The 23 Most Iconic Summer Foods Ranked

"There ain't no cure for the summertime blues," as the classic tune goes, but that's not exactly true. There are countless cures for the doldrums of summer. In fact, the remedy is more straightforward than many imagine. Simply present a down-in-the-dumps person with one of the iconic summer foods listed below, and voila! Any frown will turn almost instantly upside down.

Frankly, summer isn't really summer without the presence of certain foods. It's not just that we instinctively think of these when the days get simultaneously warmer and longer, or that they're widely available during the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The truth is that these foods are synonymous with the entire summer season.

It's certainly a pleasure to simply list those foods that scream summer, but it's far more fun to rank them — and to do so with a fairly-balanced list of proteins, desserts, and sides. So, in honor of those foods that make each summertime a season to remember, let's take a deep dive and rank the most iconic summer foods.

23. American flag cake

The simplicity of American flag cake makes it perfect for the warm summer months, though two particular dates make it indispensable to the season, at least in the U.S.: Memorial Day, and Independence Day. After all, how can you celebrate these two monumentally patriotic days without countless items decorated in red, white, and blue?

The origin of this dessert is difficult to determine, though Ina Garten claims ownership, telling Food52 that she "just made it up." Whether or not the "Barefoot Contessa" host is truly responsible for American flag cake is up for debate, but there's no denying her recipe for the iconic summer food has been delighting fans for years.

Now, while we understand that there are devoted fans for just about every single food on this list, something had to come in last. And since American flag cake, delicious as it is, doesn't necessarily figure into the rest of the season outside of two holidays at the most, it takes that unfortunate spot.

22. Grilled chicken

Americans consumed a staggering 65.2 pounds of chicken in 2018, according to the USDA, so it stands to reason that it holds a spot in our rotation of summer foods — provided we're talking about grilled chicken, that is.

Frankly, on those days you want a break from the standard burgers-and-dogs spread, or to ingest a far-healthier alternative? You can't go wrong throwing some chicken over the fire. As with all grilled foods, the addition of that smoky, flame-seared flavor makes grilled chicken an indispensable piece of your summer meal plan. While some may worry about chicken drying out on the grill, brining it ahead of time will keep the protein juicy, as will utilizing both direct and indirect heat when cooking.

We love grilled chicken, and there's no doubt it belongs on this list. But since it's not exactly the most exhilarating protein option, it ends up on the lower end of our rankings as a result.

21. Peach cobbler

Just as pies make for a perfect dessert during the fall and winter, cobblers are an ideal summertime dessert. Perhaps owing a debt of gratitude to its easy preparation process (in comparison to pie-making), cobblers are best suited for those warm, sunny days. And no cobbler may be more iconic to the summer — or any other time of year, for that matter — than the glorious peach cobbler.

Peach cobbler is fantastically easy to make, which means you won't be stuck baking for hours. Rather, you'll have plenty of time to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. Additionally, with peach season occurring between April and October (via Lane Southern Orchards), there's no better time to incorporate peaches into your diet than the summer.

Of course, since canned peaches arguably work just as well as their fresh counterparts — and provide the same nutritional value – we're inclined to rank this dessert lower than other iconic summer foods.

20. Scallops

There's no better time to indulge in seafood than the summer, when the warm weather implores us to flock towards the shoreline, and spend as much time as we can near the ocean. Though there are a vast number of aquatic proteins to choose from, for sure, few can compare to scallops.

When it comes to scallops, there are no shortage of fantastically delicious options. This iconic summer food can be enjoyed fried, grilled, or pan-seared, but according to Fulton Fish Market, in order to maximize its "briny candy" flavor, less is often more during the cooking process.

Keep in mind that scallops are sold in both wet and dry forms at the store, with some claiming the wet variety leaves a lingering soapy taste. The risk of unintentionally ruining a summer shellfish smorgasbord means you should aim for the dry variety when purchasing scallops — and helps explain why scallops barely make the top 20 on our list.

