How to Host a Pot Luck – Celebrate Fall with an Outdoor Dinner and Friends

It’s the ‘pot luck’ time of year when we aren’t sure what our weather will be doing until we lift the lid on the day.  Some mornings the heat and humidity are aggressive long before the sun wakes up. The next, you need a sweater even in the late morning.

But just knowing that we will soon have cooler weather more consistently has me thinking of being outside even more than normal.  And one of the things I would love to plan this year is an outdoor Pot Luck.

Now, if it has to do with social gatherings, we southerners like to think we invented it.  However, there is a good possibility these informal gatherings have been going on since the late 1700s.  A man by the name of Thomas Nashe used the term in a work of 16th Century writing.

But the pot luck we are most familiar with became a regular social gathering more than likely during the Depression in the 30’s.  It was a great way to stretch a little into a lot.

Just so you know: This post contains affiliate links; if you click on a link and make a purchase I might make a small commission, but it does not affect the price you pay!

outdoor pot luck with dishes of every type

The Meaning of Pot Luck

The term ‘pot luck’ actually stems from the English words combined – ‘pot’ being a vessel for food, and ‘latch’ being the luck.  Together, is was called a ‘potlatch’. 

Daddy used to tell us to ‘pay your nickel and take your chances’.  This is a good way to describe a pot luck meal.  Each attendee brings a dish to the gathering.  Sometimes, the host or hostess will request a certain type, such as a vegetable or a dessert. 

However, most times, each person will bring whatever they have to prepare.  In some cases, if the person doesn’t cook, they will bring fruit, or even paper goods.

faith family and funerals are a common reason for pot luck meals

The 3 F’s

In the south, there are primarily three reasons to have a pot luck:

Faith –

Quite often, a church will have a pot luck after services on Sundays.  These are probably the most famous pot luck meals.  They may be hosted on the 1st Sunday of every month, or even the 5th Sunday, but it is rare that a church doesn’t have one. 

The biggest blessing to these (outside of the renowned dishes some of the women are famous for), is that usually, anyone and everyone is invited.

Family –

Family gatherings can get rather large.  So to take some of the weight off of the host/hostess, each family member usually brings an item or two.  It is usually up to the host/hostess to offer the main course, and then everyone else pitches in with vegetables, breads and desserts.

Funerals –

Here in the south, tt is considered a major ‘faux pas’ to not bring a dish to a person who has recently lost a loved one.  In fact, there are usually so many food contributions, there is usually one person or a team assigned to assist the bereaved by accepting food, and keeping a list of who brings what in which dish. 

Often, at least two people are assigned to stay at the home to receive food from those who could not attend the funeral, as well as to prevent any would-be thieves from illegally entering an otherwise empty home.

This person or team comes armed with a notebook, pad of paper, pen, masking tape and a sharpie marker. 

These supplies help to first, keep track of each dish that comes into the home.  The name of the person who brought it and the dish they brought (brownies, Chicken Casserole, etc.) is written in the notebook. 

Using a strip of masking tape, the contributor’s name is once again written down, and then the tape is stuck to the bottom of the dish.

The pad of paper is used to leave notes for the family – whether it is a phone message, or the name of anyone who stops by.

This helps in a couple of ways.  First, the bereaved family knows who helped in their time of sadness.  Second, once the food has been eaten, then the dish can be returned to the proper person, along with a thank you note.

having an outdoor pot luck with friends and good food

Up the Luck in the Pot Luck

Although these are the most common reasons for a pot luck, it is also fun to have a pot luck, just for the sake of having one. Summer usually has us busy with tending the garden, harvesting and preserving, and spending time tending our yards.

With the weather getting cooler, things begin to slow down, and we can focus more on social activity. Maybe it’s time to haul tables outside, toss on a tablecloth and invite our friends for a Pot Luck Dinner.

These are one of the easiest gatherings to have.  It takes just an hour or two (depending on how many folks you are inviting) to set up tables and chairs.  Another hour, maybe, to prepare a main dish.  Stack plates, utensils, glasses and napkins on the corner, and you have everything you need.

choose to dine outdoors for a pot luck

Food for a Pot Luck

I was discussing pot lucks with Alona the other day, and there appeared this special gleam in her eye.  It stemmed from the fact she is a Pot Luck guru around here. 

That gleam stems from the fact that she can organize a pot luck, cook a (huge, MASSIVE) pot of Chicken Spaghetti, set the tables and give you a mental list of what everyone is going to be bringing in under an hour. She is the Queen of Pot Lucks!

According to this ‘expert’, no southern pot luck is complete without a baked ham, fried chicken and a bowl of purple hull peas.  All the food will probably fit on one long table, but you better have two tables for the desserts. 

The Farm Wife in the Kitchen Cookbook

She had me drooling as she rattled off not only the menu, but also the recipes.  Women I have never heard of before were spoken of in combination with their cooking skills.  And I laughed when Alona said I reminded her that she needed to talk to Kay about her dumpling recipe. 

