What to Make for a Summer Cookout, According to a Potluck Pro

·4 min read
grilled buttermilk chicken tenders
grilled buttermilk chicken tenders

David Malosh

There's no need to wait until it is an official holiday to host a backyard gathering—wanting to spend some quality time outdoors with friends and family is reason enough. To create the easy cookout menu that dreams are made of, we enlisted the help of Ali Rosen, the creator and host of the Emmy-nominated cooking show Potluck with Ali Rosen.

Before Rosen wrote her newest cookbook, Modern Freezer Meals, she penned the potluck-centered cookbook bring it!, which contains original recipes that are designed to be simple to make, hold well at room temperature, and travel easily.

Related: Winning Recipes for Your Next Potluck

"The most important thing is to remember that a few dishes go a long way. Everyone is there to have fun and they will enjoy themselves much more if you aren't stressed," she says. For hot foods, she recommends keeping it really simple: "Focus on one or two items to be grilled and then let everything else shine at room temperature." Her reasoning is that you will thank yourself later, once the festivities are in full swing.

"Reduce the stress and prep as much as you can ahead so the party itself can be fun," she says. With that comforting advice in mind, we're sharing our favorite recipes for a stress-free summer cookout menu.

Grilled Buttermilk Chicken Tenders with Dipping Sauces

No one will complain if you stick with cookout standards like hamburgers and hot dogs for your cookout menu, but our Grilled Buttermilk Chicken Tenders (above) offer something a little different and can be served on skewers fresh off the grill (or piled onto a platter and set out).

Scale it: For a gathering of 10 to 12 people where this is the only main protein, triple the recipe to make about 3 skewers per person.

Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Chickpeas
Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Chickpeas

Ren Fuller

Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Chickpeas

When choosing the right food for a cookout, Rosen says it's best to select dishes that can withstand warmer outdoor temperatures, "Go for hearty above all else," she says. "Pasta salads, grain salads, and tartines are all bulky enough that they can sit outside without disintegrating too quickly."

Our Italian remix on pasta salad will taste great chilled or at room temp, and the mayo-free dressing makes it a more food-safe option for outdoor entertaining.

Scale It: For a gathering of 10 to 12 people who will arrive with a big appetite, we recommend doubling the recipe. Put half of it out when the party starts and refresh it as needed.

Hold-the-Cabbage Slaw
Hold-the-Cabbage Slaw

Petrina Tinslay

Hold-the-Cabbage Slaw

In line with Rosen's advice on making sturdy salads, this Hold-The-Cabbage Slaw is made with just beets, celery, and fennel. The result is a healthy and refreshing salad that will keep its crunch from the day it is made until the very last scoop is served.

If you want to keep this one extra cold on the picnic table, Rosen suggests setting up what she calls a 'double-icer,' which is where you put your serving bowls on top of bowls filled with ice. "Just make sure to use ceramic or plastic materials because metals will freeze too much and then the food might stick to the bowl," she says.

Scale It: This recipe serves 8 to 10; if you're expecting a few more guests, we recommend scaling the dressing recipe to 1/4 cup each of the vinegar and oil, adding a pinch more sugar; use an extra-large head of fennel and chop an extra celery stalk or two to stretch the salad for a few more portions.

everything cookies
everything cookies

Chris Simpson

Everything Cookies

"Cookies require no portioning, no cutlery, no temperature control, and they are easy to make," says Rosen. She adds that they're also a universal crowd-pleaser and a cinch to serve. Much as we love a good Flag Cake for special patriotic celebrations, we agree with Rosen that sometimes a simple, straightforward cookie will make everyone— especially the host—happy. We say you need look no further than our Everything Cookies for the perfect cookout dessert.

Scale It: This recipe already makes about 2 dozen cookies and shouldn't need to be scaled if you are expecting a party of 10 to 12 people. Rosen suggests making extra dough and freezing it, just in case you need to bake more on the fly and if you don't, you'll already have the dough ready for the next party!