28 Picnic Recipes for DIY Outdoor Dining

Vegetarian Muffulettas Recipe
Photo: Photo by Antonis Achilleos / Food Styling by Rishon Hanners

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 dishes 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.

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Pork Belly, Shrimp, and Pickled Tomato Pintxos

Pork Belly, Shrimp and Pickled Tomato Pintxos Recipe
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

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.

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Salty-Sweet Chocolate Pretzel Bars

Salty-Sweet Chocolate Pretzel Bars
© Marcus Nilsson

There are only a handful of ingredients in these simple, delicious dessert bars from Food & Wine's Justin Chapple, including graham crackers, bittersweet chocolate chips, and thin hard pretzels. They only take an hour to make, and are easily portable, too.

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Caramelized Five-Onion Dip

Caramelized Five Onion Dip
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Rishon Hanners / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

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 a 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.

04 of 28

Spicy Cashew-Lemongrass Snack Mix

Spicy Cashew Lemongrass Snack Mix
Aubrie Pick

This sweet and savory snack mix by chef 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.

05 of 28

Pan Bagnat

Pan Bagnat Recipe
Aubrie Pick

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.

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Pimiento Cheese with Salt-and-Pepper Butter Crackers

Pimento Cheese with Salt-and-Pepper Butter Crackers
© CON POULOS

Chef Carla Hall makes her own crunchy crackers to serve with her cheese spread, a riff on a Southern classic. The pimiento cheese can keep in the fridge for one week, while the crackers can be stored overnight in an airtight container.

07 of 28

Pasta Salad with Feta and Herbs

Pasta Salad with Feta and Herbs Recipe
Eric Wolfinger

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.

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F&W's Ultimate Burger

F&W’s Ultimate Burger
© Con Poulos

Meat master Pat LaFrieda of Pat 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. Keep the toppings simple — we call for ketchup, mustard, torn lettuce, and sliced tomatoes — to let the patty shine.

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Quiche Lorraine

Quiche Lorraine
© Abby Hocking

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.

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Brown-Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe
Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Rishon Hanners / Prop Styling by Sarah Elizabeth Cleveland

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.

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Chile-Coconut Watermelon Crudo

Chile Coconut Watermelon Crudo Recipe
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

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.

12 of 28

Triple-Pea and Asparagus Salad with Feta-Mint Dressing

Triple-Pea and Asparagus Salad with Feta-Mint Dressing
Caitlin Bensel

"This salad brings fresh flavors to the plate with confidence and swagger," cookbook author Hetty McKinnon says. "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."

13 of 28

Sweet Corn Succotash with Shiitakes and Sugar Snaps

Sweet Corn Succotash with Shiitakes and Sugar Snaps Recipe
Photo by Tara Donne / Food Styling by Chris Lanier / Prop Styling by Raina Kattelson

This bright, buttery succotash by Katy Sparks (F&W Best New Chef 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."

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Rice Noodle Salad Bowls with Grilled Lemongrass Chicken

Rice Noodle Salad Bowls with Grilled Lemongrass Chicken
Greg DuPree

Like rice paper rolls and banh mi sandwiches, rice-noodle salad bowls — often categorized at restaurants as rice vermicelli bowls or bun (the name of the 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.

15 of 28

Vegetarian Muffulettas

Vegetarian Muffulettas Recipe
Photo by Antonis Achilleos / Food Styling by Rishon Hanners

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.

16 of 28

Strawberry-Rhubarb Cornmeal Skillet Cake

Strawberry Rhubarb Cornmeal Skillet Cake
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Christine Keely

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.

17 of 28

Barbecue-Spiced Potato Chips

Barbecue Spiced Potato Chips Recipe
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Dickey / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

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.

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Chorizo-and-Kimchi Dogs

Chorizo and Kimchi Hot Dogs
Victor Protasio

Easy hacks like crumbled chorizo make these hot dogs from chef Claudette Zepeda — an homage to the Sonoran hot dog — easy to pull off for backyard entertaining. They also feature a cilantro crema and kimchi slaw that come together in minutes.

