HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Are you making a specialty food? Get great advice

Interesting pot luck themes?

Adrienne Mar 7, 2007 01:32 PM

A post on the etiquette blog made me wonder... what potluck themes have worked well for people?

One idea listed in the blog was to either pick one nationality to base dinner around, or to have everyone bring something from his or her own background... I guess I'm looking for anything that works, but I'm especially interested in more out there ideas -- like I know someone who had an "Earth, Wind, Water and Fire" potluck that inspired some serious creativity.

  1. b
    bite bite Mar 7, 2007 01:45 PM

    A friend had a white trash potluck for his birthday which was intensely popular and think people got pretty creative reinventing some trashy favorites.

    2 Replies
    1. re: bite bite
      adverb Mar 7, 2007 09:52 PM

      yes! i had a white trash Christmas party that went over hugely well. served twinkie "hors d'oevres," an american cheese platter, Funyuns, and 40s, among other things.

      1. re: bite bite
        YumYumDeb Mar 15, 2007 04:06 PM

        I had one of these and I also have to agree that coming up with the white trash dishes and creativity was really fun. The only bad part I didn't anticipate was that all of that processed food cannot sit out for more than 1/2 hour before it starts getting hard and gross on the outside (like wonder bread sandos and twinkies). Fun time though!

      2. daily_unadventures Mar 7, 2007 02:06 PM

        A specific era? Or yeah region - or maybe all the same colour?

        I love the white trash idea.


        1 Reply
        1. re: daily_unadventures
          piccola Mar 7, 2007 06:21 PM

          The same colour is a good idea in theory, but not in practice. It becomes really unappetizing.

          Some themes inspired by previous threads:
          finger foods
          ball-shaped foods
          gourmet versions of cafeteria/childhood foods
          unlikely fusion foods (ie, swedish-chinese)
          foods shaped like other foods (ie, a cupcake disguised as a hamburger)
          restaurant copycat foods (ie, PF Chang's lettuce wraps)
          foods named after people (ie, crêpes Suzette)
          Americanized ethnice foods (ie, chop suey)

        2. free sample addict aka Tracy L Mar 7, 2007 06:54 PM

          I like themes revolving around an ingredient. A friend had a plum potluck and provided links to plum recipes. I attended a peanut butter potluck at work. Next winter I'd like to have a lemon potluck.

          1. Kitchen Queen Mar 7, 2007 07:03 PM

            My little circle has a "tea" each year. It's fab. Teas, coffees, clotted cream,scones, shaped (using cookie cutters) sammys, small cakes, pies and cookies. The tea/coffee servers, dishes, knives and the like also come out. You can take the day one step further and ask that all dress in period attire. :)KQ

            1. h
              howchow Mar 7, 2007 07:17 PM

              I would enjoy going to a 70's theme.
              ambrosia salad
              anything with hotdogs
              port wine cheese ball
              clams casino
              mint chocolate chip ice cream
              chicken divan
              soft pretzels
              hot air popcorn
              pop rocks (okay i better end it.)

              4 Replies
              1. re: howchow
                bite bite Mar 7, 2007 09:34 PM

                Love pop rocks

                1. re: bite bite
                  Quine Mar 7, 2007 09:45 PM

                  A great potluck party that I attended had dishes assigned this way: snack/appy & color
                  salad & color, main dish & color, you get the idea, I was assigned main dish - purple, I sure had to get my creative juices going'

                  1. re: Quine
                    melissad Mar 16, 2007 02:17 PM

                    What did you make? I'm totally drawing a blank.

                2. re: howchow
                  Ida Red Mar 15, 2007 04:02 PM

                  If it's a 70's theme, you HAVE to have cheese fondue.

                3. Gin and It Mar 8, 2007 08:24 AM

                  I would do fire and ice- hot, spicy foods and foods to cool you down!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Gin and It
                    seamunky Jan 27, 2013 09:24 PM

                    A friend of mine had a Fire and Ice potluck (I was busy and coudln't participate). It was a big success. The fun and interesting thing is that it is totally up to interpretation. It wasn't all Fire = savory/hot and Ice = cold/refreshing. There were savory dishes with mint and "hot" desserts with cinnamon and cayenne. I think Fire & Ice was one of the themes for the semi-finals in Top Chef.

