23 Memorial Day Recipes for a Memorable Cookout

Lahem Meshwy (Lamb Shish Kebabs)
Photo: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Lydia Pursell

While summer *technically* starts in late June, for us, it really begins throughout Memorial Day Weekend. And with the start of summer comes the start of grilling season, so you may as well throw an epic cookout to celebrate. Think Ultimate Loaded Chili-Topped Hot Dogs, Smoked Brisket, and a Grilled Vegetable Flatbread with Smoked Almond Muhammara that we've dubbed a vegetarian masterpiece. This is an ideal opportunity to grill salads like this Charred Cabbage Salad with Pecan Dukkah and Chile-Lime Butter and to show off peak produce in desserts like an Old-Fashioned Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp. Cool down with refreshing drinks — we're all about agua frescas. Round the whole thing out with impressive side dishes and appetizers. You'll have a memorable menu inspiring meals all season long. Here are 23 summer recipes to make this Memorial Day.

01 of 23

Charred Cabbage Salad with Pecan Dukkah and Chile-Lime Butter

charred cabbage salad
Photo by Antonis Achilleos / Food Styling by Ruth Blackburn / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

Nick Cobarruvias draws on his Mexican heritage for his menu at San Francisco's Otra, layering complex flavor combinations into dishes like this crisp-tender cabbage salad. At the restaurant, he seasons the charred cabbage with the chile-lime butter, which is mildly spicy from árbol chiles and bright from lime zest. The pecan dukkah adds earthiness from the cumin and pops of citrus from the coriander, plus a lovely nutty flavor and texture from the toasted pecans and sesame seeds.

02 of 23

Esquites-Style Poblano Pasta Salad

Esquites Pasta Salad
Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Ruth Blackburn / Prop Styling by Christina Daley

Esquites is the creamy corn salad version of elote, the beloved Mexican street food where corn on the cob is slathered with mayo and sprinkled with chili powder and Cotija cheese. Here, we've taken esquites and turned it into a pasta salad, loaded with charred corn, zucchini, scallions, and poblano chile. A crema-mayo mixture flavored with lime and cilantro adds a bright finish, and Cotija and ancho chile powder seal the deal. The hearty dish is ideal for barbecues or packing for a picnic. We call for orecchiette, but you can also try this with shells, lumachi, or any smaller pasta that will catch the corn kernels in its nooks and crannies.

03 of 23

Pineapple Jalapeño Agua Fresca

Pineapple Jalapeño Agua Fresca

Matt Taylor-Gross / Food Styling by Lucy Simon

Sweet, sour, and just a little spicy, this pineapple jalapeño agua fresca from Roberto Campos at Austin's Masa y Mås is a delight on a hot day. You’d be surprised how combining just three ingredients and a bit of water can result in a drink with deep flavor complexity. Plus, it comes together in just a few minutes and is perfect for a crowd.

04 of 23

Grilled Chicken with Chimichurri

Grilled Chicken with Chimichurri
Victor Protasio

The secret to this perfectly juicy grilled chicken recipe from chef Anthony Endy is twofold: One, let the chicken sit in the aromatic citrus-and-herb flavored brine for 24 hours, and two, once your coals are hot, keep it moving on the grill. After the initial sear, turn the chicken often, and grill until a probe thermometer inserted in the thickest portion registers 155°F. Try serving the chicken with Santa Maria–Style Pinquito Beans and a Mild Tomato Salsa on the side.

05 of 23

Ultimate Loaded Chili-Topped Hot Dogs

Ultimate Loaded Chili-Topped Hot Dogs
Jen Causey

Like any "loaded" situation, this hot dog is all about constructing your plate. Split-top buns allow you to hollow out the sides a bit, fitting extra toppings into each bite. A touch of sweetness in the chili balances out the salt from Corn Nuts and the hot dog, while the sharp bite of pickled jalapeños creates balance. Radishes and sour cream offer a welcome hit of freshness. The chili can easily be made ahead of time for quick assembly the day of.

06 of 23

Smoked Brisket

Horn Barbecue Smoked Brisket
Andrew Thomas Lee

This smoked brisket is self-taught barbecue expert Matt Horn's signature recipe — the star of the menu at his restaurant, Horn Barbecue, in Oakland, California. The 2021 Food & Wine Best New Chef spent weeks perfecting this recipe, and says time is the most important ingredient in this dish. You need to be patient while the meat's internal temperature rises to 203°F (95°C), but it's worth it when your smoked masterpiece is ready.

07 of 23

Lahem Meshwy (Lamb Shish Kebabs)

Lahem Meshwy (Lamb Shish Kebabs)
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Lydia Pursell

Simply spiced with paprika, salt, and pepper, these grilled lamb kebabs have been a mainstay at League of Kitchens instructor Jeanette Chawki's family cookouts for years. Be sure to cut the lamb into equal-size cubes to ensure even cooking, but feel free to mix and match the vegetables on each skewer. Pair these succulent kebabs with Jeanette's creamy Muhammara (Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Dip) and refreshing Biwaz (Parsley and Onion Salad) on thin Lebanese pita for the perfect handheld meal.

08 of 23

Black Cherry–Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches

Black Cherry Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches Recipe
Photo by Greg DuPree / Prop Styling by Christine Keely / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer

Here, homemade chocolate cookies encase store-bought black cherry ice cream for the ultimate ice cream sandwiches. They can keep in the freezer for up to a month, too, so you can easily prepare them ahead of your cookout and then serve them day-of.

09 of 23

Fresh and Easy Piña Coladas

Fresh and Easy Piña Coladas
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Rishon Hanners / Prop Styling by Audrey Davis

Coconut milk provides richness that rounds out sweet-tart chunks of frozen pineapple and adds a creamy texture to this lighter take on classic piña coladas. Be sure to vigorously shake the can of coconut milk before opening to recombine the coconut liquids and coconut cream.

