21 perfect potluck recipes

When I know I'll be attending a potluck, I immediately start to rattle off ideas in my head, eventually working myself up into a frenzy. Once I finally figured out that these gatherings are all about having fun and not getting stressed, my time in the kitchen became much more enjoyable. The secret to potluck cooking success is making it easy on yourself by preparing dishes that prioritize fresh, high-quality ingredients and streamlined techniques. Moreover, opt for foods that can be served at room temp, feed a crowd, and please even the pickiest of eaters. Below are some recipe ideas to help make your potluck planning just a bit more relaxing.

Cue the pasta salads

No potluck would be complete without pasta salad, but be warned: not all pasta salads are created equal. This is the ideal dish for any gathering where you expect guests will come and go at different times, as it gets served at room temperature. Because it doesn't need to be kept warm, it can withstand sitting out for a few hours. Avoid the common pitfall of mushy pasta by only tossing your salad in the dressing right before serving and avoid using too much dressing. The upside? An exemplary pasta salad can alter the mood at any potluck. Here are a few of my favorite recipes should you need some inspiration to get you started on the menu planning.

This pasta salad recipe from Smitten Kitchen is one I've used more times than I can count. I love the dish's balance of flavors and varied textures — al dente pasta, mini roasted tomatoes, briny olives, earthy pine nuts, and salty cheese. Inspired by the flavors of a classic Greek salad, this pasta salad from Joy the Baker playfully uses grain-like orzo to great success. Add crumbly feta, tomatoes, cucumbers, and a bright lemony dressing for the win. This recipe from Pinch of Yum makes the ideal Italian pasta salad. It has everything: veggies, meats, cheese, bright happy colors. The best part? This addition to your next potluck is super easy to throw together.

Sheet cakes bring folks together

Making a cake is tons of fun, but carrying it to a party is not always as easy-breezy. For potlucks, I often opt for a sheet cake that can be carried directly in its baking pan with the frosting in a separate container. The key is to frost the cake when you arrive at the potluck to avoid having to deal with the problem of how to cover your cake during transport. Whether you go with classic chocolate, universally pleasing vanilla, or decadently moist red velvet, providing cake at a potluck automatically elevates your social status — a definite do. Need inspo? Have at it.

This devilishly good sheet cake from The New York Times is a choice pick for any potluck. With its light chocolate flavor and creamy frosting, this dessert is sure to be a favorite at the party. Go vibrant with this recipe from The Pioneer Woman. Red velvet cake always feel like a special treat, and this crowd-friendly one certainly tastes like a dream. For good measure, add an easy vanilla frosting that only tastes like it took a lot of effort to concoct. For a lovely yellow cake option, try out this recipe from Bon Appetit. The beautiful cake is complemented by a chocolate sour cream frosting that makes you think long and hard about all the other frostings you've had before.

Cookies are easy and easy to transport

Cookies are the perfect portable treats for potluck gatherings and are always the first to go. They're easy to make, a joy to share, and even easier to scarf down yourself. Whether you stick with classic varieties like chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and peanut butter or over-the-top ones such as garbage cookies or double chocolate, there's no doubt these handheld sweets are universally beloved by both adults and children. The next time you're having people over or heading to someone else's party, bake up a batch of delectable cookies that are sure to be a hit with whatever company you're keeping. Try these fabulous cookies from three excellent lady bakers.

This recipe from Everyday Dorie comes from cookie maven Dorie Greenspan — it's delicious. These slice-and-bake cookies are buttery, tender, and full of rich cocoa flavor. Make them for a potluck or eat them all yourself. Whatever. For a sophisticated twist on traditional chocolate chip cookies, try this recipe from Molly Yeh. Creamy tahini adds nuttiness, while flaky Maldon sea salt lends unique flavor contrast. This recipe from The Faux Martha plays with deep bittersweet chocolate and cocoa to produce a batch of complex cookies that approximate fudge in their texture. Mmmm.