19. Asparagus

Is there any way around the fact that we don't eat enough vegetables? Clearly, a piece of lettuce will never be as appetizing as a chicken wing, but we still need to make sure we're ingesting a sufficient amount of veggies. Thankfully, the summer season makes consuming them a bit more tolerable, and few are as decadently delicious as asparagus straight off the grill.

One of the most grillable vegetables at your disposal, asparagus can easily withstand the heat of the grill. When cooked properly, it develops a mouth-watering char outside of a crisp-yet-soft interior — while retaining a vast array of nutritional benefits (via Healthline). 

Asparagus makes for an enticing option in the summer sunshine, no matter how you choose to prepare it. So why doesn't it rank higher? Because, as noted by the USDA, asparagus season peaks during the spring. This means that, as the summer goes on, the asparagus available in your local market likely diminishes in freshness.

18. Sausages

The ability to grill any meal during the summer is a large part of the appeal. Sure, the nicer weather plays a hand. But with the genuine argument that grilled food tastes better than all other options, the presence of the grill for months on end means certain foods are ideally-suited for the season, like sausages.

Sausages cooked on the grill are an iconic part of the summer season. When you take a nicely-seared sausage and serve it on a hefty roll with some mustard, preferably spicy brown, you'll never be disappointed. Whether it's Italian-style, bratwurst, or the aptly-named summer sausage — which, contrary to popular belief, still needs to be refrigerated (via The Wisconsin Cheeseman) — sausages are a welcome addition to any summer meal.

Eat one at a cookout, grab one on a city street, or outside the stadium before a baseball game. You'll never be disappointed with a grilled sausage, though its fatty, heavy nature may make some people reach for another menu item.

17. Grilled peppers and onions

Certain foods just go together, whether it's peanut butter and chocolate, chips and dip, or sausages with peppers and onions. How anyone can eat a sausage without peppers and onions is a mystery. Frankly, it's not just a case of leaving untapped flavor on the table — it's akin to blasphemy (particularly in the Italian-American community, according to cookbook author, Paulette Licitra).

Now, we apologize for being a bit dramatic, but grilled peppers and onions are an essential summer food. Like many vegetables, the addition of the charred flavor imposed from the grill takes the oft-combined peppers and onions to a whole other level. It's not just sausages that the veggies' pair well with, though. The duo works phenomenally when skewered on a kebab, or simply grilled on their own as a side.

Clearly, there's no shortage of delicious ways to enjoy grilled peppers and onions. Yet, largely owing to the year-round availability of both, we can't bring ourselves to rank the pair any higher for its pure ubiquity.

16. S'mores

Since the only person who's ever been unaware of the existence of s'mores was Scotty Smalls in "The Sandlot" (okay, maybe don't fact check us on that), there's no denying that it's earned its signature stature. Frankly, do we even need to explain why the campfire staple is on a list of iconic summer foods?

We may not need to elaborate, of course, but considering how effusive we tend to be about all things food-related, we're more than happy to give the s'more its day in the summer sun. Though its slightly-rich makeup keeps it from ranking higher on this list, it's obvious why s'mores have been a beloved summertime dessert since first appearing in a 1927 Girl Scout manual (via Minnesota Public Radio).

After all, a toasted marshmallow is plenty delicious all on its own. But when pressed between a pair of graham crackers with a piece of milk chocolate? Nothing may satisfy your inner child more than that warm, sweet, gooey-and-oozing treat.

15. Fresh berries

Given the plethora of warm weather found during the summer, it makes sense that so many fruits and vegetables crest in quality and quantity during that time. Berries are no exception, with the harvest of numerous fresh berries peaking during those months (via Shari's Berries).

