Sometime soon — maybe this weekend for Memorial Day — you’re going to be invited to a backyard barbecue, a family reunion or a church picnic where the host will ask you to make a dish to share.
These potluck dinners are popular because they seemingly are a low-stress, budget-friendly way to entertain.
But often times these communal events fall flat because not everyone follows — or knows — the rules of etiquette. Too often, the potluck table is laden with crackers, chips, Cheez Whiz and Oreos. Or there’s a creamy salad sitting in the hot sun with bacteria multiplying by the second.
For these reasons — and more — we compiled a list of potluck pet peeves, with the help of some local cooks. These are universal practices that leave us feeling annoyed, unsatiated and, in some cases, sick to our stomachs.
Hopefully, it will ensure that you and others have a happy, healthy potluck season.
Potluck pet peeves
1. Guests who don’t bring food • This may seem obvious, but don’t show up empty handed and say you were busy. We’re all busy. When invited to a potluck, bring a dish of food that feeds at least eight to 10 people. If you’re not sure what to bring, ask the hostess for a suggestion.
2. Guests who only bring soda, beer or wine • Unless the host has specifically assigned you one of these beverages, these aren’t acceptable potluck offerings. You must bring a dish of food. And, by the way, condiments also are not considered food.
3. Hosts who don’t give assignments • Unless you want 10 plates of crackers and some cookies, the host should offer guests a general idea about what to bring: appetizer, entree, salad, dessert. Set some ground rules or your guests will pay the consequences.
4. Guests who don’t stick to their assignments • If you’ve been asked to bring a dessert, don’t bring a salad. It skews the food ratio. If you must switch, call the host at least a day ahead and ask if it’s OK.
5. Guests who don’t put any thought into their dish • A bag of chips and salsa is a lame offering. You don’t have to be a celebrity chef to cut a watermelon or toss a salad. People will appreciate your effort, even if your offering is simple. Have a few go-to-recipes for these kind of occasions. (See recipe suggestions.)
6 . Guests who don’t prepare their dish at home • Cut up the cantaloupe or make that salad at home. Don’t prepare your dish at the party, which messes up the host’s kitchen. Even though they may be polite, this will stress him or her out.
7. Guests who touch the food • Once you’ve touched a roll, cookie, chip or pork rib, put it on your plate and be happy. Don’t put it back just because you see a better looking one. Double-dipping also fits into this category. Spoon the dip onto your plate. If you’re too young to remember the “Seinfeld” episode, do a search for it on YouTube.
8. Anyone who doesn’t pay attention to food safety • Trying to keep foods at the proper temperature — either hot or cold — is tough at a potluck and is a recipe for a food-poisoning disaster. Try to bring a dish that can be served at room temperature. Hosts also need to be diligent about food safety, particularly in the sun. You don’t want to be the host who sends everyone home sick.
9. People who take double portions • If you’re at the front of the buffet line, be thoughtful about the portions you take so those in the back of the line will have something to eat. If there’s food left over, then you can go back for seconds.
10. People who think potlucks are competitions • If you bring the same dish as someone else, don’t push theirs to the back. Instead, just place them side by side and laugh about how great minds think alike. Always try to compliment the homemade dishes, especially if you know that person is a novice in the kitchen. Appreciate the effort and maybe the quality of food at your next potluck will improve.
Sources: Ruth Kendrick, Marguerite Henderson, Si Foster, Bryce Larsen, Gigi Thorsen, Jim Light, Maria Lichty, Pam Davenport and Barbara Scheiving.
5 large cucumbers, sliced
2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup onion, minced
3/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon parsley
In a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish, layer half the sliced cucumbers. Top with half the tomatoes and half the onions. Repeat layers with remaining cucumbers, tomatoes and onions. In a separate bowl, combine the vinegar, oil, lemon, juice and spices. Pour evenly over the layered vegetables.
Cover with foil and place in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours. Stir halfway through.
Servings • 8 to 10
Source: Real Mom Kitchen by Laura Powell
Red potato and tomato salad
1 pound baby red potatoes, halved
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
3 scallions (green onions), white and pale green parts, thinly sliced
1⁄3 cup pitted black olives, halved
1⁄3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Grated zest of 1 large lemon
Freshly ground pepper
Put potatoes in a medium saucepan with enough salted cold water to cover by at least 2 inches. Bring water to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
Drain potatoes in a colander and allow to dry for 5 minutes.
In a serving bowl, combine potatoes, tomatoes, scallions, olives, parsley, capers, thyme, olive oil sand lemon zest. Toss gently until the ingredients are coated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
If you have time, let the salad marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Toss again just before serving.
Servings • 4
Source: Weeknights with Giada, by Giada De Laurentiis
Quinoa corn and edamame salad
2 cups frozen, shelled, edamame
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup cooked, cooled quinoa
1 green onion, sliced (just green parts)
1/2 red sweet bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1⁄8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Briefly boil the edamame and the corn until tender. Drain very well and cool completely.
In a large bowl combine the edamame, corn, quinoa, green onion, red pepper and cilantro. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, lime juice, salt, chili powder, thyme, black pepper and cayenne until emulsified. Drizzle over the salad and toss to coat.
Servings • About 8 (1/2 cup) servings