Casseroles to feed a crowd

Casseroles are a staple of potluck parties because they're ideal when you want to offer plenty of food to feed a crowd. More often than not, the most popular ones are those made with simple ingredients that require little prep. Even better? Many casseroles can be prepared and assembled ahead of time and refrigerated, which makes your work even easier. Fix it the night before and bake it right before the party starts. Take your casserole game to the next level with these killer recipes.

This recipe from Real Simple is great for sharing with people you love. Chicken, leafy spinach, and eggy noodles come together beautifully in a dish that gets baked with fresh breadcrumbs. This decadent casserole from Food & Wine is one I'd be proud to contribute to any potluck. Mashed potatoes are elevated and transformed into a classy, French-inspired casserole with the addition of creme fraiche, Fontina cheese, and fragrant sage leaves. Fancy mac and cheese? Yes, please. This recipe from Saveur turns a childhood favorite dish into one fit for a party. Made with nutty Comte cheese and freshly grated nutmeg, macaroni elbows get a grownup treatment.

Above-average potato salads

A good potato salad is a must for any picnic, barbecue, or potluck. Think creamy chunks of tender potato seasoned to perfection and combined with crunchy vegetables for textural intrigue and mayo for creaminess. That said, a bad potato salad can be a real bummer. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to ensure that the one you serve at your next big gathering makes people happy. Choose waxy potatoes — Red Bliss or fingerling — that hold up well to cooking and, later, dressing. Start cooking them in cold water so they cook evenly. And don't forget to season the water! If you're using a dairy-free vinaigrette, toss with the potatoes immediately so the warmth can help absorb the flavors of the dressing. For a mayo-based dressing, wait until the potatoes have cooled. Ready?

This recipe from Brown Eyed Baker takes all the traditional ingredients for a great potato salad and elevates them with an unbeatably creamy dressing. Be warned. This is addictive stuff. Bon Appetit's clever take on potato salad is inspired by the beloved flavors of an everything bagel with cream cheese and lox. Um, amazing. This recipe from The Pioneer Woman is simple, decadently creamy, and delicious. It's the kind of dish that everyone at the potluck can find joy in eating.

Keep your dips on point

Dips are an important component of any successful potluck, amiright? If you plan to serve chips or veggie sticks of any kind, you better be prepared to provide some amazing dipping options. While there might be a tendency to take these smaller side dishes for granted, they truly are the unsung heroes of any gathering. When guests want to flit about unburdened by plates, they inevitably hover around the dips, chatting away. Want something to munch on but not starving? Dips. If people feel like eating veggies but need more savory incentive, they make a beeline for the available dips. To make sure you're prepared for these varied dipping needs, here are a few enticing options.

This recipe from Smells Like Home is one major way to make sure you have your cheesy dip category covered. Ridiculously gooey Fontina cheese, garlic, and herbs make this dish an all-around winner. To make sure your plate of cut celery and carrots has a companion, try this zesty ranch dip from Epicurious. It's a classic. Try this recipe from Bon Appetit if you want to change up your dip game big time. This lovely seven-layer dip has it all: various cheese, veggies, capers, and smoked salmon.

Brownies and bars for the win

Brownies and bar treats are foolproof potluck offerings. Solid enough not to fall apart during transport, easily sliced into squares, and effortless for guests to eat while on the move come party time, these sweet treats are a must when you want to please a diverse crowd. Make fudgy brownies to unite all the chocolate lovers. Whip up some blondies for the potluck contrarians. Bake some vibrant lemon bars to win over the quiet ones. These fab recipes are great places to start.

This recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction makes a batch of incredibly fudgy brownies meant to entice party guests. Make this recipe from The New York Times to infuse a touch of brightness to the potluck table. These lemon bars are sophisticated and absolutely delectable. This blondie recipe from Smitten Kitchen makes it easy to incorporate your personal touches. With this basic formula, you can go on to add whatever extras you feel like.

You're ready to impress at the next potluck you're involved with.