27 Best Dishes To Make For A Summertime Picnic

Picnic season is upon us, and there's no better way to take advantage of outdoor eating than by freshening up your park-ready selections. Sure, simple sandwiches and store-bought sides will work in a pinch. But if your aim is to elevate your summer dining game, you'll need to think outside the picnic basket and get into more of a gourmet groove. This doesn't mean creating a 16-course meal that requires a week's worth of prep time. It simply means gathering a few thoughtful recipes that help you serve a delicious spread with an array of fabulous flavors.

So where can you pick up the dishes that are bound to bring the sunshine to your beach blanket party, no matter the weather? We've rounded up a menu of mouthwatering munchies, mind-blowing mains, and savory sides you can toss together with minimal work. It's a mix-and-match style layout that lets you choose the tastes that work best for your occasion, whether you're celebrating a special moment or just making the most of the blue skies and bright days ahead.

1. Creamy Pasta Salad

Something about the cool, creamy goodness of this pasta salad makes the summer heat bearable. The zing of Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, and onion add a touch of warmth to keep the flavors balanced. Though elbow macaroni is the traditional pasta of choice, feel free to use your favorite small noodles to add a personal touch that will make the recipe your own. There's also a bit of tomato and red pepper to shake up the texture and bring a splash of color to the party.

Recipe for Creamy Pasta Salad

2. Fast and Easy Southern Chicken Salad Sandwich

Chicken salad is always up for a good time, and this super easy take on the classic spread turns into quick and satisfying sandwiches everyone will love. There's nothing fancy or pretentious about this mix, just shredded rotisserie chicken to make the work even simpler, with celery, onion, mayo, relish, and spices to bring the flavor to a familiar peak. Spread the creamy blend on your favorite bread and toss your sandwiches into the cooler for a hearty helping of old-fashioned comfort food to take with you lakeside.

Recipe for Fast and Easy Southern Chicken Salad Sandwich

3. Summer Pesto Pasta Salad

Get Mediterranean with your summertime vittles by serving up a summer pesto pasta salad. Fresh basil helps to green up the picnic table, while cherry tomatoes bursting with juicy goodness join in the good times with a welcome bit of contrast. Don't let the Christmas colors fool you; you're creating a brightly flavored salad that takes your picnic prep into delicious new spaces. It's the next best thing to visiting the isles.

Recipe for Summer Pesto Pasta Salad

4. Cold Spinach Artichoke Dip

With spinach artichoke dip on the guest list, the life of the party table becomes the superstar of the picnic! The sophisticated fun of this good time scooper comes from a mix of sour cream, cream cheese, and mozzarella. Spinach and artichoke hearts come to the texture rescue to make a perfect bowl for dipping chips, crackers, sourdough chunks, and veggie sticks. Light a little fire at the table by serving your dip with homemade Cajun spice crackers to make the flavors even more complex.

Recipe for Spinach Artichoke Dip

5. Best Southern Tomato Sandwich

Picnic food is the best way to take advantage of bountiful summer produce. Head to the closest farmers' market ­– or your backyard garden, if you have a green thumb ­– and pick a few tomatoes to slice up for a juicy Southern-style sandwich. The secret to success here is a zingy marinade that uses shallots, garlic, and malt vinegar to give the tomatoes a blast of complex flavor. If you're feeling extra-ambitious, you can try the homemade mayo as a spread to complete the ideal seasonal treat.

Recipe for Best Southern Tomato Sandwich

6. Unique Guacamole

Guacamole is guacamole, you say – what could possibly make it a dish unique enough to get your picnic guests talking? The secret is blistered limes and tomatoes, which add layers of intense flavor to the familiar favorite. Don't let this extra step scare you off. Total prep time is only twenty minutes from start to finish. Pack a bag of homemade tortilla chips and watch how quickly your unique guacamole gets gobbled up. Think about making a double batch!

Recipe for Unique Guacamole

7. Greek Salad

The fresh veggies in this Greek salad retain their personality while mingling with the robust dressing they're tossed with. Chopped olives and a sprinkle of crumbled feta make sure you remember the region you're celebrating, no matter where your outdoor eating takes place. It's a perfect side to complement pitas or meat dishes. For a vegan version, leave out the feta and add a shake or two of nutritional yeast to keep the cheesy notes without dairy.