                    1. re: Gin and It
                      Jeanne Jan 27, 2013 09:24 PM

                      Love the fire and ice idea!

                    2. b
                      bite bite Mar 8, 2007 06:19 PM

                      Seriously fun thread. Surprized there aren't even more ideas getting thrown out there. I thought about doing a last meals one -- where everyone had to bring something that a death-row inmate requested for their last meal, but then I figured that might be a bit of a downer. A FilmFeast potluck could be fun -- people bringing food from their favorite food scene in a movie -- spagetti and meat balls from Lady and the Tramp, mole from Like Water for Chocolate, tortilla soup from...Tortilla Soup.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: bite bite
                        YumYumDeb Mar 15, 2007 04:24 PM

                        LOL - last meals Death-Row Dinner... a little bit morbid - but great too! :)

                        1. re: bite bite
                          soupkitten Mar 18, 2007 12:31 AM

                          there was a thread on death row meals with a very sobering link to the actual last meals requested. interesting.

                          1. re: soupkitten
                            greygarious Aug 15, 2010 08:52 AM

                            Other potential resources for ideas:
                            "My Last Supper" is a book compiling what 50 famous chefs answered when asked what they'd like their last meal to be.
                            "Their Last Suppers" recounts the last meals of a range of famous people in history. It mentions the 12-course tasting menu on the Titanic.

                          2. re: bite bite
                            chef chicklet Dec 11, 2009 09:09 AM

                            Or long running tv programs, the Sopranos, Survior (oooo) and maybe Sex in the City. It is a fun thread, great idea!

                          3. c
                            caffeinejunkie Mar 13, 2007 12:01 PM

                            What about foods that start with the letter "..."? It might end up being more fun than cohesive, though...I can imagine Tuna, Tacos, and Tangerines...

                            1. b
                              bite bite Mar 13, 2007 12:08 PM

                              For literary types -- favorite food from fiction -- green eggs and ham anyone?

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: bite bite
                                seattledebs Mar 15, 2007 04:11 PM

                                I was thinking of a literary potluck too. Make a dish referred to in your favorite work of fiction and bring along a copy of the passage where the dish is mentioned. Read each passage aloud?

                                1. re: bite bite
                                  ravenlaughing Apr 8, 2010 05:40 PM

                                  We did a Dr. Seuss theme potluck one time and had roast beast and red fish blue fish.

                                2. l
                                  LJS Mar 13, 2007 12:18 PM

                                  I know this is going to be hard to believe but ministers (clergy, pastors, priests) like cops and docs develop a rather bizarre sense fo humour, over the years. A gang of us had a dinner that was meant to poke fun at some of the stuffiness of which we are accused. Highlights were "Fire and Brimstone" (chili that got those collars off),a cheese platter with a brace little flag: "What a Friend We Have in Cheeses!" . The beer was from a keg and clearly labelled "Shall We Gather At the River?".

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: LJS
                                    bite bite Mar 13, 2007 12:26 PM

                                    Holy 'Cheeses', pretty funny.

                                    1. re: LJS
                                      Adrienne Mar 13, 2007 01:05 PM

                                      Hahaha, wow. What would we call that theme? Gentle sacrilege?

                                    2. l
                                      LJS Mar 13, 2007 01:47 PM

                                      Actually, the sacrilege was less than gentle: some of the dishes were a spoof of the measl we have had to eat with a smile: chicken casseroles (I swear they are inspired by Kraft recipes from the '50s, featuring both peanut butter and Miracle Whip) and jellied lime salads and scarey desserts made from chocolate cereal and marshmallows, that invariably turn up at church suppers.

                                      Most of the meals I have taken with those in my congregations were wonderful and it is obvious that people really put themselves out when "The Minister is Coming to Dinner" (and it is MUCH appreciated esp. if they get over the great "should I serve wine dilemna and JUST ASK!).

                                      But while church suppers can bring out some terrific culinary talent, they can also be the Last Resting Place for truly bad food. And you still have to eat everything and be nice about it.

                                      Hence, the naughty theme..."Sin in a Pan".

