By now, you should be all set with Labor Day sides and desserts, so now it's time to start thinking about the main event. Old standbys like burgers and grilled chicken may be 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 23 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 your meat grinder before getting started.
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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 it's just about smooth before putting it on the burgers, to help it melt and stay emulsified. To stick with the spicy theme, we also garnish the burgers with pickled jalapeño slices.
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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 lowest risk of the skins exploding), we recommend simmering the sausages with beer and sauerkraut before quickly charring them on the flames.
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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.
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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.
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Grilled Tarragon-Mustard Chicken Skewers
Sweet, savory, and tangy flavors combine in the marinade for these chicken skewers, a simple mixture of mustard, honey, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and fresh tarragon. Tarragon's strong profile is balanced out here by sweetness and acidity from the other ingredients; acids in the lemon and mustard tenderize the chicken and add flavor simultaneously. Once the meat is marinated, there's nothing to do but thread it onto skewers and throw it on the grates—as with many of our grilling recipes, we recommend using a two-zone fire, cooking the meat over high heat first but moving it to the cooler side if it threatens to burn.
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Peruvian-Style Grilled-Chicken Sandwiches With Spicy Green Sauce
It may not be what we've deemed our best grilled-chicken sandwich ever, but this version, which starts with the classic components of Peruvian-style grilled chicken, can't be too far behind. The chicken is marinated with salt, cumin, paprika, black pepper, garlic, vinegar, and vegetable oil before it's grilled, then served on sturdy rolls with lettuce, avocado, and a creamy cilantro- and jalapeño-based sauce.
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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 a combination of soy sauce, fish sauce, Shaoxing wine, and spices before cooking them over a two-zone fire: Cook them most of the way through on the cooler side, then transfer them to the cooler side to crisp up.
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Grilled Chicken With Za'atar
A whole grilled chicken needs nothing more than salt and pepper to be tasty, but it can also serve as a canvas, allowing 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 as with roasting, spatchcocking is the best way to cook a whole bird on the grill.
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Grilled Tandoori Chicken Patties With Jalapeño-Mint Yogurt Sauce
These chicken patties take inspiration from tandoori chicken, with cumin, coriander, paprika, and turmeric lending plenty of warm spice and fresh ginger providing heat. A little yogurt mixed with the ground chicken and seasonings helps them stay moist on the grill. Serve them on toasted burger buns or naan, topped with a creamy, refreshing yogurt-based sauce spiked with jalapeño and mint.
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Grilled Blackened-Fish Sandwiches
We're of the opinion that too few people in this country choose seafood as the star of their 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 mahi-mahi or any other firm white fish will work.
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Grilled Whole Fish With Molho à Campanha (Brazilian Pico de Gallo)
Grilled fish fillets make for easy, quick portioning, but whole fish are much easier to grill well—the skin protects the meat and keeps it from falling apart. Your guests will get a bit messier eating it, but that's part of the fun, right? Here, we grill whole fish (branzino, mackerel, and trout are all good bets) and serve them with molho à campanha, a vinegary Brazilian sauce similar to pico de gallo.
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Whole Grilled Fish Tacos
Once you're comfortable grilling whole fish, you've got a whole world of options for how to eat it, and tacos are always a crowd-pleaser. In this recipe, we flavor the fish with salt, pepper, ancho chile powder, cumin, lime juice, and olive oil, then serve it with plenty of tortillas, pico de gallo, and fresh vegetables, so that guests can assemble their own tacos.
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Grilled Shrimp With Garlic and Lemon
There are a couple secrets to making perfect grilled shrimp. Start by shelling the shrimp, tossing them with salt and baking soda to keep them firm and juicy, and letting them air-dry. When you're ready to grill, pack the shrimp tightly onto skewers, coat them with oil, and cook them over the hottest part of the fire. The result will be tender, moist, snappy shrimp with a great char. Flavor your grilled shrimp simply with garlic and lemon, or toss them with chermoula for a North African twist.
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Chacarero Chileno (Chilean Steak and Bean Sandwiches)
This Chilean steak sandwich pairs grilled beef—we prefer skirt steak, hanger steak, or flap meat—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.
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The Best Carne Asada
A good marinade is the easiest way to improve your grilled steaks. For carne asada, that means chiles, 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 secret weapons for making food taste more savory.
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Muffuletta-Style Grilled Stuffed Flank Steak With Salumi, Provolone, and Olive Salad
What if a simple marinade isn't enough for you? Try rolling your steaks up with flavorful ingredients before grilling, for a delicious main dish that makes a show-stopping presentation, too. 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.
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Grilled-Pork Sandwiches With Grilled-Plum Chutney and Cabbage Slaw
If this is going to be your last cookout of the year, make it count by grilling as much of the meal as possible. This sandwich pairs grilled pork loin with a flavorful chutney made of grilled plums, scallions, and jalapeños, all piled onto grilled buns. The miso slaw is the only thing that doesn't hit the fire—we want to keep the cabbage crunchy to complement the soft chutney.
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Balinese Pork Satay (Sate Babi) With Sweet Soy Glaze and Peanut Sauce
You could spend your whole summer grilling nothing but skewers. If you wanted to pick just one skewer, though, I'd go with this Balinese satay, made with fatty pork grilled until tender and charred. The heart of the dish is a vibrant spice paste flavored with turmeric, lemongrass, chiles, and more—we use it both to marinate the meat and as a base for a sweet soy glaze and a rich peanut dipping sauce.
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Adobo-Marinated Grilled Pork Chops
These pork chops get their Filipino flavor from adobo, an acidic marinade made with soy sauce, water, and cane vinegar. (It's worth searching out the brand Datu Puti for the most authentic taste.) We marinate the chops for between eight and 24 hours before grilling, which tenderizes the meat just enough.
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Really Awesome Black Bean Burgers
Vegetarians shouldn't be an afterthought at your Labor Day cookout or any other, and luckily, these black bean burgers are so good that they might turn out to be popular among meat-eaters, too. Their complex flavor comes from a combination of partially dehydrated black beans (drying them out in the oven helps keep the burgers from becoming mushy), feta cheese, roasted cashews, chipotle and Poblano chiles, and a little mayonnaise. Be sure to grill these over moderate heat so that they cook all the way through.
Get the recipe for Really Awesome Black Bean Burgers »
Grilled Lemongrass- and Coriander-Marinated Tofu Vietnamese Sandwiches (Vegan Banh Mi)
If you're looking for a fully vegan grilled main dish that's utterly delicious, these banh mi are a perfect fit. For a bit of Thai-Vietnamese fusion, we fill the sandwiches with tofu flavored with the same 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.
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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, which we rub with a Pakistani-inspired spice mixture before grilling. Start the cauliflower on the hotter side of the grill; once the exterior is well charred, move it to the cooler side to finish cooking.