By KAYLEE BREWSTER and MICHELLE SCHMIDTInland360 writers Kaylee Brewster and Michelle Schmidt are sisters with over 58 combined years of potluck experience. They specialize in church potlucks, which can be notoriously difficult to navigate.
With communal meal season at its peak during the Fourth of July, they offer their collective wisdom for those embarking on the ultimate culinary crapshoot: the potluck.
Kaylee Brewster: The best kind of potlucks are the “we’re having hamburgers, bring something to go with it” potlucks because if everything else falls apart, at least you’ve got hamburgers. With the other ones you might starve. Or be sustained by baked beans.
Michelle Schmidt: Yep. Beans make an appearance at every potluck, guaranteed. And salads, both good and scary. But you’ve gotta try stuff – you don’t know what’s going to be good.
KB: That’s like the potluck motto: “You just don’t know.”
MS: OK, so besides the beans and salads you’ve got the Jell-o, in its many forms.
KB: I remember being confused as a kid about whether Jell-o was a dessert or a salad. Because as a kid you could only get a certain number of desserts and I didn’t know what Jell-o counted as. And they usually put it as a buffer between the normal food and the desserts.
MS: Sometimes at potlucks, I wonder if people are messing with me. Like maybe they intentionally brought bad/weird food, knowing no one will know who did it. It’s like, I don’t know, food terrorism. This happens with cupcakes.
MS: I’m telling you, at a potluck they’re not a good bet. Kids are especially vulnerable. Somehow they look so good, so promising, but you bite into it and it’s a total lie. Every single time.
KB: I think brownies are relatively safe.
MS: And brownies are always there. If there are 20 things at a potluck, one of them will be brownies.
KB: Cookies can go either way. You can get good ones like chocolate chip or you can bite into one and it’s raisin pecan.
MS: That’d be another form of food terrorism, raisin cookies at a potluck.
KB: Still, desserts are the safest part of a potluck.
MS: Agreed. But I feel like we were fortunate to grow up in the pre gluten-free era. Because now with baked goods, you just have to be careful.
KB: Sometimes I accidentally get the gluten free ones and I feel guilty eating it because I just ate somebody’s dessert.
MS: Me, I feel angry and misled when I bite into something gluten-free. Because now I’m eating cardboard. High-calorie cardboard.
MS: OK. Last question. Is it “potluck” or “covered-dish dinner?”
MS: I agree. Especially if you’re in Washington. Unless you’re in the Clarkston city limits.
One hundred choices, one plate : Kaylee Brewster offers these tips on potluck success:
1 Focus on heat the first time around. Once that fried chicken or tater-tot casserole loses its warmth, it’s not coming back. With plate real estate at a minimum, go for the hot stuff while it’s hot and save your salads for the second go around.
2 Try it all. If you don’t know what’s good, take a little of everything. If it’s bad, you’ve only wasted a spoonful and if it’s good, well you can go back and load up on more. Sure you might only find a couple keepers, but at least you didn’t load up the entire plate with losers.
3 Aim for the middle. If you’re one of the first through the line, you don’t know what you’re getting into — a veritable canary in the coal mine. But if you go at the end of the line, all the good stuff is gone. Get in line after the scouts have gone ahead.
4 Prioritize limited items. There will be a hundred brownies to choose from at the dessert table, but only one five-layer chocolate cake. Take the cake first and the brownies will be there for you later.