wide closeup of the food identified on the parchment paper lliner for a potluck dinner

Best Secrets For Your Dish to Win the Next Potluck

Potlucks aren’t a competition . . . or are they? If they are for you, I’ve got the best tips to elevate your dish to the crowd-pleasing favorite!

Seriously? Potlucks are not a competition?

I mean, really, don’t we all want to be the one taking home an empty dish? The ruler of the next potluck!!!

Not to mention all the requests for the recipe. And who doesn’t love rave reviews?

Ready to up your game and really be a contender at the next potluck?

Closeup of a 9 x 13 baking dish with a parchment paper liner that says "Pumpkin Ooey Gooey Butter Cake. All that's left are some crumbs and a bit of whipped cream smeared about

This is what a winning potluck dish looks like — crumbs and a bit of whipped cream smeared about.

This is from last week’s Oktoberfest Potluck Party here at our lake community.

What’s a Potluck Party?

Quite simply, a Potluck party, means everyone brings a dish.

Potluck parties are an easy way to throw a party by spreading the work out over a lot of people. And they are a a great way to spread the expense too.

Plus a potluck dinner will result in a wider array of options, which satisfies picky eaters but also provides variety for the more adventurous eater who likes to try a little bit of many dishes.

Potlucks often bring to mind large gatherings in the church basement. Often times, one of the church organizations provides the entree and congregation members are assigned are food categories based on the first letter of their last name. (Being at the end of the alphabet, I’m usually on Team Dessert)

But a potluck dinner is also for a smaller group. Such as a typical dinner party where the host prepares the main course and others are each assigned a category. The guests choose a recipe to go with the designated main course.

Typically, the potluck planners will decide on a theme such as Italian, picnic fare, Tex-Mex, etc.

Or at the very least, will assign each person/family unit a food category, such as appetizer, side dish or dessert to go with a set main dish(es).

A potluck does not need to be an entire meal. But rather, it can be something like a typical Watch Party (Oscars, Super Bowl, Final Four, NFL games) where everyone contributes a snack.

How to Score Big With Your Potluck Dish

1) Let’s Begin With the Recipe-

Your assigned category and/or any theme is your starting point.

Now, narrow it down to something that uses crowd-pleasing ingredients in crowd-pleasing dishes.

And consider the occasion and season if there is one. In November, your selection might be influenced by traditional Thanksgiving potluck ideas — green bean casserole anyone? And of course anything that includes pumpkin puree.

Do a bit of research,  . . . or espionage (just being real here). I love potato salad, a potluck staple. But there are 12,482 different potato salads and everyone likes their mother’s the best. Am I right? Chances are there will be several potato salads. And you aren’t just competing against those three, you’re also competing against everyone’s mother and grannies!!! That’s a no win situation. Basically, you don’t want too many of the same good thing.

Consider your audience and the location. Is this a conservative, traditional crowd or an adventurous crowd? If the food will be sitting outside in hot weather for a length of time, of course don’t invite botulism to the party. NO dishes that require refrigeration are welcome at a picnic.

Slow cooker or crock pot recipes are great for potlucks where you know power will be readily available and the food will be set out buffet style. Do not use them for outdoor and for a smaller potluck where you might be passing the dish around the table.

It’s a good idea to pick a potluck dish that travels well.  That layered cake with soft buttercream frosting, it’s delicious and looks pretty — but possibly not for long. Opt instead for a bundt cake or sheet cakes.

Ideal potluck dishes do not have finicky timing and do not require last minute preparation besides tossing a salad or add a sprinkle of garnish on top.

Think classic recipes, your go-to favorites but add a little twist to make them special, to really celebrate the get-together. 

To recap, a great recipe for a potluck

  • seasonal or theme appropriate
  • a classic, favorite recipe with an elevated twist 
  • uses crowd pleasing ingredients
  • won’t be one in a crowd of the same
  • can be served at room temperature
  • consider power accessibility 
  • travels well
  • is not finicky about timing
  • does not require any last minute preparations

A cake covered in whipped cream is seen on a 9 13 baking dishhh lined with parchment paper that id's the cake as a pmpkin ooeyy gooey butter cake

For last week’s Oktoberfest potluck, I checked all the boxes by choosing to make a crowd-pleasing Gooey Butter Cake.

But to make it seasonal and provide a twist, I turned it into a Gooey Pumpkin Butter Cake.

And to elevate it a bit, I added whipped cream on top with a dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg.

More ideas for Poluck themes and suggested recipes are below.