The widespread availability of fresh berries during the season is certainly part of the reason why they stake a claim as an iconic summer food. But we also have a tendency to crave fresher foods during the summer (via Medical Daily), and very few satiate that desire quite like fresh berries. After all, a handful of fresh, juicy berries can quench your thirst and fill you up. They might even improve your overall brain health.

When you're looking for something sweet and satisfying during the summer, it's hard to beat fresh berries, though they are pretty seasonal (don't even try to buy those bland grocery store berries during winter). That said, with a few more foods ranked ahead, we suppose you actually can beat them.

14. Steak

If there's one food tailor-made for the grill — a product sent from the heavens, destined to be seared on scorching hot grates — it's steak. No matter the cut, few foods taste better when charred over flames than beef. Consequently, few foods are as iconic to the summer (or any time of year, for that matter, which keeps it from ranking higher on a list of seasonal foods) as steak.

Rather than nitpick between the best cuts of steak to grill for this list, we'll lump them all together for simplicity's sake. Because it doesn't matter which steak you're choosing; what matters is prioritizing the cow-derived protein when the sun is at its hottest. Of course, if you're wondering what we're choosing for our next cookout, consider the tri-tip, or what's known colloquially to New Englanders as steak tips (via D'errico's Market).

Nothing quite matches the smoke-injected flavor found from the grill, though if you find yourself out of propane or charcoal, you can still obtain a nice crust on your steak by pan searing it on the stove.

13. Shrimp

There's a natural boost in seafood consumption during the summertime. Part of this is due to the bounty of popular seafood options found during the season (via Seafood Nutrition Partnership). But an eagerness to embrace seasonal flavors and taste the ocean, whether you're able to see the sea or not, likely contributes as well. Given these factors, it can't come as any surprise that shrimp easily makes the list of iconic summer foods.

Shrimp belongs among summertime culinary royalty because it's practically impossible to resist in just about any format. Its glorious flavor is well-suited to various preparation and cooking methods, and whether it's served hot or cold, shrimp consistently provides a top-notch, near-perfect meal.

Shrimp was the most-consumed seafood in the country from 2008 to 2020 (via National Fisheries Institute), but that actually works against it for our purposes. After all, shrimp's iconic status clearly isn't limited to the summer, which limited how high it could rank in a list of foods that exemplify the season.

12. Strawberry shortcake

While we love any and all berries here in the U.S., there's still a clear favorite when it comes to summer fruit: strawberries. Strawberries stand head and shoulders above the competition, making up more than 44% of all berry sales in the country in 2020. And while strawberries are perfectly fine in their unadulterated state, there may be no better use of the heart-shaped fruit than strawberry shortcake.

When it comes to classic summertime desserts, it's hard to beat the light-yet-filling strawberry shortcake — which is why only two desserts rank higher on our list. The fact that strawberries are at their peak ripeness during the summer helps elevate it to iconic status, as does the unique fact that it calls for raw, uncooked strawberries (via Edible Boston).

It doesn't matter which type of shortcake you prefer, whether it's a biscuit, angel food cake, or something else entirely. Just be sure to serve it with a huge scoop of juicy, partially-blended strawberries and some whipped cream, and you'll always end up coming back for more.

11. Summer squash

There likely isn't any confusion why a food with the word summer in its name belongs on this list, but it's not just summer squash that deserves a spot here. Since it's almost always paired with zucchini (which is also, in fact, a healthy summer squash, according to WebMD), we'll lump these two closely-related vegetables together.

This duo deserves a spot just outside our top roster of iconic summer foods — with only one other vegetable ranking higher — for reasons beyond the eye-popping colors of summer squash and zucchini. The exquisitely similar flavor profile found in these two veggies means they always pair well, and there are no shortage of potential recipes for summer squash and zucchini.

Not only that, but the light, fresh flavor found in summer squash and zucchini means it works in both warm and cold dishes. Just make sure you leave the skin on, since that's where many of the nutrients are found (via University of Kentucky).

