By now you should be all set with sides and desserts, so now it's time to start thinking about the main event. The old standbys like burger and grilled chicken are great, but Labor Day is a time to pull out the big guns and send off summer right. To that end we've got show-stopping grilled mains for every palate, from Peruvian-style chicken sandwiches to whole fish tacos and vegan banh mi. You'll find all of those recipes and more in our roundup of 21 party-worthy Labor Day mains.
Thick and Juicy Home-Ground Grilled Cheeseburgers
We can't say it enough: If you want better burgers, you have to grind the beef at home. Doing it yourself gives you total control over texture (we like a fine grind for grilling) and flavor (while chuck is fine, a mixture of short rib, brisket, and sirloin is better). Meat gets harder to chop as it warms up, so you'll have the best luck if you chill both the beef and grinder before getting started.
It's hard to beat a slice of gooey American cheese on a burger, but pimento cheese might come close. We process the spread until just about smooth before putting it on the burgers to help it melt and stay emulsified. To stick with the spicy theme we garnish the burgers with pickled jalapeño slices.
The Best Grilled Hot Dogs
Natural casing hot dogs are easy to grill—you could just throw them on the fire and end up with decent results. But for the best flavor and least risk of the skins exploding we recommend simmering the sausages with beer and sauerkraut before quickly charring on the flames.
Grilled Bratwurst With Warm German Potato Slaw
The simmer and sear method works especially well for bratwurst, which can be difficult to cook evenly on a grill. In this recipe we make the most of the simmering step by cooking potatoes, onion, bell pepper, and cabbage with the brats. Don't forget the Dijon, which is sharp enough to cut through the rich slaw.
Sweet-and-Sour Grilled Chicken Skewers (Yakitori Nanbansu)
Chicken skewers are a cookout staple that can be a little boring, but this recipe is anything but. What sets this chicken apart is nanbansu, a vinegary Japanese sauce made with rice vinegar, mirin, soy sauce, and sugar. Not only does the marinade itself have tons of flavor, but the sugar in it ensures the chicken caramelizes beautifully on the grill.
Peruvian-Style Grilled Chicken Sandwiches With Spicy Green Sauce
We already have one recipe that we've proclaimed the best grilled chicken sandwich, but this Peruvian-style dish gives that one a run for its money. The chicken is marinated with salt, cumin, paprika, black pepper, garlic, vinegar, and vegetable oil before cooking and is served with lettuce, avocado, and a creamy cilantro- and jalapeño-based sauce.
Grilled Spicy Chicken Wings With Soy and Fish Sauce
Frying isn't the only way to cook chicken wings—they come out wonderfully tender and flavorful when grilled. Here we marinate the wings with soy sauce, fish sauce, Shaoxing wine, and spices before cooking them over a two-zone fire—they cook most of the way on the cooler side and crisp up on the hotter side.
Grilled Chicken With Za'atar
A whole grilled chicken doesn't need anything more than salt and pepper, but it can serve as a canvas and allow you to play with all sorts of other flavors. I'm partial to coating the bird with za'atar—our homemade version is a mixture of oregano, thyme, savory, sesame seeds, sumac, and salt. Just like with roasting, spatchcocking is the best way to grill poultry.
Grilled Blackened Fish Sandwiches
Seafood might not be your first choice for a cookout, but these blackened fish sandwiches flavored with paprika, oregano, thyme, onion and garlic powder, and cayenne are a guaranteed hit. In Florida blackened fish sandwiches are typically made with grouper, but any firm white fish will work.
Grilled Whole Fish With Molho à Campanha (Brazilian Pico de Gallo)
While you certainly can grill fish fillets (our last recipe proves it), whole fish are even better—the skin protects the meat and keeps it from falling apart. Here we grill whole fish and serve them with molho à campanha, a vinegary Brazilian sauce similar to pico de gallo.
