26 Picnic Recipes for DIY Outdoor Dining
The best picnic food is portable, easy to eat, and not too messy. Sandwiches and wraps are a classic choice, of course, as is pasta salad. Having plenty of dips on hand for snacking is never a bad idea, either. And if you've got access to a grill, you can also add things like burgers and grilled pintxos to the menu (just make sure you have a good cooler). Read on for those picnic recipes, and even more meals to pack in your basket.
Pork Belly, Shrimp, and Pickled Tomato Pintxos
These simple, one-bite snacks are quick to assemble. Sticky-sweet pork belly, tender, meaty shrimp, and bright, quick-pickled tomato variations offer something for everyone at the cookout.
Salty-Sweet Chocolate Pretzel Bars
There are only a handful of ingredients in these simple but outrageously decadent dessert bars from Food & Wine's Justin Chapple. If hard pretzels aren't your thing, feel free to swap in thinner pretzels.
Caramelized Five-Onion Dip
A mix of five different alliums-shallots, scallions, and sweet, yellow, and red onions-upgrades this classic caramelized onion dip with layers of flavor. Yellow and red onions give it bite, while Vidalia onion and shallots lend a pleasant sweetness. Taking the time to cook the onions low and slow concentrates their flavor, while adding scallions halfway through cooking keeps them just fresh enough to serve with chips, toasted bread, or vegetables like endive, steamed fingerling potatoes, and roasted Broccolini.
Spicy Cashew-Lemongrass Snack Mix
This sweet and savory snack mix by Kris Yenbamroong of Night + Market is seriously delicious. Lime leaves and lemongrass bring citrusy flavor to the buttery cashews, toasted coconut, and crispy garlic. Frying each element individually ensures crunchy-not burned-components. Use a food processor to make quick work of the garlic.
Pressing this sandwich, packed with olive oil-cured white tuna belly, sun-dried tomatoes, and peppery arugula, allows the vinaigrette to season the entire sandwich and softens the crusty bread. It's best when allowed to rest for the full two hours before serving, making it perfect picnic fare.
Pimento Cheese with Salt-and-Pepper Butter Crackers
Chef Carla Hall makes her own crunchy crackers to serve with her cheese spread, a riff on a Southern classic.
Pasta Salad with Feta and Herbs
This Southern-inspired pasta salad from Mason Hereford's New Orleans restaurant Turkey and the Wolf gets a touch of tangy heat from hot sauce and loads of crunch from nutty sunflower seeds. Use Duke's mayonnaise for an extra bite to the dressing.
F&W's Ultimate Burger
Meat master Pat LaFrieda of LaFrieda Meat Purveyors worked with us to create the most delicious homemade burger blend, combining five cuts of meat into the juiciest, beefiest and most consistently delicious burger you'll ever have.
The small amount of sour cream in this recipe gives the quiche a super-silky texture. We used chopped chives here, but lots of other herbs would be nice, too, such as sage, thyme or rosemary.
Brown-Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Most traditional chocolate chip cookie recipes start by creaming softened butter with sugar. Here, the butter is melted in a skillet until golden brown and nutty first. This simple step does require a bit of extra time (mainly for chilling the butter), but the result is an intensely toasty butterscotch note that makes these thin, chewy cookies irresistible. Using two kinds of bittersweet chocolate (chips and a chopped bar) adds luscious layers to the cookies. A final sprinkle of flaky salt enhances their flavor even more.
Chile-Coconut Watermelon Crudo
This sweet, spicy, and punchy upgrade to classic slabs of salted watermelon is the palate-pleasing appetizer your cookout guests deserve. Fresh coconut water is much sweeter, and has a greater depth of flavor than bottled versions, so crack open a coconut if you can.
Triple-Pea and Asparagus Salad with Feta-Mint Dressing
"This salad brings fresh flavors to the plate with confidence and swagger," Hetty McKinnon writes. "Barely blanched peas mingle with pan-fried sugar snaps, snow peas, and another of my favorite spring ingredients, asparagus, which are cooked on high heat until just tender yet still crisp with the slightest hint of charring to add smokiness."