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Peach Hand Pies

Peach Hand Pies
© John Kernick

These summery peach hand pies are a fun and portable treat. They're easy to make ahead, too — you can freeze the unbaked pies for up to a month in advance and then pop them in the oven for an impressive last-minute dessert.

20 of 28

Best-Ever Cold Fried Chicken

Best-Ever Cold Fried Chicken
Con Poulos

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. Once made, the fried chicken can be refrigerated for up to two days.

21 of 28

Masala Paneer Kathi Rolls

Masala Paneer Kathi Rolls Recipe
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Prop Styling by Thom Driver

Fresh cabbage salad adds a sharp, acidic crunch to these warmly spiced, vegetable-filled rolls. The rolls can be served filled or on an assembly line for guests to make their own.

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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 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.

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Lee Lee's Double Chocolate Chunk Brownies

Lee Lee's Double Chocolate Chunk Brownies
Greg DuPree

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.

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Nina's Potato Salad

Nina's Potato Salad
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Torie Cox & John Somerall / Prop Styling by Audrey Davis

"One of our first — and favorite — Horn side dishes is our potato salad," says 2021 F&W Best New Chef Matt Horn, of his wife Nina's popular recipe. "This is our take on the classic recipe that goes perfectly with barbecue!" This crowd-pleasing side is neither too rich nor too light, hitting the perfect balance of tart and creamy to perfectly complement a smoked brisket.

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French 75 Dip

French 75 Dip with Crudite
Photo by Huge Galdones / Food Styling by Christina Zerkis

This vegan dip offered at the Nashville bar White Limozeen was inspired by its namesake effervescent gin cocktail born out of Paris in the early 1900s. The sauce mimics the delicate flavors of the botanical cocktail by adding juniper berry and lemon to a base of aquafaba, the vegan, multi-use liquid used for canned chickpeas.

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Roasted Vegetable Grain Bowl with Chickpeas and Tahini-Ginger Dressing

Roasted Vegetable Bowl with Chickpeas, Quinoa, and Sesame-Ginger Dressing
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Prop Styling by Sarah Elizabeth Cleveland

This grain bowl is a choose-your-own-adventure delight. Sub in any grain, protein, or leafy green you have on hand — no matter what you choose, the deliciously easy sesame-based dressing will tie it all together. You'll have enough for at least two lunches plus leftovers. Make a double batch of the dressing to have enough for a full week of easy lunches. For a vegan version of the dish, skip the egg and up your protein with a larger serving of the broccoli/chickpea mixture.

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Soba and Zucchini Noodle Salad

Soba and Zucchini Salad with Gochujang Dressing
Photo by Greg DuPree / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Christina Daley

This soba salad offers bracing heat that's most welcome on a hot day when the coldest beers are at hand. Tender buckwheat noodles and crispy strands of zucchini "noodles" soak up a pleasantly piquant dressing laced with both gochugaru and gochujang for a double hit of spicy Korean peppers mellowed by a touch of brown sugar. Perfect served chilled or at room temperature, it's an easy make-ahead dish for summer entertaining.

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Sugared Melon with Cardamom and Mint

Don't Forget The Melon
Cedric Angeles

Sugar, cardamom, and fresh mint are all you need to transform ripe melon into a memorable dessert. Muskmelons, such as cantaloupe and honeydew, are sometimes treated like an afterthought — that's why chef Vishwesh Bhatt sometimes calls this recipe Don't Forget the Melon. "If you have the right melon that's nice and ripe, it's just so good," he says. "Summer is just the perfect time for melons. If you think they're boring, then jazz them up with this recipe. Just a tiny bit of sugar, cardamom, and fresh mint transform ripe melon into something so special you'll want to eat it over and over again." Ripe, peak-season cantaloupe, honeydew, or other muskmelon will all work beautifully here.

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