2) How to Serve-

Consider your serving dishes and utensils. Yes, remember to bring your serving utensils along with the serving platter, bowl or baking dish.

Don’t forget to label your dish, especially for large potlucks.

Planning how to serve your dish can be a conundrum.

On one hand, single servings are really fun and a crowd pleaser.

But often times they are:

  • harder to transport,
  • take more time to prepare,
  • take up more space on the serving table.
  • Predetermine the serving size

So you get to decide if you want to transport your dish in one big bowl or individual cups in a box.

Charcuterie boards or snack boards continue to be the rage, especially for smaller potlucks. But they can be a challenge for transporting. If the host is laid back and amicable to it, have all the prep done ahead. Nice cheese already cut, salami roses constructed, crisp apples sliced and treated, veggies trimmed and sliced.

I have found the easiest way to transport a snack or charcuterie board:

  1. I layout my board completely at home
  2. Snap a picture on my phone
  3. Package each batch of elements into small bags to transport
  4. Referencing my phone, I can very quickly and easily, I can reassemble on site

3) Fun Presentation and Labeling-

Now it’s time for bonus points. These are the extra touches that will set you apart;

  1. Decorate your dish for the season or occasion
  2. Label your dish
  3. Label for any potential food allergies

How you decorate your dish with depend on what it is. 

Admittedly, it is easier to decorate a dessert than baked beans. But you can still tie a ribbon in the team colors around the crock pot or on the handles for the HS awards night team banquet, for example.

Attach a silhouette cutout of the school mascot or maybe the activity icon and write the name of your dish on this.

I love parchment paper!  

I use it for my baking, but I also use it to disguise my boring baking dishes.

Cake under a cover of whipped cream in a 9 X. 13 baking dish is identified at Pumpkin Ooey Gooey Butter Cake on the Parchment Paper liner that's hanging over the edge

I don’t have the storage space (or the budget) for the new great looking baking dishes. Mine are the same clear ones I’ve had for 30+ years.

So I have come to lining them with parchment paper — usually white in the Spring and Summer and definitely, unbleached in the Fall. I tear off a piece that will intentionally hang over the edges of my dish by at least an 1 1/2-inches all around.

If this week’s potluck had been a small gathering where I would be bringing the only dessert, I would have decorated the parchment paper with Oktoberfest in a Germanic font and the classic wheat icon and fun little banners. 

But since this was a much larger group with five desserts, I wanted to ID the cake. You know, just in case there is one lone person in this world that doesn’t like pumpkin or doesn’t like gooey butter cake! I also think it is nice to ID potluck dishes for possible food allergies.

closeup of allergy info written on the parchment paper liner hanging over the edge of the baking dish

closeup of sarcastic allergy nutrition warnings printed on the parchment paper liner

In this case, I ID’d the cake for what it’s not:

  • NOT gluten free
  • NOT dairy free
  • NOT egg free
  • NOT fat free
  • NOT sugar free

And I thought a Warning would be advisable:

Warning: “Know to be Addictive”

Closeup of a piece of Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake on plate withh a fork

Honestly this cake is The Best!!!!

I’ll be sharing the recipe next week.

Which leads me to ask: are you a subscriber? Now might be a good time to sign up so you don’t have to remember to come back for the recipe — it will automagically just show in your inbox to make you smile and be on the ready for your next potluck.

Thanks bunches! Now back to Winning the Potluck Game.

How to Decorate a Parchment Liner For Your Baking Dish

Do You Prefer Video?

I’ve gotta covered. Just click on the image below.

you tube video cover "How to Decorate Parchment Paper" and "Be the Hit of the Next  Potluck" with play button

I don’t have the best handwriting. And I’m not a great sketch artist. But I can surely trace!!!

So that’s what I did on the parchment paper. Yes, traced.

I used Canva.com, my favorite graphic design software to print out the “Pumpkin Ooey Gooey Butter Cake”. And I included a number of little pumpkin line drawings.

If I didn’t want the parchment paper to hang over the edge of my baking dish, I would typically fold, cut and tuck so the corner of the paper fit right inside the corner of the dish,

closeup of a pairof pumpkins drawn on the corner pleat of parchment paper

But when I am disguising my boring dish and adding a little extra function and flare, I fold the parchment paper both horizontally and vertically to match the bottom edges of the dish. Then I bring the two folds to meet at the corners and tuck the paper down into the dish creating a pleat in each corner.

I like the look of it and it’s an extra spot to add any special touches — stars for the 4th of July and pumpkins in the Fall.

This is one of those don’t-do-it-exactly-as-I-did-in-the-pictures post.