                                      1. b
                                        bite bite Mar 14, 2007 02:58 PM

                                        Riffing on above -- a seven deadly sins theme could be fun.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: bite bite
                                          Adrienne Mar 14, 2007 08:40 PM

                                          They did that! On top chef. :) That was one of the things that made me think about this actually.

                                          I'm actually in med school and LJS's comment about the professions with a darker sense of humor made me wonder if we couldn't have an anatomy-themed potluck... although that might be kindof gross. Wow, punn not intended.

                                          1. re: Adrienne
                                            kickasscancan Dec 10, 2010 05:29 AM

                                            This might be a bit much for people who are in med school, but it was a HUGE HIT at my halloween party

                                            And if you want to make this cake.... a little labor intensive... but you could have a lot of fun with med students.

                                        2. Lightsuprooms Mar 14, 2007 08:51 PM

                                          Me and my friends do a potluck Xmas each year.. but the theme changes... we have countries.. we've had french, spanish, russian Xmas'..

                                          1. b
                                            bigjimbray Mar 15, 2007 01:11 AM

                                            I organized a soul food pot luck at work, and it turn out to be the biggest pot luck in
                                            five years. over 500 people. it seemed that everyother person wanted to bring
                                            black-eyed peas. we had a fantastic time.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: bigjimbray
                                              YumYumDeb Mar 15, 2007 04:32 PM

                                              funny! I wonder how many ways you can do black-eyed peas?

                                            2. GretchenS Mar 15, 2007 09:15 AM

                                              We used to have potlucks all the time at my last job. The most popular were the chili cookoff (people who didn't want to make chili brought garnishes and side dishes) -- the variety among chilis was amazing!, the Cinco de Mayo party (Mexican) and the Tropical Party (in mid-winter of course) which is really fun for decorations as well as food (and not at work would be fantastic for cocktails).

                                              1. p
                                                pâté chinois Mar 16, 2007 10:40 AM

                                                Lately, with my friends, we had "tropical", "red, green and white", "our favourite dishes", and we'll have "caramel" next month. Some themes are harder than others, like favourite dishes, but we always end up with awesome food!

                                                1. b
                                                  bite bite Mar 16, 2007 11:54 AM

                                                  "Last Supper" -- What you would eat it you knew it was your last meal. Could be interesting to see what people bring -- the blow-out crazy gourmet or something with comfortable warm personal associations (I'd be more this direction).

                                                  1. w
                                                    weezycom Mar 16, 2007 12:54 PM

                                                    How about Food & Song?

                                                    Mashed Potato
                                                    Chewy Chewy
                                                    One Bourbon One Shot and One Beer
                                                    Home Grown Tomatoes


                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: weezycom
                                                      Adrienne Mar 16, 2007 02:13 PM

                                                      I love that. I'm going to use that one some time.

                                                    2. m
                                                      MobyRichard Mar 16, 2007 01:21 PM

                                                      I think I'd enjoy a favorite comfort food potluck just to see what turns up.

                                                      1. t
                                                        thenicelady6 Mar 17, 2007 10:08 PM

                                                        Our family does a theme potluck once a month- we take turns bringing the main dish & whoever has main dish chooses the theme- we then draw to see who brings appetizers, sides and dessert. Some of our better themes were Gilligans' Island, state fair foods, comfort foods, which came 1st? ( must be made with chicken or eggs), super bowl ( must be a soup or in a bowl), new orleans, and last meal. we all have a great time with this and coming up with new themes is a lot of fun. I t has all made for some real creative meals and great family memories!!

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: thenicelady6
                                                          Adrienne Mar 18, 2007 10:38 AM

                                                          Wow... what did people make for Gilligan's Island?

                                                        2. Emme Mar 18, 2007 01:48 AM

                                                          In college, we did a "Mom's Best Dish" pot luck, and it was so interesting given the varying ethnicities of everyone in the house.

                                                          Last year, my friends and I did a rainbow theme, and everyone picked a color. What we found most interesting was that the table look so intriguing w/ all the different colors and food groups so well represented. We found ourselves more satisfied than our usual pig-out potlucks.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Emme
                                                            piccola Mar 18, 2007 05:10 PM

                                                            I love the "Mom's best" idea. Another possibility is a "best story" theme - you bring the dish that has the most interesting back story about how you created it or where/when you first tried it.