Whole Grilled Fish Tacos
Once you are comfortable grilling whole fish, you can start thinking how you want to eat it. In this recipe we flavor the fish with salt, pepper, ancho chili powder, cumin, lime juice, and olive oil and serve it with tortillas, pico de gallo, and fresh vegetables so that guests can make their own tacos.
Grilled Shrimp With Garlic and Lemon
There are a couple secrets to making perfect grilled shrimp. Start by shelling the shrimp and air-drying them with salt and baking soda. Then you'll want to pack them tightly onto skewers, coat them with oil, and grill over the hottest part of the fire. The result will be tender, juicy shrimp with a great char. You can flavor the shrimp simply with garlic and lemon or toss them with chermoula for a North African twist.
Chacarero Chileno (Chilean Steak and Bean Sandwiches)
This Chilean steak sandwich pairs the beef with tomatoes and green beans, the latter of which we cook in boiling water until totally tender. Brushing the meat with aioli before grilling encourages even browning. You can add smashed avocado to the sandwich if you want, but we think it's rich enough without it.
The Best Carne Asada
A good marinade is the easiest way to improve your grilled steaks. For carne asada that means chilies, citrus juice, olive oil, garlic, cilantro, cumin seed, coriander seed, and brown sugar. We also mix in soy sauce and fish sauce, two less-than-authentic ingredients that loyal Serious Eaters know are our secret weapons for making food taste more savory.
Muffuletta-Style Grilled Stuffed Flank Steak With Salumi, Provolone, and Olive Salad
A simple marinade not enough for you? Try rolling your steaks up with flavorful ingredients before grilling. We have lots of combinations to choose from, but my favorite is this muffuletta-inspired version in which we stuff the steak with cold cuts, Provolone, and olive salad.
Grilled Pork Sandwiches With Grilled Plum Chutney and Cabbage Slaw
If this is going to be the last cookout of the year then you should make it count by grilling as much of the meal as possible. This sandwich pairs grilled pork loin with a grilled plum, scallion, and jalapeño chutney on grilled buns. The miso slaw is the only thing that doesn't hit the grill—we want to keep the cabbage crunchy to complement the soft chutney.
Balinese Pork Satay (Sate Babi) With Sweet Soy Glaze and Peanut Sauce
You could spend your whole summer just grilling skewers, but if you want to pick just one I'd go with this Balinese satay. The heart of the dish is a vibrant spice paste flavored with turmeric, lemongrass, chilies, and more—we use it to marinate the meat and as a base for a sweet glaze and peanut dipping sauce.
Adobo-Marinated Grilled Pork Chops
These pork chops get their Filipino flair from adobo, an acidic marinade made with soy sauce, water, and cane vinegar (it's worth searching for the brand Dati Puti for the most authentic flavor). We marinate the chops between eight and 24 hours before grilling, which tenderizes the meat just the right amount.
Really Awesome Black Bean Burgers
I hope the last 18 recipes haven't made you worry that vegetarians are an afterthought—you shouldn't need to eat meat to have a delicious Labor Day. In fact, these black bean burgers are so good that they might be more popular than your hamburgers. Be sure to grill these over moderate heat so that they cook all the way through.
Grilled Lemongrass- and Coriander-Marinated Tofu Vietnamese Sandwiches (Vegan Banh Mi)
Our black bean burgers are only vegetarian—try these banh mi if you're looking for a vegan option. For a bit of Thai-Vietnamese fusion we fill the sandwiches with tofu flavored with the cilantro-based marinade use to make gai yang, along with vegan mayo and traditional banh mi ingredients like jalapeño, cucumber, and pickled daikon and carrot.
Grilled Spiced Cauliflower
The high heat of a grill is well suited to browning and crisping cauliflower, but florets are prone to falling through the grates. Our solution is to slice the cauliflower vertically into thick steaks that we rub with a Pakistani-inspired spice mixture before grilling. Start the cauliflower on the hotter side of the grill, then once the exterior is well-charred move it to the cooler side to finish cooking.