The best way to decorate a parchment paper lining, is to:

  1. Fold and fit your liner to your dish
  2. Remove it from the dish to write and draw
  3. Place it back in the dish
  4. Fill with your batter
  5. Bake

I folded and fitted the paper to my dish and poured my batter in the pan, Stuck it in the oven. And then remembered I meant to decorate it.

Woman's holding a marker and tracing some words that can be seen through the parchment paper thhat identify the kind of cake in the baking dish

If you do the same thing, there is a workaround. Here I used another baking dish upside down and then rested a sheet of thick glass on it to serve as a flat work surface.

I taped my printout to the glasss and then held the parchment paper edge on top of it and traced.

fingers holding parchment paper over the pumpkin pattern while it is being traced

Then with a fine Micron marker, I traced a grouping of three little pumpkins on the front overhang and then another single pumpkin or pair of pumpkins on each corner pleat.

fingers holding the parchment paper and a marker is coloring in the pumpkin outlines

And they really came together when I colored them in with some colored markers. So easy and fun!

I have found fine tip sharpie markers work best for text. And I prefer the Micron fine tip markers for the allergy warning and the sketch detailing. Use a scrap of parchment paper to test and practice with your markers. They all act a little differently on parchment paper.

Graphic that says "Pin it to Remember it!" with arrows pointing to the pin
pin showing the whipped cream covered cake identified as a Pumpkin Ooey Gooey Butter Cake

Suggested Potluck Themes & Dishes

Breakfast — Yes! Breakfast or Brunch can make a great Potluck

Many NFL teams are playing a game overseas this season. Are your fellow fans gathering for an 8:30 AM Kickoff? 

How about breakfast to bolster “Your Team” at the start of a day to be spent cleaning up the school or church grounds, painting an elderly neighbors house, cleaning up a local park, etc. 

Suggested Breakfast Potluck Recipes:

  • breakfast burritos (of course)
  • 4-Way Sheet Pan Pancakes
  • sausage and egg casserole
  • coffee cake or breakfast-y cake
  • cinnamon rolls or monkey bread
  • chopped sweet fruit salad
  • favorite brunch cocktails (know your audience!)

Italian Potluck

Host provides two types of pasta and wine. Guests are asked to bring different kinds of sauces, another brings salad, another bread, and maybe two for desserts.

This can be set up as a pasta bar with side garnishes of:

  • olive oil
  • fresh herbs
  • parmesan cheese
  • slivered black olives
  • crushed red pepper flakes

Family Pizza & Game Night Potluck

We did this in our old town when the kids were Middle School and High School age. It was always tons of fun!

As the host, we made all the pizza dough. Each family brought the fixings for two large pizzas. It didn’t take long for this to become competitive pizza.

I already had the pizza dough on pans and pre-cooked a bit. Each family assembled their pizza when they arrived, and then one of each went into the oven at once.

Thank goodness for double ovens!!!

As soon as the first batch came out, the second slid right in. Pizza lasted us all night long as well as a salad and some dessert bites for balance.

Planning your pizza toppings consider:

  • turning a favorite sandwich into a pizza, ie: reubens, philly sub, pulled pork, 
  • alternative sauces, alfredo, pesto, bbq blend, etc.
  • breakfast pizza featuring breakfast sausage, bacon and a whole egg or two baked on top

Extra garnishes are not necessary, but could include:

  • chopped red onion
  • olive oil
  • Sirache sauce
  • slivered black olives
  • parmesan cheese

How’s that for getting those hosting wheels turning? Don’t hesitate to ask any questions or share ideas you have or have done for a great potluck get-together. I’d love to update this list to share with all.

round image of Diane smiling next to a Signature that reads: With Joy, Diane


  1. Doug Sudhoff

    Whew! That cake was GOOD!! I had to fight to get a taste at the potluck!

    • Diane

      It was amazing!!! But I have to say the version made tonight with a few refinements, actually took it to the next level! Stayy tuned for the recipe next week.

  2. Lisa

    This post is the best! So many great ideas that I can’t wait to use. Hopefully taking home an empty dish at the next potluck.

    • Diane

      I know it’s silly to think of a potluck as competitive. But that’s exactly what I feel like when my dish is licked clean!

  3. Susan Sikes

    This is great information! I love the decorative parchment paper idea! I just started a 4 part series on potluck meals from the church ladies. I would love to share a link to your post next week!

    • Diane

      Thank you so much Susan. I would be very honored! I look forward to that series. I bet it will be delighhtful!



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