Easy, breezy outdoor meals are a hallmark of summer. From last-minute picnics in parks to quick dinners eaten poolside (or just in the backyard), we want dishes that satisfy us without excessive planning or preparation. After all, summer brings a bounty of ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables that basically just ask you to slice them up and set them out.
Summer technically begins June 21, but Memorial Day’s our first long weekend in warm, sunny weather. And you can bet we’re spending a lot of time in the great outdoors. These 24 simple, warm-weather recipes are our go-tos, without question—and we bet they’ll have you celebrating your first day of the season in style.
1. Grilled Corn with Basil Butter
The flavors in this quick and easy grilled corn are magically summery: the herby basil butter complements the natural sweetness of the corn, while the char from the grilling adds a nice element of smokiness.
2. Grilled Avocado “Guacamole” with Parmesan & Basil
You’ll never make guacamole the same way again after trying this version. Grill the avocados before mixing them into this zesty, cheesy spread, which is especially perfect for a backyard BBQ.
3. Grilled Okra with Sriracha Lime Salt
This classic Southern vegetable gets taken in a whole new direction when skewered over the grill and sprinkled with a spicy, tangy Sriracha and lime salt.
4. Grilled Marinated Tomatoes
Juicy summer tomatoes really shine in this easy summer appetizer, which calls for a piquant marinade (lime, fish sauce, chili, and shallot) and a quick kiss from the grill.
5. Our Best Coleslaw
What could be more perfect for an outdoor meal than a bright, crunchy coleslaw? This take on the classic BBQ side dish has lots of za’atar, celery seeds, and tangy Greek yogurt. And if you’re worried about it getting soggy, as some coleslaws notoriously do, worry not—this one’s salted ahead of time, then squeezed before tossing in sauce, so it soaks up all the moisture from the dressing and stays perfectly crunchy for days.
6. Halfsies Chicken
This no-nonsense chicken recipe is perfect for a big crowd—all you need is five simple ingredients and a bit of planning (you just let the chicken marinate overnight before it hits the grill the next day).
7. J. Kenji López-Alt’s Grilled Shrimp Scampi-ish With Garlic & Lemon
This seemingly simple dish is loaded up with tips for the crispiest, juiciest grilled shrimp out there: air-drying, dry-brining, adding baking soda, and snuggling on the skewers.
8. Flank Steak with Green Sauce
As impressive as it is easy to pull together, this tender flank steak can come together in the oven or on the grill, while the chimichurri-esque green sauce needs just a whiz in the food processor.
9. Black Bean & Corn Burgers
These vegetarian-friendly burgers have just the right balance of heat (thanks to paprika, cumin, and chili) and sweet (thanks to fresh summer corn).
10. Alabama-Style Chicken Kebabs
What makes something Alabama-style? A “white” barbecue sauce, which is tart and tangy with mayo and vinegar, that’s famous to the state.
11. Speedy Romeo’s Grilled Pizza with Marinated Tomatoes & Ricotta
The key to pulling off this Genius-approved grilled pizza is simple: buy the ripest, freshest, best tomatoes you can find at the farmer’s market.
12. The Ultimate Vegan Burger, 3 Ways
If you’re trying to eat a little less meat these days, but still crave an umami-rich, juicy-as-heck beef burger, this is the recipe for you. A heap of vegan ground beef, plus cheese, if you please (we do!) come together to form a patty that actually holds together when you griddle or grill it. Sandwich the patty into a toasted bun (or, better yet, an English muffin!), then top it with whatever pickly bits you like best.
13. Michael Ruhlman’s Rosemary-Brined, Buttermilk Fried Chicken
The best part about this fried chicken (aside from the flavor, and tender meat): It’ll hold warm in the oven for up to a few hours, so you can have everything ready to go before any guests show up.
14. Our Best Sweet Potato Fries
We like sweet potato fries that are crunchy but not leathery, tender but not oil-soaked, and sweet potato-ey without being too…well…sweet. With the help of Kenji J. López-Alt’s (yep, the one whose shrimp scampi we also adore!) sage advice on frying, we’ve created a recipe that achieves all those qualities, and then some. These’ll go excellently with any of those burgers or skewers above.
15. Maialino’s Olive Oil Cake
Bake off this crackle-crusted, extra-moist olive cake the day before the big holiday. That way, all you have to do the day of is slice and serve with fresh fruit and dollops of whipped cream.
16. Salted Chocolate Buckwheat Cookie
These gluten-free cookies are tender and crumbly and rich and chocolatey all at once. Make an extra-big batch, because once people get a taste, we guarantee they’ll disappear.
17. Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Pops
These nostalgic ice cream pops are just three ingredients—yellow cake crumbles, vanilla ice cream, and finely diced strawberries—and make the most refreshing dessert on a hot summer day.
18. Molten Dark Chocolate & Black Olive Cake With Caramel Sauce
A molten chocolate cake is always in season—but this one is especially summery, thanks to the inclusion of briny, flavorful black olives. The cake’s best served hot and in the skillet in which it was baked (all you need is a couple of spoons—less dishwashing!), but try it at room temp folded together with a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream.
19. Berries-and-Cream Mini Layer Cakes
These cute little layer cakes make the perfect personal-size dessert. Finish them off with fresh whipped cream, blueberries, and raspberries for an easy treat that still feels very festive.
20. Big-Batch Matador Cocktail
Similar to a margarita, this cocktail for a crowd uses a simple combination of blanco tequila, fresh-squeezed (this is key) pineapple juice, lime juice, and plenty of lime and pineapple wedges for garnish.
21. Tea Thyme Soda
This non-alcoholic bubbly drink is a riff on your favorite iced black tea, plus an herby-sweet thyme syrup. If you do want to go the cocktail route, though, bourbon fits in here nicely.
This sweet, colorful refresher makes the perfect drink for any kids in attendance (although the adults might also like it with a splash of vodka).
23. Red Sangria
This red sangria is an absolute must for any hot-weather get-together; mix up all the ingredients (plus any type of fruit you like), let those flavors meld overnight, and serve over ice the next day.
24. Andrew Chau & Bin Chen’s Matcha Palmer
Extra-refreshing with just the right bit of buzz, this very-green take on the classic Arnold Palmer is the ideal thing to sip on by the pool. Add a heap of boba or grass jelly if you wish—or, truly, a little splash of vodka, rum, or dry champagne.
What are you making for Memorial Day? Firing up the grill? Hosting a potluck? Share all your ideas in the comments below!
We originally published this article in May 2018, but who doesn’t want some new Memorial Day menu ideas in 2020?