The Potluck Rules: What to Take to a Summer Cookout

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If you’re headed to a cookout, don’t even think about showing up empty-handed. When choosing a dish to take, however, there are a few criteria that must be met to make transporting and serving a breeze.

Rule #1: Bring your dish in the same vessel you’ll serve it in.

Don’t take a bag of salad greens, then ask your host for a serving bowl, and don’t take a cake and ask for a stand. Pack up everything in (or take along) whatever you need to serve your dish. (Label anything you’d like back, or use disposable platters and bowls.) Bonus points if you take disposable serving utensils.

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potato salad with fresh radishes in a white bowl top view

Rule #2: Room temperature is best.

Your hosts are entertaining, so their fridge and freezer are probably stuffed to maximum capacity. Don’t stress them further by asking them to make space for your dish. Side dishes like potato salad fit the bill, as do many desserts.

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Rule #3: Choose a dish with staying power.

When you arrive at a cookout, there’s no knowing whether dinner will be served in 20 minutes or two hours. Take a dish that can sit out for a bit. Trisha Yearwood’s Broccoli Salad gets better as it marinates, as do coleslaws and many pasta salads.

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Rule #4: Don’t forget special sauces, dressings or garnishes — but pack smart.

Some dishes just can’t be fully assembled in advance, and that’s OK. For a dish like this Bruschetta, which might get soggy or fall apart in transit, make the toasts and tomato mixture at home; pack them separately in disposable baggies or containers. At the party, simply put out the toasts (on the platter you brought, of course!) and top them right on the buffet.

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Rule #5: When in doubt, bring homemade dip.

There’s a reason why this party classic is tried-and-true: It’s easy to transport, easy to serve and easy to clean up. It’s just not a party without chips and dip!

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