10. Pasta salad

We tend to prefer lighter, cooler, and more refreshing fare when the weather gets warmer. Given this, few barbecue and picnic sides can match the status of pasta salad, which undoubtedly belongs in our top 10 of the most iconic summer foods.

It isn't shocking that a well-loved starch like pasta has a prominent place on many folks' summer menu rotation. In fact, it was the most popular food in the entire world according to a 2011 survey (via BBC). The way in which pasta salad is often served cold also plays a huge hand in its placement as a classic summer side dish, as does its versatility (via The Guardian), 

Whether you want foods that provide cool contrast to the grilled stuff or something else entirely, pasta salad definitely belongs on your summer menu. And, as a result, whether you love it or hate it, there's no denying pasta salad's rightful place on any summertime table.

9. Popsicles

Some may quibble with our differentiation between popsicles and ice cream. Both frozen treats have their place on this list, for sure (don't worry, we'll get to ice cream). But the fact that popsicles have a lighter, fruitier, and more refreshing composition than the cream-based alternative means they both belong ... as separate entries.

Popsicles are almost too good to be true. After all, how can something be so pleasantly satiating, allowing you to beat the summer heat without filling your stomach like a ton of bricks? Slurping on a popsicle until you're down to the stick, or sucking down an freeze pop until there's nothing left but a plastic tube, is integral to anyone's summer experience. However, we think it's not quite as integral or delectable as ice cream.

If you're a popsicle lover who's bored by what's on the market, don't fear. You can still enjoy popsicles during the summer, by making custom ice pops at home.

8. Clams

Clams belong near the top of any list ranking the most iconic summer foods. Whether you're having them fried or steamed, clams' creamy-yet-chewy texture is remarkable, especially if you're eating it on a beachfront somewhere. Frankly, their dynamite flavor makes it easy to forget the sort-of disgusting fact that clams are mud-dwelling bottom feeders, according to Seacoastonline. But let's be clear here: when we say clams are a titan of the summer season, we mean whole clams and not clam strips.

Viva la clam bellies, as we like to say around here (we don't actually say that). While some claim they prefer strips because a clam's belly is full of sand (via New England Today), it's just not as flavorful or gratifying as ingesting the entire thing (sans shell, of course). Ultimately, if you're hankering for a basket of freshly-caught fried clams, it just won't taste quite like summer unless you're eating the entire clam, belly included.

7. Watermelon

Watermelon is, quite simply, the simplest things to include on this list of iconic summer foods. After all, there's almost nothing needed to prep it: you just slice it and serve it. But beyond the easy preparation and peak summer ripeness (via Watermelon Board), the sweet, fibrous, and thirst-quenching watermelon makes it an essential component of every summer season, not to mention the highest-ranking fruit on this list.

If you've felt more hydrated after eating watermelon, there's good reason for that. Watermelon is made up of 90% water, according to Medical News Today. Given that it's as healthy as it is enjoyable, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand why sliced watermelon is a regular at cookouts and sporting events during sweltering summer days.

And if you swallow any seeds, don't worry about those urban legends you've heard. We can assure you that no fruit will sprout in your stomach.

6. Burgers

The yin to grilled hot dogs' yang, it's safe to say that the all-American favorite of hamburgers hold a fairly strong claim as an iconic summer food. With its near-perfect ability to hit the grill, and incredible combination of beefy flavor and delectable texture (if done right, anyway), burgers are a pretty great choice during summer.

Yet burgers rank several spots lower than hot dogs on this list because of the year-round ubiquity of fast-food burger joints. The fact that you can treat yourself to a flame-broiled burger in the dead of winter somewhat diminishes its summertime star –  but not by much, thankfully.

Now, maybe burgers don't rank quite as highly as hot dogs, but that doesn't negate the meal's still-strong connection to the season. After all, there are very few cookouts that won't feature the smell of burgers, alongside hot dogs, while they cook on a backyard grill.