Recipe for Greek Salad

8. Creamy Corn Dip

A poolside picnic is the perfect venue for this creamy corn dip. It's practically a party in a bowl, with crisp corn kernels sharing the scene alongside fiery green chiles and scallions. And what's that tingle leaping about on your taste buds between the garlic powder and the mayonnaise? It's apple cider vinegar, a heroic ingredient adding acid to balance out the profile in a most delicious manner. This one works as a side salad, a burger topper, or a straightforward dip for all the magnificent munchables on your table.

Recipe for Creamy Corn Dip

9. Crispy Fried Chicken

The basics of outdoor cuisine always begin with fried chicken, and this recipe ramps up the crispiness to maximum effect. You'll need little more than half an hour to dredge your pieces and get things sizzling. Once finished, you'll have eight servings of freshly made fried chicken to grace your picnic table. Surround the platter with a smattering of succulent sides to create a display that inspires your guests to dive on in.

Recipe for Crispy Fried Chicken

10. Easy Black Bean Dip

Southwestern snacks like black bean dip can lend your summertime gathering a Tex-Mex spirit that brings to mind beach weather spent seaside south of the border. There's nothing quicker as a last-minute addition to your menu than a spreadable dip you can make in the food processor. All ingredients go in for a blitz and emerge a smooth mélange of beans and seasoning with Taco Tuesday leanings that work any day of the week. This recipe also works beautifully as a filling for burritos, cutting your work in half.

Recipe for Easy Black Bean Dip

11. Egg Salad

Go deli-style with your picnic pickings with a classic egg salad. Five wholesome ingredients come together to create happy harmony that works just as well as a sandwich spread as it does a dip or side dish. It's also a great base for jazzing up in a dozen different ways, everything from adding pickles or relish for some fun zip to tossing in a can of green chiles to send the flavor profile into hotter latitudes.

Recipe for Egg Salad

12. Traditional Cucumber Sandwich

Light and easy does it when cucumber sandwiches make their way to your get-together. The cool partnership of fresh cucumber slices and silky cream cheese provides a gentle nosh for a sunset picnic dinner served with a few salads and some cold drinks. To give your gathering an upscale sensibility, serve these crustless wonders stacked high on a pretty tray. Try some Southern teacakes for a sweet dessert that continues the airy motif.

Recipe for Traditional Cucumber Sandwich

13. Quiche Lorraine

Dazzle your more elegant picnic guests (and yourself!) with a Quiche Lorraine delivered to your open-air event. You can make this the centerpiece of a high tea-style affair held in the garden or share it with your inner circle on the patio with other brunch time treats. Leave yourself plenty of prep and cook time, since this luscious bite takes 90 minutes or so to get ready for the party. If it takes a little longer, that's all part of the process. 

Recipe for Quiche Lorraine

14. Cucumber Tomato Salad

Fresh and light is the order of the day at a picnic, and it doesn't get much fresher and lighter than a cucumber tomato salad. This palate cleanser of a plate requires only chopping for prep work and takes a quick chop-and-toss to come together. Using red wine vinegar instead of white vinegar gives your acid a sense of style that makes any outdoor dining occasion feel like a black-tie affair. But save the tux for another day and enjoy this salad in summer garb instead!

Recipe for Cucumber Tomato Salad

15. Cobb Salad

This classic Cobb salad has all the elements you'll find in a restaurant version of the dish, letting you feed your friends a comfort food favorite that doesn't compromise healthy summer eating. There's a bit of cooking time for the chicken and the bacon, so factor that in as you make your picnic plans. A bowl brimming with Cobb cooler is a perfect lead-in to the richer dishes to come, as well as making for a fantastic main meal with a few smaller sides.

Recipe for Cobb Salad

16. Ham and Cheese Sliders

Tiny sandwiches like these ham and cheese sliders are not only easy to make and great to eat, but they're also tons of fun to see stacked among your outdoor dining options. A classic combination of ham, Swiss cheese, and deli pickle slices nestle between halves of dinner rolls or slider buns. Add a little heat to get your melting momentum, and voilà – a pile of petite pickings perfect for pleasing the most peckish of picnic people.

Recipe for Ham and Cheese Sliders

17. Easy Muffaleta Sandwich

Let the good times roll with an actual roll filled with the best sandwich New Orleans has ever made! With a simple take on the timeless muffaletta, you can combine tasty cold cuts with salty olive tapenade, sandwiched between slices of a toothy Italian loaf. Slice the whole thing into servable wedges and you'll have individual 'lettas for all the go gettas seated at the table. Make this deli delight even better with a batch of baked sweet potato fries your friends will go wild for.