                                                          2. t
                                                            thenicelady6 Mar 18, 2007 04:36 PM

                                                            for gilligans island we had seafood newburg( that was kind of a stretch but delicious) , tropical fruit salad, fried plantains,scalloped pineapple,stuffed clams, and of course bananna & coconut cream pie.

                                                            1. t
                                                              thenicelady6 Mar 18, 2007 06:21 PM

                                                              today we made plans for our next potluck-- "stuff it!!!" - can't wait to see what everyone comes up with for that--other possibilites we discussed were , finger food ( no utensils allowed to eat) , 5 ingredients or less, orange food ( flavor or color), and unlikely fusions as mentioned above - chinese-mexican sounds pretty interesting to us- whatever the theme, it's always good food & good fun!

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: thenicelady6
                                                                seamunky Jan 27, 2013 09:29 PM

                                                                "stuff it!!!"

                                                                I love it!!! There are so many foods that can be stuffed and so many foods can be used to stuff! I hope there's it ends up being multi-cultural as every culture has SOMETHING stuffed.

                                                              2. c
                                                                cccrdh Sep 12, 2007 06:12 PM

                                                                hi our church has monthly pot lucks some recent titles have been round foods, another was the letter T all foors had to have an ingredient with T in it such as tomatoes,the letter S is good too, steaks, salads soups etc.

                                                                1. meatn3 Sep 12, 2007 10:39 PM

                                                                  Attended a variation on the white trash theme, it was "What would Elvis do (for dinner)" and ended in a spam carving contest. Others that come to mind are Sausage Fest, Roll 'em (everything was rolled in something) and Mystery Can. Mystery Can came about from a friends story of her grandmothers church bingo games, where the winner received cans without labels. As kids they adored her meals since you never knew if it was going to be fruit, peas or canned pasta! So we each brought a mystery can, put them in a bag & drew one out. Your dish was based on that. No way to tell if everyone remained true to their can, but it made for some very creative eats! Fortunately the cans were strong on ethnic goodies & low on chef boy-r-dee.

                                                                  1. j
                                                                    jlt293 Apr 22, 2009 08:22 PM

                                                                    Our meals on Wednesdays at church moved from a set menu each week to potluck themes; that requires a lot of themes! I'd found a few different sites that list a variety of "holidays" like "national meatloaf week," and "national ice cream day." This proved to be an amazing source for creative thinking, as there are many food related "holidays" listed for each month. One such site is www.thinkquest.org - you can go by month, or simply pick "food" and it will list all lthe food related "holidays." For example, March 25 was "National Waffle Day," and the variety of waffles and toppings was amazing for an evening meal (some brought breakfast meats to go with). On national milkshake day, we invited everyone born on an odd year to bring sandwiches, everyone born on an even year to bring chips and dip, while our host team prepared a variety of milkshakes for everyone. National cheese week, every dish had to have some kind of cheese. Each month, we fill a poster with pictures and recipes to go with each weekly theme to help those participating explore their creativity. I can honestly say, this method has worked well for us! cooknman

                                                                    1. chef chicklet Apr 9, 2010 09:02 AM

                                                                      Thinking about what I've planned and done over the years, they would be:
                                                                      International - this was my favorite! Done this more than once.
                                                                      The idea stemmed from this. I have so many friends from different countries, backgrounds and religions that I noticed whenever I said I was having a potluck they'd bring a dish they normally ate at home. Its where I first had piri piri, vinya d'hos ( I know that's spelled wrong!) Peruvian Ceviche, and sushi. Also had dishes from Sri Lanka, how fun is that! So the International theme was born.

                                                                      Mexican -close second
                                                                      Pizza and Pasta
                                                                      Soup and Salad - with a movie (actually 2 movies)
                                                                      The Oscars - this is fun if you can get people that are interested. Not everyone is, but we did it.
                                                                      BBQ You would be surprised what people made for this one.From dips, breads, and fruit, just all kinds of things they did on the bbq. Was fun. It helps if you have a large bbq, or a couple. Some lived close buy so they just ran it over. It worked.

                                                                      You could theme after cities, Chicago, Miami, Midwest, and New York. Fun if you are living in New York, do a California Cuisine them and if in CA, do a New York party. I'm know we could get lots of ideas to plan the menu with this board and its members. Plan the party with information about the city or have music that is befitting, pop dvds in.

