It’s here. The unofficial start of summer. The One and I have opened the pool, power-washed the patio, scrubbed down the teak table, brought out the grill, and wiped down the Adirondack chairs. All so we can start entertaining en plein air. 

And, like so many folks, we kick off the season on Memorial Day weekend.

This year, our menus are set. (I say menus–plural–because we usually entertain on the Saturday and Monday of the weekend.) And you’re looking at our menus below.

Burgers always make their seasonal debut during Memorial Day weekend. And we have tried every recipe on the site: killer barbecue pork burgers with a tangy slaw, juicy lamb burgers, spicy Indian chicken burgers, you name it.

And brisket has graced our table on more than one occasion. Besides the one below, some of my favorites are Coke brisket, a good old-fashioned Texas brisket, and Korean BBQ brisket.

And desserts? Well, it’s the beginning of fruit sweets for me. I’ve had to revive people after having my blueberry lemon cake recipe. But I’m also partial to classic strawberry shortcake and pineapple upside-down cake in a cast-iron skillet always brings smiles. 

Whatever you serve, do what The One does and make it colorful and fun. He pulls out his 8 billion pieces of classic Fiestaware, washes our rainbow glasses, irons our checkered tablecloths, and goes to town. Gotta love all that enthusiasm at his ripe old age…

The word "David" written in script.
A punch bowl and several glasses filled with strawberry sangria, whole strawberries, and orange wheels.
Sara Remington
1 of 13

Strawberry Sangria

This easy summer drink is made with fresh berries, citrus juice, strawberry jam, red wine, brandy, and marsala.
Four glasses partially filled with watermelon lemonade and topped with ice cubes.
Gentl & Hyers
2 of 13

Watermelon Lemonade

This watermelon lemonade is a refreshing drink made with puréed watermelon, lemon juice, and simple syrup. We can’t think of a better remedy for a hot summer afternoon.
A white bowl with some Memphis BBQ mop sauce and a spoon in it with a bottle of sauce on the side.
Ken Goodman
3 of 13

Memphis BBQ Mop Sauce

This Memphis BBQ mop sauce is an amazing yet simple concoction of everyday ingredients that captures that elusive balance of sweet, spicy, salty, and tangy. Slather onto brisket, chicken, ribs, burgers, and pulled pork. Here’s how to make it.

This Memphis BBQ mop sauce is just exquisite–I found myself putting it on all sorts foods. The recipe has a fair amount of heat. I did find that it mellowed just a bit over the next few days to the point of perfection. Very much appreciate you sharing this one with us!

tommy b.
A white plate topped with crispy smashed potato salad sprinkled with pancetta and chives and topped with a creamy dressing.
Chloe Hardwick
4 of 13

Crispy Smashed Potato Salad

For this easy roasted potato salad recipe, smashed potatoes are combined with crispy pancetta, charred scallions, chives, and a creamy yogurt and mayonnaise dressing.
6 grilled chicken skewers piled on a wooden cutting board and sprinkled with slices of red onion and cilantro.
Weldon Owen
5 of 13

Chicken Skewers

These chicken skewers are magnificently easy to toss on the grill for a quick dinner. The distinct Thai taste comes from a simple marinade of coconut milk, fish sauce, cilantro, and curry.

Can healthy also taste good? Oh, yes! We really enjoyed these chicken skewers. I served these delectable gems with a Thai peanut sauce for dipping, coconut jasmine rice, and grilled pineapple. It was quick and easy and loaded with flavor.

Cathy J.
A plate of fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs. Also, slaw and BBQ sauce on the side.
Quentin Bacon
6 of 13

Fall-Off-the-Bone Baby Back Ribs

These fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs are first cooked low and slow in the oven and then slathered with a homemade chipotle maple barbecue sauce before being tossed on the grill for just a mere half hour for the finishing touch.

These fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs are a never miss recipe! My husband was not a fan of ribs until I made them this way. Nos he requests them . . . often.

A partially sliced smoked coffee brisket on a wooden cutting board with a meat fork resting beside it.
Leigh Beisch
7 of 13

Smoked Coffee Brisket

Smoked brisket with coffee takes a few of our favorite things and combines them into a meltingly tender, spicy, and smoky masterpiece.