Recipe for Easy Muffaletta Sandwich

18. Creamy Fruit Salad

When the heat gets too much and your picnic needs a cool-down dish, a creamy fruit salad is just the thing to lower the temperature. This tropical take on the usual blend uses pineapple, oranges, and kiwi to add a breezy island soul to an apple and grape base. Dress it all in a fusion of yogurt and honey and you have a light and lovely way to invite your partygoers to chill out a little.

Recipe for Creamy Fruit Salad

19. Crispy Corn Fritters

Break out the fryer and get a little rowdy with authentic corn fritters from the best Southern cooking tradition. The batter comes together in a snap; it's the frying that requires your undivided attention. A full batch creates 10 crispy hash brown-like fritters you can serve as appetizers or a crunchy side dish. Looking for a little extra zing to go with your crazy fritter thing? Whip up a homemade tartar sauce to offer as well.

Recipe for Crispy Corn Fritters

20. Best Grilled Vegetable Sandwich

Fire up the grill for a sandwich where the best summer veggies get the royal treatment. Bell peppers, zucchini, and eggplant roasted over an open flame turn smoky and sweet just in time to jump into ciabatta rolls. A swipe of fresh pesto, a chunk of mozzarella, and a few leaves of fresh basil complete the flavor festival you can carry in your hands as you laze beneath the summer sun. Che bello panino!

Recipe for Best Grilled Vegetable Sandwich

21. Summer Tomato and Corn Salad

You don't have to picnic on a farm field to enjoy a bowl of summer tomato and corn salad. Just boil up some whole corn and cut the kernels loose, slice some cherry or grape tomatoes, and pour together rice vinegar and olive oil for a speedy dressing. This stylish play on seasonal veggies lets you share a thoughtful dinner duet with eaters who like their corn off the cob and their tomatoes bite-sized and ruby red.

Recipe for Summer Tomato and Corn Salad

22. Traditional Coleslaw

Another deli dynamo that never met a picnic it couldn't liven up, a traditional coleslaw is both a dish everyone is sure to recognize and a sneaky way to add more veggies to your spread. The red and purple cabbage shreds tangling among carrot slivers create a visual punch that tastes as great as it looks. A simple shakeup of apple cider vinegar, mayo, and seasonings coats the crispness with just enough creamy tang to pull the whole dish together.

Recipe for Traditional Coleslaw

23. Potato Salad

Good luck finding a summertime picnic that doesn't include potato salad! To put your best version forward, follow this easy recipe by boiling potatoes to perfection before rolling them around in a peppy mixture of Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, mayo, and wine. Toss in a veritable field of fresh herbs to get the summer flavor in high gear, and you have an undeniable outdoor favorite that's a must-have on every plate.

Recipe for Potato Salad

24. Deviled Eggs

Who better to represent the heat of summer than a recipe named for the devil himself? Luckily, the devil in this heat wave refers to the flavorful mashed filling that gives the dish its special magic. In egg form, this cool and creamy creation has been cropping up at outdoor gatherings for generations. Why leave them off the invite list now? Get frilly by piping your filling with a scalloped tip and knock your guests' socks off. They should be picnicking barefoot anyway!

Recipe for Deviled Eggs

25. Best Macaroni Salad

Before the trendy pasta push came along, everyone knew this humble noodle as macaroni. Well, it's making a comeback in a big way with a macaroni salad that hits all the right nostalgic notes. The name may say "basic," but you can zhuzh up this traditional favorite however you see fit. Try tossing in grape tomato halves or sliced olives to steer the salad ship toward Greek seas or drop in capers and red onion to head for heartier flavor shores.

Recipe for Basic Macaroni Salad

26. Lemon Hummus

Whether you use it as a dip, a spread for wraps and sandwiches, or a base for salad dressings, there's nothing this lemony hummus can't make better. The food processor process is a cinch and lets you make a few recipes at a time to feed the hungry crowd meeting on your blanket. Opt for a fresh lemon for your juice instead of bottled, if possible. You can even zest the rind and add sunny curls for garnish.

Recipe for Lemon Hummus

27. Granola Bars

Campfire picnics aren't the only locale where homemade granola bars are a welcome dessert, but they may be the most appropriate! From-scratch granola transforms into convincing replicas of store-bought bars but with worlds more freshness and flavor. If s'mores are calling as your picnic comes to a close, try sandwiching a marshmallow between two of these beauties and making s'more-nola bars for the summer camp gang.

Recipe for Granola Bars