‘Tis the season for eating as many meals as possible while simultaneously soaking up the sunshine. The perfect way to make that happen? Arming myself with an arsenal of outdoor cooking recipes, of course. There are few feelings I love more in life than enjoying the summer’s warmth while eating something delicious in the presence of friends. That said, there’s an art to creating a menu that’s perfect for outdoor dining, especially when you’re entertaining a crowd. That’s why having a great rotation of outdoor cooking recipes is a must-have for the summer.
Many of y’all know that I started my career in catering, and planning menus for big groups in the sweltering mid-summer Austin heat taught me a thing or two about prepping for the elements. I’ve carried those lessons with me, and now when I host outdoor gatherings at home, I stick to a few main principles when it comes to planning my menu.
My go-to tips? Food served outdoors needs to be simple to eat, served family-style, and taste just as good at room temperature. Since the summer season is quickly approaching and Memorial Day weekend is around the corner (insert major party emojis here), I thought it would be the perfect time to round up my favorite appetizers, mains, sides, and desserts that always get me through the summer entertaining season without breaking a sweat. Let me know if you see any of your alfresco essentials included in the list!
Feature image by Hannah Haston.
Scroll on for some of my favorite outdoor cooking recipes.
The key to kicking off a summertime party right? Set out a board of something sturdy that can hang out for a while without getting gross or turning brown (here’s lookin’ at you, avocado.) Dips, spreads, fresh produce, and grilled bread are a winning combination.
Perfect Hummus, 3 Ways
Why We Love It: Take your pick of these delectable hummus recipes: original, red pepper, and cilantro lime. Or go wild and make all three!
Hero Ingredient: It wouldn’t be hummus without tahini—it’s the queen of all three recipes.
Get the recipe for Perfect Hummus, 3 Ways.
Burrata With Figs, & Pesto
Why We Love It: While dried figs satiate our natural sweet tooth all throughout the cold-weather months, there’s something about snacking on fresh figs that just screams summertime satisfaction. Find the ripest figs you can for this tasty app. Figs have a short season but can easily be substituted with stone fruit like apricot, peach, or plum.
Hero Ingredient: Burrata gives major main character energy.
Get the recipe for Burrata With Figs, & Pesto.
Mint Tzatziki With Endive & Sugar Snap Peas
Why We Love It: This mint tzatziki dish goes beautifully with everything, so rest assured that whatever you have on hand for dipping will be absolutely delicious. My faves? Endives and the crunchiest sugar snap peas you can find.
Hero Ingredient: Two tablespoons of fresh mint keep everything tasting as fresh as can be.
Get the recipe for Mint Tzatziki With Endive & Sugar Snap Peas.
Prosciutto and Melon Skewers
Why We Love It: You’ll think you’re in Italy while enjoying these easy, tasty skewers. Grab a yummy balsamic for that drizzle and enjoy.
Hero Ingredient: Salty prosciutto is the perfect match for the slightly-sweet melon.
Get the recipe for Prosciutto and Melon Skewers.
When it comes to the centerpiece of an outdoor dinner party, I always opt for something that doesn’t require getting a lot of pots and pans dirty (who wants to be inside cleaning?) and that also doesn’t have me running in and out getting lots of different components from the kitchen. Usually, that looks like a simple protein (steak, chicken, or fish) that I can marinate in advance then throw on the grill or roast in the oven. Garnish with a shower of fresh summer herbs and you’ve got yourself a perfect summer meal for a crowd.
Grilled New York Strip Steak With Chimichurri
Why We Love It: You can’t go wrong with a delicious piece of steak on a hot summer day. Grill it up and top it with our favorite chimichurri recipe for your next outdoor meal.
Hero Ingredient: Your favorite pre-made, zesty, and herby marinade infuses your chimichurri with unimaginable flavor. Plus, you’ll be able to whip it up in minutes.
Get the recipe for Grilled New York Strip Steak With Chimichurri.
Build-Your-Own Rainbow Grain Bowls
Why We Love It: Perfect for a potluck, these grain bowls are hearty, filling, healthy, and a surefire hit. They’re hands down, one of my favorites on this list of outdoor cooking recipes.
Hero Ingredient: Bulking out your bowls with freekah lends your main a delicious nutty, almost smoky flavor. They’re perfectly chewy and a more interesting substitute for rice.
Get the recipe for Build-Your-Own Rainbow Grain Bowls.
Shawarma-Marinated Chicken Thighs With Herb Salad
Why We Love It: This chicken dish is aromatic, flavorful, and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Serve it up at your next family dinner or outdoor gathering. It’ll become a staple outdoor cooking recipe, guaranteed.
