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How to Keep Cold Food Cold at the Potluck

Updated January 31, 2020
From tailgating to backyard barbecues, there are endless reasons to celebrate with a good ol’ fashioned potluck. But sometimes the hassle of hosting or the stress of bringing a dish that can withstand the elements and impress guests is enough to make you want to RSVP “no.” Put your party pants on, people—we’ve got the best tips for keeping that pasta salad cold and creamy.

The start of summer means many things to many people: swimsuit season, three-day weekends, no school, weddings, family reunions. But at Tablespoon, the summer season can be summed up in two words: party. season. Potlucks, parties, backyard barbecue, Fourth of July—we never run out of reasons to celebrate, no matter if it’s a small get-together or a more-the-merrier throwdown. And while we love any excuse to round up our squad, let’s be honest, we show up for the food.

And while we’re being honest, let’s be real, hosting can take the fun out of a party real quick. You’ve got guests who show up too early, you’ve trying to nail down the timing of the food, and it seems no matter how much you plan, there’s always a last-minute dash to the grocery store. On top of that, Mother Nature seems to have little regard for your outdoor party plans. With any luck, your party will be everything a summer day is supposed to be: sunny, full of blue skies and warm. But therein lies your next problem: how do you keep your cold food cold at the potluck? After all, what’s a summer soireee without a cold and creamy pasta salad, fruit tray of watermelon or cooler full of ice-cold beverages? Answer: we’re not sure because we wouldn’t show up.

Don’t worry, we have a few hacks up our sleeves to share with you so your cold food stays chill and fresh—because no one likes a lukewarm pasta salad.

Greek Tzatziki Pasta Salad

The Safety Rules

According to the USDA Food and Safety Inspection Service, cold food should be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. As a rule, you shouldn’t leave food out at room temperature for longer than two hours and when the temperature rises above 90 degrees, food shouldn’t sit out for any longer than an hour.

The obvious solution is to keep food indoors shielded from the sun and heat, but when you’re trying to minimize the number of people in your house or when you’re at the park or a picnic, the ideal solution or situation isn’t always practical or possible.

Summer Citrus Fruit Salad

No-Brainer Tips and Tricks

  • If you’re hosting the potluck, serve food indoors away from the door where guests are walking in and out. 
  • Keep food covered in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. 
  • After the first round of guests go through the potluck line, put food back in the fridge.  
  • Plastic coolers are your best bet to keep beverages, sandwiches, and other chilled food at an enjoyable temperature for the entire day. Nylon coolers and Syrofoam won’t last quite as long, but they will work for a few hours.

Genius Hacks

  • Freeze your serving trays and bowls in the freezer before filling with food. This helps keep food cold longer. 
  • Buy a large rectangular, plastic storage container. Wrap a large table cloth around the container and fill it with ice. Then nestle bowls and serving trays in the ice. Be sure to pack the ice around each serving vessels.  
  • Buy a plastic kiddie pool and fill it with ice to serve beverages. You can also place your cold food in the kiddie pool. If you’re concerned about the design, you can follow the hack from above and wrap the plastic pool in a large table cloth before filling with ice.  
  • Buy a large metal, rectangular container; the container should be deep. Also buy a smaller rectangular container that can fit inside the larger vessel. This pan should also be deep. Take the smaller pan and press waterproof adhesive in the four corners—putty works well! Set the smaller pan inside of the larger pan and secure. Pour water into the bottom pan until it reaches the bottom of the small pan. Set the entire vessel in the freezer until the water has frozen solid. Once frozen, add more water to the bottom pan until the water line reaches the rim of the bottom pan. Freeze again. When both layers of water are frozen solid, set your cold dish inside the smaller pan and voila! You have a chilled container that will keep your food cold for hours.

Useful Products

  • A beverage tub; metal and copper work well 
  • Inflatable serving bar 
  • Freezable serving platters with covers 
  • Iced acrylic serving trays and/or bowls

A simple Google search will lead you to all kinds of brilliant products that can solve pretty much every potluck problem out there. Speaking of potluck problems, let us help you figure out what to bring or make for the potluck

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