Nov 20, 2023 - Food and Drink

Midwest potluck food that people love (or love to hate)

Illustration of utensils with hungry emojis on them.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Potluck foods like meaty casseroles and Jell-O concoctions are stalwarts in Midwest households.

Why it matters: These casual events are unifiers, bringing people together amongst sprinkled bacon bits and greasy goodness.

Driving the news: As the holiday season nears, we asked our Axios Local reporters across the Midwest for their unique dishes and recipes.

  • Below you'll find some of the comforting, zany and quirky foods our region has to offer.

Chicago — Italian beef

Italian beef sandwich in a man's hand
An Italian beef sandwich at Portillo's. Photo: E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Axios' Monica Eng writes that Chicago holiday potlucks feature their share of casseroles and Jell-O dishes — at least they did when she was growing up — but an old standby called Italian Beef has come roaring back these days driven by FX's hit show "The Bear."

  • You can shave and simmer your own thin slices of beef with this Serious Eats recipe and pile them on Italian rolls with sweet and pickled peppers.
  • Or you can order one of several Italian Beef kits, plop the pre-cooked meat and gravy into a slow cooker, place it on the buffet table with the fixins and then enjoy the compliments as they roll in.

Columbus — White Castle stuffing

stuffing in a green bowl
Homemade White Castle stuffing. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

White Castle has been headquartered in Columbus for nearly 100 years, serving up hot and tasty sliders that embody Midwest frugality, writes Axios' Alissa Widman Neese.

  • Several Axios Columbus readers shared their love for stuffing made of White Castle sliders, a dish that combines fast food and Thanksgiving. Their favorite rendition is the one from White Castle itself.

Des Moines — 7-layer Jell-O

7-layer jello in a glass tupperware pan
A 7-layer Jell-O. Photo: Courtesy of Betsy DeGlopper

No potluck is complete without a dessert that wows and nothing shakes up a crowd quite like Jell-O, Axios' Linh Ta writes.

  • Axios Des Moines reader Betsy DeGlopper tells us she makes a "pretty standard 7-layer Jell-O."
  • "Except in my family we call it the 'Damn Jell-O' because it takes so damn long to make! It's become a favorite among my friends and I get asked to make it every year, more because of the name than the actual taste I think!"

👀 Here's a recipe she recommends (and yes, it takes over six hours to prepare).

Twin Cities — Tater tot hot dish

Amy Klobuchar
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) samples entries in the ninth annual Minnesota Congressional Delegation Hotdish Competition. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Tater tot hot dish is a quintessential Minnesota meal because it's cheap, easy to make and contains all the ingredients Midwesterners crave: beef, potatoes and cream, writes Axios' Nick Halter. It warms the soul on a cold winter day.


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