Hero Ingredient: Cilantro is one of the most polarizing herbs in the game, but I can’t get enough of its complex, citrusy flavor.
Get the recipe for Shawarma-Marinated Chicken Thighs With Herb Salad.
Mediterranean Pita and Kebab Board
Why We Love It: You’ve got a full meal on a platter with tasty, filling, and delightful pita and kebab board. It’s an unexpected dish that is as delicious as it is lovely to behold.
Hero Ingredient: This is less of a recipe and more of formula. As such, you can pile your board with any and all of your favorite Mediterranean-inspired ingredients. My go-to? Salty cubes of feta, of course.
Get the recipe for Mediterranean Pita and Kebab Board.
The most important rule for when it comes to outdoor summer sides? They have to be able to hang out on the table for a little while at room temperature, and taste just as good as when they were hot (or cold.) That eliminates delicate salads that wilt in the heat or super crispy/fried veggies that need to be served right out of the oven. Simple roasted veggies, anything on the grill, and sturdy chopped salads are low-maintenance standby’s that are a key component of outdoor cooking recipes.
Turmeric Tahini Roasted Cauliflower
Why We Love It: You can’t go wrong with a cauliflower side, and this turmeric and tahini cauliflower recipe is healthy, sumptuous, and packs a flavorful wallop.
Hero Ingredient: Turmeric is sunshine in a spice.
Get the recipe for Turmeric Tahini Roasted Cauliflower.
Grilled Sweet Potato Wedges With Chimichurri
Why We Love It: You know I love sweet potatoes, and this grilled iteration is an easy and healthy side dish for your next barbecue.
Hero Ingredient: Is there anything sweet potatoes can’t do?
Get the recipe for Grilled Sweet Potato Wedges With Chimichurri.
Gluten-Free Cauliflower Tabbouleh
Why We Love It: Keep your outdoor cooking recipes light and simple with this gluten-free tabbouleh. It’s an easy spin on your everyday tabbouleh that those with dietary restrictions can also enjoy.
Hero Ingredient: Dried cranberries give a slight, welcome sweetness that plays up this salad’s other ingredients. Plus, that color!
Get the recipe for Gluten-Free Cauliflower Tabbouleh.
Rainbow Carrots With Yogurt and Pistachios
Why We Love It: You’d be surprised by how decadent these rainbow carrots taste. It’s one of the more delicious outdoor cooking recipes.
Hero Ingredient: The juice and zest of an orange are both key components that’ll infuse your carrots with flavor.
Get the recipe for Rainbow Carrots With Yogurt and Pistachios.
Fans of outdoor cooking recipes know that having a few simple sweet treats up your sleeve is the best way to keep the party going. I usually end the evening by bringing out a tray of fresh-from-the-oven cookies. (I roll out the dough in advance and pop in a preheated oven as I clear dinner dishes.) Everyone dives in and grabs them with their hands, which means that I don’t have to get out additional plates and silverware at the end of the night when my dishwasher is already crying for mercy.
I couldn’t help throwing in a few of my other favorite summertime sweets starring the prettiest produce. And I’ve never met a guest who didn’t love a cobbler. Have you?
The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies on the Planet
Why We Love It: Have them ready to go and present your family with a batch of warm cookies at the end of the meal. Everyone will be asking you for the recipe. It’s up to you whether or not you want to share.
Hero Ingredient: What makes these the best chocolate chip cookies? Toasting your flaked coconut before mixing it into your dough. You won’t regret it.
Get the recipe for The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies on the Planet.
Blueberry Almond Coffee Cake
Why We Love It: Cakes are a great make-ahead option when having an outdoor gathering. You can just pull it out when it’s time for dessert. And did I mention how yummy this recipe is? I can’t get enough.
Hero Ingredient: Almond extract is the underrated ingredient you need to start adding to all your desserts. This coffee cake is a delicious way to begin.
Get the recipe for Blueberry Almond Coffee Cake.
Vanilla Panna Cotta With Strawberries
Why We Love It: This panna cotta only looks fancy, but it’s actually incredibly simple to whip up.
Hero Ingredient: Vanilla extract is good (like, really good), but a fresh vanilla bean? The best.
Get the recipe for Vanilla Panna Cotta With Strawberries.
Why We Love It: No round-up of outdoor cooking recipes is complete without a simple dessert. Because what’s more summery than a berry cobbler? Answer: nothing.
Hero Ingredient: Mix together any array of in-season berries your heart desires. Let what’s fresh and ready at the farmer’s market guide your way. You really can’t go wrong.
This post was originally published on May 17, 2019, and has since been updated.