towels for cleaning up spills.

Tips for guests

  • If possible, let your host or organizer know ahead of time what you’ll be bringing. That way he or she can anticipate duplications or offer suggestions for rounding out the meal.

  • If you’re bringing a dish that should be served warm, it’s best if you can keep the food hot while you transport it. Specially designed insulated carriers are great. You can also improvise by having the food very hot, then wrapping it first in foil and then in several layers of thick towels.

  • If you do need to reheat your contribution, check with your host beforehand to make sure there’ll be oven or stovetop space available.

  • Foods that need to stay cold should also be insulated for transport. The best method is to put them in a cooler with plenty of ice or icepacks.

  • Plan to bring any special serving equipment or dinnerware your dish will need with you. 

Winning recipes

Looking for raves? Here are some all-time favorite dishes for the holidays. All can be transported with minimal fuss, and all are appropriate for scaling up for large groups.

Nibbles and hors d’oeuvres

Hosts are often thrilled to outsource pre-meal appetizers and noshes, and these dishes typically travel well. Need a great dip? Quick and Easy Shrimp Dip opens in a new tab is a winner that’s easy to transport and can be made up to 2 days ahead; surrounding it with a colorful selection of raw vegetables will make sure it gets lots of attention. For a hot appetizer, it’s hard to beat Mini Crab Cakes with Spicy Red Pepper Sauce opens in a new tab, a dish that’s terrific made ahead and reheats quickly in a hot oven. For Hanukkah and beyond, Mini Potato-Carrot Pancakes with Festive Sour Cream opens in a new tab, a take on classic latkes, are ideal; the pancakes are finger-food sized and can be made ahead and reheated briefly in the oven and garnished before serving. And finally, these 3-ingredient Prosciutto, Brie and Apricot Rollups opens in a new tab are a marvel of terrific flavors and will transport almost effortlessly in an airtight container with wax or parchment paper between layers.


Soups are a classic dish to make ahead and reheat just before serving. If your party is a buffet, a slow cooker can be used to keep the soup warm for hours; just reheat it first on the stovetop. Winter Squash and Apple Soup opens in a new tab is a vegetarian, vegan and dairy-free option that’s packed with enough seasonal flavor to delight everyone. A very luxurious choice is Lobster Bisque with Sherry and Smoked Paprika opens in a new tab, a recipe that uses frozen lobster to make it easier to shop ahead for. And for a festive cocktail party, consider a soup shooter like Creamy Cauliflower and Apple Soup Shooters opens in a new tab, no spoons required!

Side dishes

A seasonal side is probably the most requested dish during the holidays. Get a handle on what the flavors and main dishes will be before settling on a recipe, and decide if a hot or room temperature dish suits your needs best. If you’re bringing a potato dish, you’ll find that a casserole transports easily and is usually foolproof to reheat. Scalloped Potatoes opens in a new tab are hearty and cheesy enough to serve as a vegetarian main course, and the Coconut Marshmallow Sweet Potatoes opens in a new tab are an updated, not-too-sweet version of a holiday classic that can be tweaked for vegan diners.

Roasted Spiral Glazed Ham with Maple and Orange Marmalade Glaze opens in a new tab Recipe opens in a new tab

Main courses that travel

Getting a holiday centerpiece from here to there? One of your very best bets is a ham. Roasted Spiral Glazed Ham with Maple and Orange Marmalade Glaze opens in a new tab is perfect on a buffet table and terrific at room temperature, so you don’t have to worry about reheating. If turkey is a must, don’t despair. Almost any recipe can be cooked up to a day ahead, cooled, carved, and transferred to an oven-proof container like a roasting pan. Moisten the meat with a little turkey or chicken broth, cover the pan with foil and refrigerate it. Reheat it, covered, in a 300-degree F oven until hot. Reheat your gravy on the stovetop or in the microwave (thin it with broth if necessary) and you’re set! If your mission is to bring a non-meat main course, you’ve got lots of beautiful, ingenious options. Smoky Mushroom Gratin opens in a new tab, with its combination of meaty mushrooms and Gruyère cheese will thrill vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. 

Eggnog Pie Recipe opens in a new tab

Pies & cookies

When it comes to portable holiday desserts nothing beats the classics: Delicious pies and fabulous cookies. They’ve been arriving with holiday guests for generations because they’re easy to make in advance and simple to carry. Some standouts in pies include Classic Pecan Pie, opens in a new tab super-easy Eggnog Pie opens in a new tab, decadent Cashew Chocolate Pie, opens in a new tab rich and flavorful Vegan Mocha opens in a new tabPie opens in a new tab−made without refined sugar and deliciously low in fat and calories. Crowd-pleasing cookies include aromatic Molasses Gingerbread Cookies opens in a new tab, nutty and tender Mexican Tea Cookies opens in a new tab, festive Classic Sugar Cookies opens in a new tab, or Vegan Oatmeal Raisin opens in a new tabCookies opens in a new tab−gluten-free and dairy-free as well!

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