10 of 23

Grilled Okra, Corn, and Tomato Salad

Grilled Corn, Tomato and Okra Salad
Victor Protasio

This next-level summer salad turns heads with its punchy charred jalapeño–and-herb-spiked dressing and a palate-perking topping of toasted crunchy coriander and cumin seeds.

11 of 23

Maine-Style Lobster Rolls

Maine Style Lobster Rolls
Victor Protasio

Former Food & Wine editor Mary-Frances Heck refers to these lobster rolls as "knuckle sandwiches" because they showcase the knuckles—the segments that connect the claws to the carapace—which are the sweetest, most tender meat on a lobster. Dressed simply with mayo, the cold salad sits in a hot, buttered bun. Her tip for tackling the admittedly tedious work of cracking the shells? Do it with a friend and a cold beer.

12 of 23

Coal-Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Coal roasted sweet potatoes
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer and John Somerall / Prop Styling by Audrey Davis

Maximize the life cycle of a fire by cooking hardy vegetables like sweet potatoes directly in the coals. Buried in embers, sweet potatoes become meltingly tender and perfumed with smoky flavor. When they're done, brush away the ashes and any burned skin, leaving charred bits for textural and visual contrast. Crack open the skins, and the smoky flesh becomes the perfect canvas for spicy or sweet seasoned butters, a dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche, or a drizzle of maple syrup.

13 of 23

Yuzu Amaro Spritz

Yuzu Amaro Spritz Recipe

Matt Taylor-Gross / Food Styling by Lucy Simon

When it comes to a simple spritz, the combination of citrus and bittersweet liqueur (like Aperol, Campari, or Cynar) is a classic for a reason. This Yuzu Amaro Spritz is a summer-ready drink from one of New York’s buzziest new restaurants, Principe.

14 of 23

Old-Fashioned Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Old-Fashioned Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp Recipe

Diana Chistruga

The best part of this dessert might just be the absolute ease of putting it together: For all its fruity deliciousness, it takes just 30 minutes of active work time and is basically foolproof.

15 of 23

Grilled Vegetable Flatbread with Smoked Almond Muhammara

Grilled Vegetable Flatbread with Smoked Almond Muhammara Recipe
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

In addition to turning heads at your cookouts, this vegetarian masterpiece is packed with make-ahead options and smart shortcuts. Make the Smoked Almond Muhammara up to three days in advance and stash it in the fridge; you can even skip a step and substitute two cups of jarred roasted peppers for the grilled bell peppers. If you're working with a small grill, cut the flatbread in half, or use lavash instead.

16 of 23

Crispy Fish Burgers

Crispy Fish Burgers

Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Emily Nabors Hall / Prop Styling by Julia Bayless

These fish burgers are an ideal way to use up leftover cooked fish. Any kind of fish will work nicely here, but grilled or roasted snapper or sea bass is especially delicious.

17 of 23

Potato Salad with Fresh Corn and Basil

Potato Salad with Fresh Corn and Basil Recipe
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Dickey / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

Red baby potatoes are ideal for potato salad because of their tender skins and creamy interiors that hold together, even when cooked. Quickly soaking the onions in vinegar mellows their bite and allows the summery fresh herbs to shine in the dressing. Be sure to taste the salad after chilling and adjust the seasoning before serving.

18 of 23

Shrimp Pakora Sliders with Coconut-Cilantro Chutney

Shrimp Pakora Sliders
Photo by Jennifer Causey / Prop Styling by Julia Bayless / Food Styling by Ruth Blackburn

These sandwiches inspired by Indian street food feature crunchy fried shrimp topped with a smear of herbal coconut chutney on a soft bun.

19 of 23

Green Curry Beef Skewers with Fried Basil Oil

Green Curry Beef Skewers Recipe
David Loftus

"Although green curry paste goes well with all types of meat, it brings out the best in red meat," cookbook author Leela Punyaratabandhu says. "I use beef here, but just as often I use boneless lamb from the leg. The basil oil is a finishing touch that perfumes the dish with the scent of Thai basil and provides richness."

20 of 23

Pasta Salad with Feta and Herbs

Pasta Salad with Feta and Herbs Recipe
Eric Wolfinger

This colorful, eclectic pasta will fit in well with any cookout spread. Use Duke’s mayonnaise for an extra-tangy bite to the dressing. 

21 of 23

Grilled Corn with Cotija and Quicos

Grilled Corn with Cotija and Quicos Recipe
Aubrie Pick

Slather charred sweet corn hot off the grill in tangy lime mayonnaise and then top with extra-large crunchy quicos, or corn nuts. For a plated version, cut the kernels from the cobs and toss with lime mayo and quicos, then scoop and serve.

22 of 23

Strawberry Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

three strawberry cupcakes with cream cheese frosting
Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Lydia Pursell

These sweet and tangy Strawberry Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting pair juicy, fresh berries with vibrantly colored and concentrated freeze-dried strawberries for the ultimate summer treat. Processing the dried strawberries with a touch of sugar helps to keep them from clumping together so they evenly disperse in the batter. A simple, not-too-sweet cream cheese frosting keeps these moist and tender cakes well-balanced and beautifully decorated.

23 of 23

Barbecue Bloody Mary

Barbecue Bloody Mary
Eric Medsker

Chris Lilly has been at the helm of Big Bob Gibson's Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama, for some time now, constantly perfecting and producing quintessential barbecue goodness. His flavorful Bloody features beef jus (save the drippings from your next barbecue, or use unsalted beef broth) and smoked celery salt.

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