5. Potato salad

Since potatoes were the leading vegetable in the U.S. in 2021 (via Agriculture Marketing Resource Center), it makes sense they'd hold a prominent place on summer menus. While french fries and baked potatoes are always reliable, when it comes to iconic summer foods, they can't hold a candle to potato salad.

Frankly, there's no better side dish for the summertime than potato salad. The perfect combination of cool creaminess and just-soft-enough potatoes strikes a wonderful balance of flavors and textures. Potato salad goes well with any protein or vegetable, and will always be welcomed with open arms.

That said, potato salad does require a bit of extra planning. While many folks worry about mayonnaise spoiling when potato salad sits outside, it's not just mayo that raises that risk. The low acid levels found in the other ingredients often makes the dish a breeding ground for certain bacteria (via NC State University), which means that you should still keep it refrigerated when not eating it.

4. Lobster

You don't need us to tell you that lobster (or lob-stah, depending on where you are) is one of the most iconic summer foods out there. The usually-decadent shellfish is widely-connected to the season, though it's less of a consistent choice during the summer, and more of a rare treat specific to the season.

A supremely succulent shellfish (provided you cook it properly), lobster is in a league of its own. Despite being almost mind-bogglingly expensive at times (via Maine Lobster House), its unbeatable taste propels it above all other summertime shellfish options.

It's not always an easy or relaxing food to eat, and it's not exactly fun, per se, to crack the shells, scrounge for meat, and eat a whole lobster. But when a piece of lobster meat hits your tongue, and begins to melt in your mouth? Well, it's sort of hard to articulate just how divine the experience can be. That ineffable quality lifts it above all other summer seafoods.

3. Ice cream

It may be challenging to agree on much of anything anymore, but surely we can all agree on one thing: ice cream is freakin' delicious.

Even Bert and Ernie know that "everyone likes ice cream." While confident no one's going to argue with "Sesame Street," particularly when it comes to ice cream and the summer. After all, when you want to lower your core temperature while tickling your tastebuds, there's no better option than ice cream. It doesn't top this list for the simple reason that we generally prefer savory foods.

Given its inherent connection to summertime, it's obvious why countless ice cream parlors only operate during the season, or why there's a near-constant presence of ice cream trucks at that time, blaring a bell-driven version of one nursery rhyme or another. Ice cream is an iconic summer food, so much so that July is National Ice Cream Month (via International Dairy Foods Association). 

2. Corn on the cob

When it comes to the most iconic summer foods, there's a clear trend towards culinary items that translate to casual, outdoor settings with easy-to-consume foods. Hence, finger foods take precedent. And the undisputed champ of veggies to eat with your hands? Corn on the cob.

Frankly, no food may say summer quite like an ear of gloriously sweet, crunchy corn on the cob. The fact that corn is harvested between May and September (via Food Network), and is grown in all fifty states, likely contributes to its universal availability during the summertime. Well, that, and the inarguable fact that it is simply scrumptious.

No matter how you choose to prepare corn on the cob, it clearly deserves its ranking as the second-most iconic summer food. The spirit of the season demands its regular consumption, though who's complaining? No one, as long as you avoid these common mistakes when making it.

1. Hot dogs

The queen mother of all summertime foods, the humble hot dog easily tops the list of most iconic summer foods. Beloved by both children and adults alike, the easy-to-make, simple-to-eat food is a mainstay of any cookout from May through September. It's such an iconic part of the summer season, in fact, that we've dedicated an entire event to engorging ourselves with the tube-shaped delights, in the annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest each Fourth of July.

According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, Americans eat a staggering 7 billion hot dogs during the summer season each year on average. Suffice it to say, that's a lot of hot dogs.

You can never go wrong with any type or preparation, but nothing beats a hot dog off the grill. When you take a bite from a plump, charred hot dog fresh from the grill, it's like all your cares and worries simply disappear. Maybe this is why hot dogs take the crown as the most iconic summer food.