The Secret to a Great Potluck? It’s Not the Food

I usually volunteer to bring a fluffy salad made with hardy greens (baby kale, mature spinach, radicchio) that can hold up well for a few hours, and I dress it right before serving. It’s colorful, light and goes with almost everything. It’s also one of the less glamorous things you could make, so it often gets overlooked by cooks seeking a more stunning presentation. But it’s always gone when the party is over.

No matter what you bring, it’s best to garnish your offering in situ, especially those grain or potato salads, which can get a little dull sitting in the fridge.

“A squeeze of lemon, some olive oil and some fresh herbs right before serving really takes things up notch,” Ms. Donnelly said.

As for the casserole, that nearly indispensable classic of the potluck table, both she and Ms. Thielen are big fans of the 9- by 13-inch baking pan, which you can use for anything from vegetable tians to peach cobblers and is easy to carry, wrapped in foil and nestled in a cardboard box to keep it warm.

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Wait to garnish your potluck dish until you get to the party.

Credit
Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

The photographer and food blogger Leela Cyd loves four- to six-ounce glass canning jars, which make transporting individual servings of chilled soup or chocolate pudding easy and eliminates the need for plates.

Her favorite? “Greek salad in a Weck jar,” she said. “You layer the heavier things first: the feta, olives, cucumbers, tomatoes and dressing. Then you put the lettuce on top and people shake it just before they open the jar.”

I like the two-quart Ball jars for carrying watermelon lemonade or iced tea to a party, since you can seal the tops, then use a small ladle to serve.

If all goes smoothly, guests get to linger over a varied and delicious spread, and hosts are left to enjoy the fact that they are…

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