I soaked a brisket using this recipe. The only thing I did differently was to soak the brisket over night in a can of beer. This is an awesome recipe, and I suggest it to anyone who wants a succulent piece of meat. Super good recipe.

Two barbecue pork burgers with slaw and barbecue sauce stacked on top of each other.
Romulo Yanes
8 of 13

Barbecue Pork Burgers

Spicing up store-bought barbecue sauce with cayenne and vinegar is an easy trick that makes a big difference. Here, the sauce is mixed into the meat, slathered onto the cooked burgers for the last minute of grilling, and brushed on the bun.

This pork burger was one of the best I’ve ever eaten. I will definitely make more of the sauce next time.

A bowl of apple coleslaw with wooden serving spoons, salt, two lime halves, and some cilantro on the side.
Angie Zoobkoff
9 of 13

Tangy Apple Slaw

This sweet and tangy apple slaw, made with crunchy cabbage, tart apples, and a lime vinaigrette, is going to be a cookout staple all summer long.
A loaf pan filled with chocolate Oreo ice cream with pieces of Oreo scattered around it and a ice cream scoop on the side.
David Leite
10 of 13

No-Churn Chocolate Oreo Ice Cream with Marshmallow

Creamy chocolate ice cream, crushed Oreo cookies, and sweet marshmallow creme collide to make this spectacular frozen dessert.

I have made this no-churn chocolate oreo ice cream at LEAST 8 times because my grandkids and my mother keep requesting it!

Jennifer J.
Key lime pie bars, cut into squares and garnished with whipped cream, lime zest, slices of lime, and chopped almonds.
Christy Denney
11 of 13

Key Lime Pie Bars

We’re an hour and a half from the Florida Keys and take advantage of the tropical atmosphere as often as we can. At certain gas stations along the long road down to the keys they sell slices of key lime pie and I can’t resist the tangy, creamy treat. Do you need to make some key lime pie bars to make you think you’re in a tropical paradise? I thought you might.
Two slices of brownie pie on plates.
David Leite
12 of 13

Brownie Pie

Brownie pie is known in some parts as Tar Heel pie. Whatever you care to call the recipe, it's essentially a rich, gooey, chocolate fudge pie made from scratch. Store-bought just can't compete.

This dessert got RAVE reviews from my husband and dinner guests. My friend is a great baker and this is only the second time she’s asked me for a recipe. This brownie pie was fudgy and delicious.

A square baking dish filled with strawberry rhubarb crumble with balsamic drizzle, with a portion on a plate and a few strawberries on the side.
David Leite
13 of 13

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

If anything screams spring and summer, it's the combination of strawberry and rhubarb. Tart, sweet, and gently spiced with ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon, it's just as scrumptious for breakfast as it is for dessert.

This is one fantastic strawberry rhubarb crumble! I loved the addition of the spices in the fruit and the topping. They were the perfect amount and blend, so you couldn’t necessarily detect them, but they made it taste so much better. The topping was so delicious and stayed crisp even on the leftovers.


Memorial Day Food FAQs

What side dishes can I pair with grilled meats?

Classic Memorial Day side dishes include easy potato salad, creamy coleslaw, and barbecue baked beans. Grilled corn on the cob is also a welcome treat.

How can I make a budget-friendly meal for Memorial day?

To keep costs down, offer hot dogs. If you want to fancy it up a little, you can offer hot dogs on a baguette, but there are also many ways to cook regular hot dogs that turn out incredibly tasty. If you need a meat-free option at your meal, whip up a batch of carrot hot dogs.

Round it out with a big pitcher of homemade lemonade and s’mores for dessert.

Do you have any tips for food storage and safety during my backyard BBQ?

There are a few simple rules to follow to ensure your food doesn’t become spoiled while hosting an outdoor gathering.

1. Keep cooked and uncooked meats separate from each other. This means using different platters and utensils for handling raw meat and cooked meat.

2. Keep perishable foods cold until just before serving. This includes items made with eggs or dairy, such as mayo-based potato salad or spicy deviled eggs, which are particularly prone to spoilage.

3. Don’t let food sit out for more than 2 hours. If it is an exceptionally warm day (above 90°F), food will spoil more quickly and shouldn’t be left out for more than 1 hour.

What sort of party are you throwing to celebrate Memorial Day long weekend, and what are you serving? Let me know in a comment below.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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