                                                                      Carnival (Brazil) or Mardi Gras - sheesh so many.

                                                                      1. k
                                                                        Karba1 Aug 15, 2010 08:11 AM

                                                                        We have an awesome pool and enjoy inviting our friends over to enjoy it.
                                                                        Last night we had Pizza Night! Everyone brought their favorite pizza and I made a large salad. It was perfect because it's so easy to just pick up the pizza on the way over. We had 12 different pizzas that all came from different local pizzarias, also 4 home made ones. I wrote the type of pizza and where it came from on the inside cover so everyone could compare them. This was our easiest get together yet!
                                                                        We had Italian night 2 weeks ago which everyone loved. We also do the typical cook out nights but then we have to grill so they are more work. I would like to do an Oriental Take-out night but unfortunately not everyone likes that type of food.
                                                                        When winter comes and we move inside we have movie nights...pizza, popcorn, candy, etc.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: Karba1
                                                                          LaLa Aug 16, 2010 02:41 PM

                                                                          what a fantastic potluck!

                                                                        2. Hank Hanover Aug 15, 2010 08:27 AM

                                                                          I was just invited to an appetizers only pot luck.

                                                                          You could get carried away with the single theme concept.

                                                                          Just desserts
                                                                          Just fruits
                                                                          Just cookies
                                                                          Just cakes
                                                                          Just pies

                                                                          1. alkapal Aug 15, 2010 08:32 AM

                                                                            i want to do a 70s funk music party. get foods from the 70s that reflect great songs or artists of the time.

                                                                            first off the bat: ohio players "fire" FI-YURR! unh-unh. <cue to grill some foods>
                                                                            then, "funky nassau" to cue up some conch fritters...
                                                                            of course, where would we be without the unequalled james brown, maybe "papa's got s brand new bag" -- to cue up some fish en papillote
                                                                            parliament funkadelic? http://musicalstewdaily.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/parliament-funkadelic0720021.jpg maybe some wild jello salad with spiky carrots and celery inside ;-).

                                                                            hmmm, maybe this idea merits a whole thread? EDIT: here's the thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7276...


                                                                            1. d
                                                                              Dcfoodblog Aug 16, 2010 01:45 PM

                                                                              My most successful ones have been where the theme allows for people of all ability levels to make something and it also covers everything from apps to desserts. A few successes for us are:

                                                                              small bites
                                                                              alcohol themed - coq au vin, brandy balls, salad with champagne vinegar

                                                                              1. Bada Bing Aug 16, 2010 02:29 PM

                                                                                If you have friends who actually cook, and for a relatively small occasion, I'd go for "curry party," given that curries take so many forms in many different cuisines. Say you'll provide tons of jasmine and basmati rice.

                                                                                I'd also consider a "vegetable sides" party, with the proviso that I'd be cooking up a ham or brisket or other hunk of flesh to placate the carnivores (among which I count myself).

                                                                                1. j
                                                                                  jarona Dec 10, 2010 05:53 AM

                                                                                  I'm dying to have a potluck dinner party based entirely on different "Slumgullion" recipes.

                                                                                  1. e
                                                                                    emerita Jan 27, 2013 08:40 PM

                                                                                    Something that really worked well for my group was to pick a short word (4-5 letters is best) -- preferably one that relates to why you're having the potluck. Then, those letters all have to be somewhere in the name of the dish each person brings. They can be in any order, and it's fine if
                                                                                    letters are repeated.

                                                                                    Example: you're having the party in April, so people could bring anything from APPLe cRIsP to gRILLed PRAwns.
                                                                                    If it's an event for someone with no more than 5 different letters in his/her name: "Oprah", for instance, would give you POAcHed snAPPeR, APRicOt wHiP, and many more.

                                                                                    Organizers should at least try this out before deciding
                                                                                    on a word that will bring out maximum creativity -- and the rules should always say, "If all else fails, rename the recipe!!" But the results are fun and people look ahead to
                                                                                    doing it again.


                                                                                    1. alkapal Jan 28, 2013 07:39 AM

                                                                                      i can't recall if this was mentioned, but this was a fun thread on a "funk" theme -->> http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/727604

                                                                                      Show Hidden Posts