No summer picnic is complete without these effortless sandwiches from 2007 Best New Chef Gabriel Rucker. Best-quality baguettes get a thick slather of butter and goat cheese, dollops of jewel-toned Blueberry-Beaujolais Jam, and ribbons of salty prosciutto. Wrap these sandwiches in plastic wrap and stash in the top of your cooler for a perfect lunch on a sunny Saturday.
Sweet Corn Succotash with Shiitakes and Sugar Snaps
This bright, buttery succotash by Katy Sparks (BNC 1998) is a perfect summer side dish that comes together in minutes. "My inspiration for this dish is to take a fresh look at an American classic, succotash, which is usually sweet corn cooked together with lima beans or other green beans," Sparks says. "I like to lighten it up with summery snap peas and add meaty shiitakes for depth of flavor. Fresh basil in the smoked paprika butter elevates the whole recipe to something that pairs wonderfully with anything you want to throw on the grill: chicken, pork, fish, burgers, eggplant, and peppers."
Rice Noodle Salad Bowls with Grilled Lemongrass Chicken
Like rice paper rolls and banh mi sandwiches, rice-noodle salad bowls-often categorized at restaurants as rice vermicelli bowls or bun (pronounced "boon," it means noodles in Vietnamese)-can feature many wonderful things, like grilled lemongrass chicken skewers. To make Vietnamese rice-noodle salad bowls, simply layer the ingredients in a bowl and let diners dress and mix up their own at the table. The vegetables provide refreshing crunch and herbal pungency, the noodles carry flavor, and the main feature and toppings are up to you.
Hibiscus-Tangerine Iced Tea
Kay Chun mixes sweet tangerine juice with tart hibiscus tea to create a very refreshing, fruity drink.
In this meatless take on the classic New Orleans sandwich, garlic-infused roasted vegetables take the place of the traditional Italian cold cuts. You might want to make a double batch of the tangy olive relish-it's also delicious in pasta or bean salad, or served on top of grilled or roasted fish.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Cornmeal Skillet Cake
Juicy strawberries and tart rhubarb stud the golden brown top of this simple skillet cake. The mix of all-purpose flour and fine cornmeal gives this dessert a pound-cake-like density, while goat cheese and buttermilk keep the crumb nicely tender and moist. A dollop of rosemary-infused whipped cream ties the sweet and savory flavors together.
Barbecue-Spiced Potato Chips
The secret to these potato chips is in the pre-soak. Soaking the potatoes before frying rinses away excess sugar and starch that could cause the chips to burn; the vinegar helps break down pectin in the potatoes, resulting in ultra crispy chips.
Easy hacks like crumbled chorizo make this restaurant favorite from Claudette Zepeda-an homage to the Sonoran hot dog-easy to pull off for backyard entertaining.
Peach Hand Pies
These summery peach hand pies are a fun alternative to a traditional pie. Freeze them up to a month in advance and pop in the oven for an impressive last-minute dessert.
Best-Ever Cold Fried Chicken
Food & Wine's Justin Chapple likes making extra-crispy chicken that retains its crunch in the fridge, so it's ideal for picnics or just eating right out of the icebox.
In this recipe from chef Sheldon Simeon, tender julienned kamaboko (a pink-and-white fish cake sold frozen at Asian grocery stores) plays off of crunchy scallions, mayonnaise, cream cheese, and sour cream laced with umami-packed dashi concentrate (hondashi). Alaea salt, a red Hawaiian sea salt enriched with volcanic clay, adds color and an earthy flavor. Somewhere between a dip and a spread, Kamaboko Dip is a great appetizer smeared over crackers or bagels or dunked into with fresh crudité.
Masala Paneer Kathi Rolls
Fresh cabbage salad adds a sharp, acidic crunch to these warmly spiced, vegetable-filled rolls.
Potato Salad with Fresh Corn And Basil
Red baby potatoes are ideal for potato salad because their tender skins and creamy interiors 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.
Lee Lee's Double Chocolate Chunk Brownies
While many recipes call for creaming the butter and sugar before adding the eggs, pastry chef Lee Lee Reid whips eggs and sugar together to aerate them, leading to the ultimate brownie consistency. A brownie will only be as good as the cocoa and chocolate you use, so be sure to source the best, like Valrhona. For the cleanest cut, wipe off crumbs and spray your knife with cooking spray in between slices.