3 Tips for a Successful Thanksgiving Potluck

For as long as I can remember, my family’s Thanksgiving has been a festive gathering at a relative’s house. Our potlucks are a mix of traditional holiday dishes (turkey and pumpkin pie) and local Hawaii fare (Chinese noodles, sushi, and sometimes a steaming pot of Portuguese bean soup).

I’m no Martha Stewart, but I have over 40 years of experience observing, contributing to, and stuffing myself at potlucks. Here are my personal potluck tips for having a great Thanksgiving with a minimum of mishaps and stress.

1. Do a trial run of new recipes to “get the kinks out.” 
Trying new recipes is fun, but the day of the party is no time to test your cooking skills. There are so many things that could go wrong. You might underestimate the time you need for cooking (and end up being late and stressed for the party), or you may make a mistake and end up with a terrible dish. You don’t want to embarrass yourself by bringing a bucket of KFC to the party when you promised baked salmon.

For example, one year, my husband and I volunteered to bring steak to a party. We rarely eat or cook steak, so we tend to forget how to make a good one. Unwittingly, I let the steaks sit in the salt rub overnight and when my husband grilled them before the party, the steaks came out really salty. We ended up “washing” each slab under the faucet. It came out tasting pretty good, but that was stress we didn’t need that day. (And we didn’t tell any of my relatives that they were eating washed steak).

I’ve been doing trial runs for several years now (at the insistence of my husband). Once you do a trial run, you’ll know exactly what it takes to make a delicious dish and get to the party on time.

2.  Bring what you promised, no more or less
I once held a small party at my house for 10 adults. My friend said, “Hey, I’ll bring pie.” Why he ended up bringing two pies was beyond me. Needless to say, we had a lot of leftover pie.

If you’ve ever hosted a potluck party, you know that coordinating the food is not easy. You try to have a balance of starches, main and side dishes, and dessert. You also need variety within each category. I have nightmares of three different people bringing chicken katsu to my party. Have mercy on your host and bring exactly what you said you would bring.

This tip is also important because one of the biggest fears of a host is to be left with a ton of leftover food. For some reason, guests always seem reluctant to take home food. This is why you may see a flash of annoyance on your host’s face if you bring an additional (undeclared) dish.

3.   As a host, a few festive touches to your home can make your party a little more special. 
Over the years, we’ve held several family Thanksgivings at my Aunty Ruth’s house. She loves arts and crafts, and has a good sense of style. One year, she made food cardholders made out of wine corks. They were nice conversation pieces (especially for similarly crafty relatives), and cute additions to the food table. 

Guests appreciate any decorations (bought or made) that signify the occasion, whether it’s Thanksgiving or Super Bowl Sunday. It shows them that you (the host) want them to be happy and comfortable in your home.

So what are your holiday potluck tips? Share them below or on our Facebook page.