The pumpkin spice lattes may be out already, but we’re not letting summer slip away that easy. There’s still corn to shuck, meats to be grilled and cold, creamy desserts to eat hastily before they melt. The sun is still blazing and we’re menu planning for Labor Day weekend.
To keep that summer spread interesting, opt for some flavorful spins on the classics. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite chefs’ go-to recipes for warm-weather entertaining, and we guarantee these dishes will exceed guests’ expectations.
It’s the unofficial end of this sunny season, so we’re cranking the heat on the grill all the way up.
Appetizers and sides
If the Labor Day menu is diving towards summer seafood, try Alex Guarnaschelli’s irresistibly creamy crab dip. Great for entertaining, it’s versatile and can be made as spicy (or mild) as the host prefers.
This recipe is as seasonal as it gets! Tomatoes are at their peak right now, and so is sweet and juicy corn. It couldn’t be a better time to throw all these seasonal vegetables together to make a delicious salad with a little Middle Eastern flair, thanks to the grilled halloumi.
No mayo alert! This Japanese-inspired pasta salad is filled with edamame, carrots and bell peppers, and its dressing is made with miso, ginger, soy and sesame. It gets better as it sits, which means it’s perfect for picnics.
Caramelizing onions and bacon together is the secret to this creamy dip that’s a winner for any festivity. It’s incredible on its own or topped with some mozzarella and broiled before guests arrive. It’ll prep their appetites for all the smoky meats to come!
Ensure your veggie sides stay tender and crisp without them all mushing together in a bowl. Al’s grilled vegetable skewers are the versatile side dish for any type of main dish at a barbecue. They’re light and Labor Day-friendly, as the zucchini, summer squash and tomato are typically at peak season during this time.
This is not your usual potato salad. Bright spring onions, sweet blueberries and the smokiness they get from being cooked on the grill make this light and crispy side dish wonderfully unexpected and delicious. It’s an ideal fix for folks who don’t enjoy the mayo-based version.
It’s all about the butter, baby. Grab sweet corn in season from your local market, then take it up a notch for the party with flavors of sweet, spicy, smoky and salty.
Valerie Bertinelli’s go-to recipe for warm-weather gatherings, this recipe no-cook, full of flavor and only requires a few ingredients. All the elements pair so well together and make for an easy and impressive starter or side dish.
This simple finger food looks glamorous and impressive but is super easy to make. Zucchini has a subtle earthy flavor that perfectly complements the light ricotta cheese filling. The basil leaves offer a pop of fresh, pungent, peppery and aromatic flair for the perfect end of summer app.
Peruvian-style adobo sauce will transform plain, old grilled chicken into a mouthwatering masterpiece. The recipe features the unexpected sweetness of rice vinegar along with West African palm sugar, which coats each thigh in a rich, caramel flavor.
When you’re cooking for a group with a bunch of sides and fixings, grilled ribs always encapsulate that summer feeling. Chef D baths his in a wet rub before grilling to ensure every taste bud’s expectations are exceeded.
Hot dogs and … mustard? Ketchup? Not this year! Enjoy Nina Compton’s fun Caribbean twist on the cookout classic with her simple yet exceptional recipe. In addition to her refreshingly tropical hot-dog topping, she serves the main with a Creole potato salad that’s too good to skip.
Speaking of teaching an old (hot) dog new tricks, Anthony Contrino’s make-ahead giardiniera relish is a wonderful way to impress Labor Day guests. The giardiniera, which loosely translates to “gardener” in Italian, needs to sit at least two hours (ideally overnight) before serving, making this the perfect make-ahead barbecue condiment.
Frogmore stew is a one-pot mix — a “boil” — of the low country’s peak summer offerings. You don’t need to do much more than find the best ingredients and make them sing in this easy recipe that is truly a summer celebration experience.
This dish tastes like summer, with smoky and crispy grilled chicken, sweet tomatoes and creamy cheese. It’s an appetizer, salad and main course all in one.
Want that sweet, smoky tang of barbecue but weary of heavier meats? Sunny Anderson has a solution: barbecue salmon. Salmon, a great fish for a crowd because it’s hearty and not too pricey, gets basked in all the right flavors. When you follow the expert fish grilling tips, you’ll find it simple to get those perfect sear marks.
Grill up all your favorite end-of-summer veggies in this take on Spanish paella that’s perfect for a vegetarian Labor Day spread. The grill’s open flame adds a natural smokiness to this impressive dish that is filling enough to feed a crowd as the main star or as a hearty, all-in-one side dish.
For those who want a more traditional Labor Day menu, this burger recipe is a must! Why? Because Laura Vitale shares how to mold the patties with less-fuss — and fast! With only six minutes of cook time, these tasty burgers won’t require much time spent over the hot grill, so everyone can enjoy the party.
Al uses olive oil with a high smoke point in his marinade so that the shrimp doesn’t burn, keeping the shell on to ensure the smokiest flavor possible.
This prep-ahead steak is great for entertaining. Set the meat in the marinade and prep the zesty chimichurri sauce the day before (it gets even better as it sits!) to make grilling and serving steak a cinch when it’s time for the Labor Day fun to begin.
Pre-made cookies and store-bought ice cream make a lovely and easy dessert. Assemble it ahead of time and let it chill in the freezer until you’re ready to dig in. Topped with some fresh strawberries, everyone will think you’ve become a gourmet pastry chef (we won’t tell if you don’t!).
“Cornbread and sweet potatoes were two things that could consistently be found at my dinner table growing up. These two dishes were a crucial staple on the plates of my ancestors — and this dish reimagines them by combining them,” Will Coleman says about his cobbler, which starts with warm spices, maple syrup, sweet potatoes, plums and blackberries and ends with a cornbread crumble.
Sometimes a summer gathering just needs popsicles! Instead of store bought, try this four-ingredient recipe made with fresh ingredients like pink coconut water, lemons, agave nectar and a pinch of salt to balance out the acidity.
Celebrate the bounty of summer with this foolproof dessert that’s easy to prepare and bubbling over with beauty. Guests can scoop out their slice and, when it’s topped with cool vanilla ice cream, they’ll be begging for seconds.
When you can’t decide between a dessert and a cheese course, make this dish. It’s a little savory, a little sweet, and perfectly balanced. It’s just the thing when the grill’s been fired up all day but you’re not quite ready to let those hot coals go.
This is slab pie, meant to feed a crowd and usually a rustic affair, is beautiful inside and out. And the beautiful lattice on top of the pie filled with one of summer’s favorite fruits is a showstopper.