Not Martha

Why jars are great for bringing food to cookouts

Thank you GLAD for sponsoring this post. Learn how you can reduce waste at your next party!

A few years back I baked pies in jars because I thought it was a cute idea. Later I brought pies on a weekend getaway and found the jars were a handy way to transport and serve them. I’ve been using jars as serving containers for parties and picnics ever since. I’ve talked about my love of jars before but I have not laid out all the reasons why, so here they are:

  • You can seal them up to contain any potential mess while transporting food.
  • After the food is eaten you can close the jars and contain any leftover stickiness until you get home to wash them.
  • If you’re making a baked good you can bake it right in the jar ahead of time. If you’re headed out to a vacation home you can prepare and freeze the dessert, then bake one at a time as people get hungry. I’ve found that particularly nice as it allows people to graze if they’d like.
  • If you’re seated on a picnic blanket I find them easier to eat out of than trying to keep a plate level. (I am a clumsy person and always end up tipping a plate at picnics.)
  • They are water tight so you can fill them with ice cream or pudding and stick them in a cooler without worrying that water from melted ice will ruin dessert.
  • They are a fun way to present the foods. Jars have become pretty well known on blogs and Pinterest but people at bbqs will appreciate the novelty and declare you a genius.
  • Individual portions eliminate the need to bring extra serving utensils or use plastic wrap to cover a serving dish that doesn’t have a lid.
  • Something I found at the last bbq I attended: it’s very simple to send extras home with people because the treat is already ready to go, you just hand them a jar.
  • Similarly if you bring home leftovers they are ready to be stuck in the freezer for later.
  • You can use jars to give out food as favors or as great packaging for a bake sale item. (Tip: I’ve discovered people are happy to pay a bit more for something in jar packaging.)
  • If you’re setting out a few dips jars work wonderfully. For a cookbook club I brought pretzel sticks with three different kinds of mustard and jars worked perfectly for serving containers.
  • My favorite: I have a very small kitchen and don’t have space to store the sorts of serving dishes that would be great to have for picnics but I can store a few stacks of jars in the back of my cabinet.

Small tip: Keep the box the jars come in, it makes the best tray to carry the jars either to your back yard or to a friend’s house.

The pies pictured above were ones that I brought to a friend’s house for a backyard cookout. After I got home and washed the jars I realized that nothing ended up being thrown into the trash through the whole process save the excess flour I wiped off the counter. Oh yeah, racking up those environmental points.

If you are using the jars for favors you can include a list of uses for after the contents have been eaten. Here is a list I included with a bunch of cobblers I made for a bake sale:

  • Shake a vinegrette for a salad (1 part balsalmic + 4 parts olive oil + salt and pepper + maybe a touch of mustard + a drop of water).
  • Use it to store dried annuals seeds in the back of the fridge until April rolls around.
  • Use it to store leftover lemon juice or zest in the freezer.
  • Use it to store that last 1/2 cup of buttermilk leftover from making pancakes.
  • Throw loose coins in it and save up for a really good chocolate bar.
  • Keep a stash of cinnamon sugar or vanilla sugar.
  • Sip some nice bourbon out of it while sitting on a shady porch.

We use ours for salad dressing and bourbon more often than I would have suspected.

You can also use a larger jar to collect used flatware and transport it home where you can wash it:

Picnic season is almost here (yaaaay)! Do you have any tips for entertaining? Any clever things you’ve found that help keep trash to a minimum? Share so we can ooooh over your genius.

· comments [29] · 05-1-2012 · categories:food ·

29 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Julie // May 1, 2012 at 7:32 am

    Oh, I love them! What a cute idea– especially those little tiny jars. Perfect portion sizes, and easy to handle– and the wind won’t blow them away! And I love that they are “green”. Great post! thanks for sharing.

  • 2 megan // May 1, 2012 at 7:54 am

    Julie – You are right, they won’t be flying off the picnic tables!

  • 3 Andie Miller // May 1, 2012 at 7:57 am

    You have completely won me over! Simply my favorite bake sale item is the one in glass jars and I have become know for it at our church. I, too, keep a small supply of glass jars on hand for the odd, but effective uses whether it is shuttling a leftover to work for lunch or storing a small amount of some leftover baking supply for next time. Keep spreading the world (and saving a plastic “tree”)!

  • 4 Melanie Saucier // May 1, 2012 at 8:07 am

    I LOVE Mason Jars! I always have supply on hand. I use them in many circumstances but those mini-jars? and for picnics? YES!

  • 5 Alison // May 1, 2012 at 8:30 am

    I love my mason jars too (but have never tried to make PIE in them…must try soon). I use them for everything…most recently sorting my kids homework supplies. It looks pretty on my table, and keeps them organized. Great post!

  • 6 Maggie // May 1, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Great ideas! I’ll definitely be using some of these ideas on the stash of baby food jars I have hoarded away in my garage. :D

  • 7 KC // May 1, 2012 at 9:56 am

    This is brilliant! At our family functuions, there’s always kids touching food with disgusting, unwashed hands or people coughing and sneezing right over the food. This is the perfect solution for that.

