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Best Memorial Day Picnic Recipes and Ideas

Planning a picnic with your friends and family this Memorial Day? Try these top-rated, crowd-pleasing recipes, and get easy tips to make sure everything arrives picnic perfect.

Memorial Day Dessert

Memorial Day Dessert | Photo by Meredith

Memorial Day Picnic Food

Whether you're heading to the beach, park, or your own backyard, these top-rated recipes and prep tips will help make your Memorial Day picnic a success.

Appetizers

Picnics are a nibble and graze kind of event, so be sure to include some easy snacks.

Caprese Appetizer

Caprese Appetizer | Photo by CNM CATERING

You can make a colorful and simple-to-serve Caprese Appetizer ahead of time and store it in a baking dish so it stays coated in olive oil to keep the basil green. Popular dips like Extra Easy Hummus and Best Guacamole are easy to transport and will play nicely with all the vegetable sticks, chips, and crackers that are sure to show up to the party. If you have a little more time, make crowd-favorites like deviled eggs or fresh salsa.

Get more ideas for summer appetizers.


Make-Ahead Main Dishes

Make-aheads free up your time for more lounging on picnic day. You could have a totally make-ahead menu, or combine ready-made dishes with grilled foods. Your choice.

Triple Dipped Fried Chicken

Triple Dipped Fried Chicken | Photo by abapplez

 

If you love fried chicken with a kick of spice, then you can't go wrong with this crispy, crunchy picnic favorite of Triple Dipped Fried Chicken. Served hot or cold, you might want to make a double batch. This video shows you how to make it. Tip: When packing this crispy chicken for a picnic, make sure to cool it completely (so the skin doesn't get soggy) before wrapping in paper bags, to catch any extra oil. 

More make-ahead main dish ideas: Try BBQ Pork for Sandwiches piled high on buns, a giant slice-and-serve Muffuletta sandwich, or a heaping platter of rolls and wraps stuffed with whatever pleases your crowd--a good choice if you have guests with many different dietary restrictions.

Grilled Greats

It's an unwritten law that we should celebrate the unofficial first day of summer by firing up the grill. 

Chicago-Style Hot Dog

Chicago-Style Hot Dog | Photo by bd.weld

An all-American holiday calls for an all-American cookout favorite: the hot dog. We have so many hot dog recipes for you to choose from; this Chicago-Style Hot Dog gives you a hint at all the inventive ways there are to serve them.

The grill is not only for main dishes, like the easy to prepare Spicy Grilled Shrimp and the anything-but-boring Tex-Mex Burger with Cajun Mayo. You can also grill up side dishes like Grilled Corn on the Cob or make dessert Grilled Peaches drizzled with balsamic and topped with blue cheese.

Get more ideas for Memorial Day main dishes, and BBQ and grilled recipes.


On the Side

These make-ahead sides are easy to pack and serve, and will please everyone at the table. Plus, they pair perfectly with dishes from the grill.

Authentic German Potato Salad

Authentic German Potato Salad | Photo by Dianne

In this Authentic German Potato Salad, steamed potatoes are tossed in a sweet-tart dressing of sugar and vinegar, and mixed with a generous helping of bacon. Tip: For extra flavor, double the dressing ingredients and save half to toss with the salad right before serving. 

If slaw is your side of choice, stick with the classic Sweet Restaurant Slaw in a light, creamy dressing, or turn the tables a bit with crunchy and peanut buttery Asian Coleslaw. Prefer pasta? The Antipasto Pasta Salad "serves a crowd and is great for picnics." says Dayna. And, if beans are your thing, you can't go wrong with old-fashioned Boston Baked Beans.

Worried about salads made with mayonnaise-based dressings? New evidence shows that the acid in store-bought mayo may help keep food safer than you think but, it's always a good idea to keep things as cool as possible before serving.

Get more ideas for Memorial Day side dishes and summer salads.


Patriotic Desserts

Picnic-ready sweet treats show the red, white, and blue spirit.

 

Easy to prepare and serve, No-Bake Cheesecake Flag Cake won't heat up your kitchen when you make it, and can feed a crowd. You can use strawberries or raspberries to create the red stripes, if you wish. Tip: To make sure your flag is picture perfect (and the berry juices don't stain the frosting), slice and pack the fruit in separate containers, then top the cake after you get to your picnic perfect spot.

Looking for other festive summer treats? We think you'll love our healthy and refreshing Red, White and Blueberry Fruit Salad or -- if you're feeling ambitious -- this amazing American Flag Cake. (There's a helpful video showing you how to make it.) For a dessert that travels especially well, try your hand at Raspberry Star Cookies with an almond flavored glaze.

Get more ideas for Memorial Day desserts.


Quench Your Thirst

Whether the weather is hot or not, you'll want to have a few refreshing beverages on hand.

Good Ol' Alabama Sweet Tea

Good Ol' Alabama Sweet Tea | Photo by KGora

One of our most popular summer drinks, and a classic thirst-quencher, Good Ol' Alabama Sweet Tea will delight kids and grown-ups alike. Tip: Save a few used plastic soda or milk bottles (carefully washed out) and re-use them to transport your tea without a mess (or breakable glass containers).

If you're still thirsty, whip up a batch of sweet and tangy Vintage Lemonade. And, if you're looking for a drink just for the grown-ups, you'll love Jewel's Watermelon Margaritas or Lemonade Punch (made with a heavy splash of red wine).

Get more ideas for Memorial Day drinks for the whole family.


Picnic Tips

Packing a warm-weather picnic that travels safely between your kitchen and your destination takes a little thought and preparation. These easy tips help it happen.

Chicken Waldorf Salad Picnic

Photo by Meredith

Try this recipe: Simply the Best Chicken Waldorf Salad.

Choose the right recipes:

Avoid recipes with delicate ingredients, like tender-leafed salads that wilt easily. Instead, choose salads made of heartier greens (like kale or romaine), sturdy vegetables, or grains and pasta. Tip: People might be lounging on picnic blankets while they eat, so try to stick to serving foods that are easy to handle with just a fork or a spoon, or that can be eaten out of hand, like hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, ribs, etc.

Pack food in coolers:

Keeping fresh food cold is always a challenge when you're away from home. Tip: See how to pack a cooler so food stays cold and nothing gets soggy or crushed.

Make a picnic checklist:

It's the best way to remember to bring cups, forks, knives, spoons, napkins, plates, bottle openers, serving utensils, etc. Here's a handy picnic checklist that covers the basics. Tip: With all the biodegradable picnic products on the market, it's easy to make earth-friendly choices that free you up from having to lug everything home afterwards.

Make it look good:

Even though the outdoors is decorative in itself, you can make things even more celebratory with a few fun and easy decorations. Head to the local party or dollar store and pick up a few red, white, and blue paper straws and pom poms to decorate drinks; wrap utensils in bandannas instead of napkins; or grab some lawn-safe chalk (the kind used to mark soccer fields) and stencil stars on the turf. Tip: A festive tablecloth can help set the mood and keep things a little tidier, too.

Happy (unofficial) first day of summer!


Find all of our Memorial Day recipes and favorite picnic recipes.


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Jackie Freeman

About Jackie Freeman

Recipe developer, food stylist, culinary tinkerer and mama of two kitchen monkeys! When I'm not cooking (or cleaning up after cooking), I'm outside running, skiing, gardening and dodging Nerf bullets.