A Simple Summer Picnic Menu

A celebratory menu for a perfect late-summer picnic.

A respectable picnic is something I’ve only recently started dabbling with. I'm not talking about the picnics all your favorite Instagram influencers seem to have mastered, the ones with three kinds of berry pies, a cheese plate—how did they transport that perfect cheese plate?!—and a whole host of pre-made cocktails. I’ve come to terms with the fact that those aspirational picnics are just not my style. I don’t want my day at the park or on the beach to become a stressful affair, so I keep things simple.

That means everything on this menu can be—at least to some degree—made in advance, and instead of aiming for a huge variety of dishes, I nail down just a few that I know all my friends will love equally. I ask someone to bring plenty of wine and someone else to come with an assortment of chips, in-season fresh fruit, and whatever else might catch their eye. With a little bit of assistance from the folks I’ll be feeding, a very summery, relaxing picnic is within reach.

  • Watermelon, Feta, and Mint Salad

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    J. Kenji López-Alt

    This salad is a summer staple in restaurants and home kitchens alike, and for good reason. Because the dish is so simple, you want to get the best possible watermelon and feta. The saltiness of the cheese will cut through the crisp, sweet melon, and mint adds the freshness needed to remind you that summer is in full swing. To transport this salad, slice your watermelon and measure out your mint and feta, but wait to combine everything until you've arrived at your destination.

  • Classic Potato Salad

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    Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

    This may not be polite, but I measure any party or cookout I'm invited to by the quality of the host's potato salad. No pressure, but a great potato salad is one of the most crucial elements of any good picnic spread. While some people prefer a drier, vinegar-based one, I'm a believer in the richer, mayonnaise-heavy salad. This potato salad is cut with a little rice wine vinegar and chopped cornichons for added saltiness and acidity. Part of what makes potato salad such perfect picnic food is that it requires a long rest after it's been mixed, so the dressing can soak into and flavor the potatoes. So make yours in advance, and let the magic happen while you transport it.

  • Insanely Awesome Shooter's-Style Sandwiches

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    Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

    These shooter's-style sandwiches were designed with picnics in mind. The bread is hollowed out to leave maximum space for fillings, and the built sandwiches are then pressed between two cutting boards until they are compact and evenly pressed. You can leave them to compress overnight, making these ideal make-in-advance picnic main dishes. We designed four picnic-ready sandwiches, including one layered with Italian sausage and fontina cheese, along with a roasted vegetable and goat cheese one for the people who don't eat meat.

  • Jammy Fruit Bars

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    Vicky Wasik

    These sweet and jammy fruit bars are hearty and rich, thanks to plenty of rolled oats and butter worked into the crust and crumb topping. The jammy layer in between is easily adaptable, and we give instructions that allow you to adjust the recipe for whatever in-season fruit you're hoping to use up. You can eat these cookie bars as soon as they come to room temperature, but in the interest of picnic planning, they'll hold up well for three or four days at room temperature.

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  • Charred-Lemon Gin Sparkler

    Autumn Giles

    This fancy-ish batch cocktail can be made almost entirely in advance, rendering it perfect for picnic imbibing. Charring lemons before you squeeze them mellows their acidity, and gives their juice a sweeter flavor. The juice is combined with sugar, rosemary, and gin, then refrigerated while the flavors meld and develop. Bring this cocktail on your picnic in several large glass jars, along with a separate, small cooler of ice. To finish each drink, pour the mixture into glasses, and top off with sparkling wine.