  • 8 Alicia // May 1, 2012 at 11:51 am

    My friend Rachel had the brilliant idea to use Mason jars to transport margaritas for 40 in a suitcase for a mobile party:

  • 9 KC // May 1, 2012 at 11:53 am

    It is not too incredibly clever, but we bought enough “cafeteria silverware” to feed as many people as our largest parties and then some, and I love it. It nests for storage (unlike mismatched or plastic flatware, over 70 place settings fit in a box that’s about the size of a 5lb bag of flour), it’s cheap enough that we’re happy to loan the whole pile and the inevitable shrinkage doesn’t matter very much (about 65 cents per “place setting” of knife, dinner fork, and teaspoon), and at the end of meals/parties/picnics, we just have this 12 cup plastic container next to the trash can for people to stick their dirty silverware in, then we put the lid on to bring it home. No more guessing how many place settings of plastic we need to buy before each party! No more running out of forks when people come back for dessert! No more odds and ends of leftover new plastic cutlery after every single party/picnic! No more “good silverware” going missing! I really, really enjoy it.

  • 10 Kristin A. // May 1, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Oh hells yes Alicia! Margaritas in a jar!

  • 11 megan // May 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Alicia – Love it, that is genius and I’m sure the party goes appreciated it a lot!

  • 12 R Heart // May 1, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    A nice “add on” to your mason jars. A drinking lid. Sorta pricey but a neat idea.

  • 13 Katy Kelly // May 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    This is awesome! I love all the ideas, and I can’t wait to try some of them!

  • 14 Nia // May 1, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    I am obsessed with these jars. I buy the plastic lids for them. Much easier to use. I use them for my preschoolers and infants lunch at school, to store frozen baby homemade baby food. For parties, my mom invested in plates and silverware. We pass them around the family to use instead of paper. I also use fabric napkins at home, we use these for parties too.

  • 15 Melissa // May 1, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    You’re gonna love this:

  • 16 Jen // May 1, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    One of my friends bought a pile of cutlery from Value Village that comes out for parties. She’ll lend it to us if we’re having a party, even without her, just as we’ll lend her our folding chairs without expecting an invitation. Cutlery takes up very little space. You can have like a dozen settings in a tub the size of a shoe box.

    I’d also like to get the word out about renting dishes and the like from an event supplier. Many people aren’t aware that they don’t have to wash anything before returning, or that potential breakage is already included in the price. You don’t need huge numbers, like, a wedding, to do this. You can totally rent just enough for a small dinner party or just a set of champagne flutes or even a single fancy-ass cake stand if you want. And it’s not all fine dining pieces: there are basic dishes, too, that will not look strange with your mismatched thrifted/charity shop cutlery.

    I always try to encourage people to bring their own reusable place settings to group picnic-y potlucks, but it sometimes falls on deaf ears and someone wants to bring the paper plates/plastic cups/plastic cutlery as their potluck “contribution.” I bring my own anyway.

  • 17 megan // May 1, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    KC and Jen – That is a great idea. Should I ever hold a party I think I’ll head out and get a huge stack of silverware that I can keep in the back of my cabinet.

  • 18 megan // May 1, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    R Heart and Melissa – Those are both awesome!

  • 19 megan // May 1, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    Nia – I didn’t realize plastic lids will fit, I’ll have to find some of those considering how often I use the jars.

    Jen – Awesome, thanks for the reminder about rental. I didn’t realize they didn’t need to be washed before returning them!

  • 20 KC // May 2, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    The plastic lids are sometimes sold as “freezer” lids (since you can use them if you make freezer jam), in case that helps. is the flatware I got; due to being just cut-and-formed from sheet metal (cheap in all senses of the word, but functional), the forks and spoons nest nicely for storage and moving (important in small apartments!), and now I never worry about whether there will be enough forks when a herd of random extra guests appear. But a few jars of thrifted or whatever flatware in the back of a cupboard would be a great way to go for more sanely-sized occasions.

    I’m intrigued by the cloth napkin idea, but am somewhat discouraged by the lasagna-stained ones already in our closet (which are accompanied by variably-faded napkins that resulted from different attempts at stain treating). Are there tricks to cloth napkin happiness? Ways to reduce wrinkles/ironing/staining/fading?

  • 21 Marissa | Pinch and Swirl // May 4, 2012 at 8:58 am

    So many great ideas here, thank you! Especially love the ‘pies in jars’ idea…

  • 22 Adriene // May 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    I declare you the genius of the week! I have jars sitting around taking up space and irritating my hubby, but I never thought of baking right in them. Mini cheesecakes, here I come!

  • 23 Maria // May 7, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    Jars are so fun! Can’t wait to use them this summer!

  • 24 laura h // May 8, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    I love the fact that your post is contradictory to your sponsor. :)

  • 25 megan // May 8, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    Laura – Actually Glad is sponsoring this post because they have a “One Bag” campaign encouraging people to cut down on the amount of things they use for entertaining and parties that would end up in landfills!

  • 26 Kristen // May 9, 2012 at 9:33 am

    I love the jars idea and can’t wait for Shaina’s (food for my family) book to come out for desserts in jars. I think it is such a great idea!

  • 27 jennifer // May 11, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Awesome ideas! I have been saving every glass jar for months; now I have some great ideas thanks to you.

  • 28 elizabeth // Jul 1, 2012 at 2:26 am

    Love this. I have a hard time tossing out glass jars. I have a ten month old who goes through a ton, also formula cans. I dress up the tin cans and use them for craft supplies. My stepdaughter lined the bottom of her bead toolbox with the small baby food jars to store her beads by color. Jars are great!!

  • 29 Andrea Merrigan // Feb 17, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    What a great idea…I will have to remember this. I shared this on my Weekend wanderings post today.

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