When I plan my Thanksgiving meal, the first thing I think about is not the turkey, nor the stuffing. It’s the pie. I love pumpkin pie and apple pie, of course, but there are so many others: double-crusted blackberry pie, sweet-tart Shaker lemon pie, smooth chocolate cream pie, and decadent peanut butter pie. I could choose just a couple, but I’ve come up with a better way to enjoy them all: I throw a pie potluck.
The idea of hosting a pie potluck came after spending a few Thanksgivings with my second family—my best friend’s parents. Every year, they host up to 50 people for a potluck dinner, and at the end, we gather around an enormous, groaning table full of pies made by the guests. It’s a brilliant way to end the meal—it extends the celebration and gives people a reason to linger. It also gives guests the opportunity to contribute to the meal and lets us enjoy as many pies as we can stomach. We pile our plates high, pour cups of coffee, and play a huge game of charades that goes late into the night.
For me, a pie potluck is the perfect way to get friends together before or after our family Thanksgiving dinners, and some years (read: pandemic), it was a fun stand-in for a more formal sit-down meal—something we could do outside with a lot less fuss and formality. It has quickly become everyone’s favorite tradition, the party friends ask about, hoping for an invitation. Over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two about hosting a pie potluck that goes smoothly. Here are some of my tips:
1. Seed the Table With a Few of Your Favorite Pies
You don’t want your guests to show up to an empty table. So as the host, you’ll want to provide at least a couple of pies of your own, if not three or four. Making a handful of pies takes some planning. Pick ones that can bake in the oven together at the same temperature and that use the same kind of crust, so you only have to make a double or triple batch of dough. Choose a mix of baked pies and some that only needs the bottom crusts baked, like cream pies. Make the dough three days ahead and blind bake the crusts up to two days before your party. Custard fillings can also be made ahead of time. Then, all you have to do is bake the last of the pies the night before the party.
2. Avoid Duplicate Pies
Everyone loves apple pie, but you don’t want to end up with five of them. Create an online spreadsheet for guests to add the pie they plan to bring. If your crew is a bit older, start an email chain and then, send a final reminder with a list of pies once everyone responds. This way, people can see what others will bring and you won’t have duplicates.
3. Keep It Informal
Set up chairs all over the house, or if it’s not too cold, throw picnic blankets down on your yard. A pie potluck isn’t a sit-down meal. Organize a game of charades or celebrity—a slightly chaotic party encourages people to hang out and return for another rounds of pies.
4. Don't Use Paper Plates
Just because the party is informal doesn’t mean you should use flimsy serving plates. Pie is heavy and most paper plates can’t hold the weight of a few slices. Instead, bring out all your plates and forks—it’s okay if they are mismatched. If you don’t have enough, grab a bunch from a thrift shop. You’ll also need many pie servers—your guests won’t remember to bring their own.
5. Serve Something Savory
While I love pie, there’s only so much sugar I can take before they need a hit of salt. So, set out a tray of cheese—cheddar and apple pie go so well together!—crackers, and some crudité. Your guests will thank you for it.
6. Invest in a Percolator
Round out the party with a big pot of coffee—its bitterness balances out all that sweet pie. A few years ago, I bought a large, affordable electric percolator—the kind you see in banquet halls—and it has served me well.
7. Whip up Lots of Cream
People love whipped cream with pie. Just before the party, I whip up a big bowl and put it on the table with the whisk still in it—it's a great serving utensil.