Now, Alona says that Kay makes a dumpling recipe calls for peaches and 7-Up, where Alona’s calls for apples and Mountain Dew.  Now, you KNOW that was a recipe I had to ask for.  I got Alona’s, but am still waiting for Kay’s. You know, for comparison purposes only…

the food list for a pot luck meal

The Food List

Now, there is no way I can tell you who makes what dish, or which one is better than the other.  But here is a list of what you may find on a Pot Luck table here in the south.  And a few of them are links to recipes.  I mean, I just can’t leave you hanging now, can I?

If there is something on the list you would like a recipe for, just email me at and ask.  If I don’t have it, then there is no doubt that Alona does.  And if she doesn’t, one of the women at my church, someone from Social Springs Baptist church, or one of my neighbors’ is bound to have it!

Just keep in mind, this isn’t an endless list.  There are so many delicious dishes served at a pot luck, that I would need a ream of paper just to name them all.  But this is definitely a good start!

a ham baked with pineapple rings for a pot luck dinner

Main Dish

  • Baked Ham
  • Fried Chicken
  • Gumbo
  • Roast Beef
  • Chicken Spaghetti
  • Barbecue – ribs, chicken, etc.

twice baked potato casserole

Vegetables / Sides

  • Dressing
  • Asparagus & English Pea Casserole
  • Macaroni & Cheese
  • Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows
  • Squash Casserole
  • Squash Dressing
  • Purple Hull Peas
  • Green Bean Casserole
  • Broccoli Casserole
  • Carrots – Glazed, steamed, or in a Carrots & Cheese Casserole
  • Creamed Corn (not from a can, but actually homemade)
  • Corn Casserole
  • Potatoes – mashed, boiled with Parsley & Butter, Twice Baked Casserole, etc.
  • Relishes – pickled beets, pickles, olives, marinated tomatoes, Squash Pickle, etc.
  • Sliced fresh Tomatoes
  • Rice – plain, seasoned, or in a casserole

a bowl of colorful pasta salad


  • Pasta – there are about 100 ways I have seen this made
  • Tossed Green – with an assortment of dressings
  • Corn
  • Cornbread – yes, there is actually a recipe for Cornbread Salad
  • Tomato
  • Broccoli – I have Peggy Ray’s recipe for this, and it is excellent!

a basket of muffins for a pot luck


These range from store-bought (for those who don’t have time to cook, or can’t), to homemade.

an apple pie made with a cheese crust


  • Cakes – oh, the cakes!   Chocolate, Lemon, Coconut, Pound, Italian Cream, Hummingbird, etc., etc., etc.
  • Pies – the same as cakes – apple, peach, pecan, chocolate, lemon, coconut, pear, and more…
  • Brownies
  • Cookies
  • Banana Pudding
  • Apple Dumplings – (this is Alona’s, using Mountain Dew.  I can’t wait to find out how Kay makes hers!)
  • Holly’s Blueberry Dumplings

I’m sorry.  I just cannot keep listing all the desserts.  I am drooling, and I think I just gained 10 pounds!

a cast iron pot with vegetables and spices

The Luck of the Pot

If you are ready to spend some time outside, with family, friends or neighbors, try one of the easiest social gatherings the south has to offer.

They are fun, and they fill not only your body with delicious food, but it will also nourish your very soul with comfort and the warmest blanket of love and friendship you can ever imagine.

(And don’t forget the pitchers of sweet tea and lemonade.  No true southern Pot Luck would be without them!)

(pssst) two ducks listening

I figured that after reading this post you might be a little hungry, and are ready to try some of the recipes. Just so you can have them at your fingertips, I added 9 of them to this e-book. And it’s yours for free! Just click here for your Pot Luck eBook!

Still want more? There are nine other recipes just waiting for you to download them. They are a preview of the type of southern family-style recipes you can find in The Farm Wife Cookbook.

And if you like all of these recipes, you can purchase a copy of The Farm Wife Cookbook! Just click HERE to read all about it and get your free recipes. The link for those is at the bottom of the sales page!

Want More Ideas for Fun with Family & Friends?

You can find them here!

A Circle of Friends

Have a Canning Party!

Lawn Games – How to Have Old-Fashioned Fun

How to Have Fun with a ‘Swap’ Meet

Take Time for a Coffee Break

Perfect Portable Fun!

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.


  1. I’d add a fourth F to the list. Friends. Some of the ones I’ve attended have been faith, but mostly they’ve centered around friends. We get together around a theme and bring foods – and we let the host know ahead of time, so that not everyone is bringing the proverbial potato salad. The host makes sure all the basic food groups are covered. And gives a heads up if a vegetarian is coming – no this does not mean all items need be vegetarian, but that there is enough for a balanced meal for any food restriction. (I can’t eat most tree nuts, for instance.) Oh, one great thing about the best of pot lucks – you do get to go home with recipes you are likely to make down the road! I truly enjoy pot lucks.

    1. Author

      I am so glad you liked the post. And those are some great ideas! It sounds like I need to beg for an invitation to your next one. And I LOVE getting all the great recipes!!!

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