Summer isn’t officially over until late in September, but we all know that Labor Day weekend is its unofficial end, so make the most of it: Soak up the sun, wear flip-flops and grill all of the things before photos of apple-picking and pumpkin spice lattes take over your Instagram feed. Here are some of our best Labor Day recipes.
You could host a party and serve just dips, and no one would be sad about it. Salsa and guacamole are obvious choices, and Melissa Clark’s hot oyster and crab dip is a little fancy and very filling. If you haven’t heard of cowboy caviar (also known as Texas caviar or Dixie caviar), then you’ve been missing out. At its simplest, it’s a bowl of black-eyed peas dressed with a vinegary dressing, but we’ve added black beans, fresh corn and tomatoes to ours. Serve it with a big bowl of tortilla chips, and watch it disappear. If figs are finally in season where you are, stuff them with goat cheese for an appetizer that couldn’t be easier. And no one would turn their nose up at fried pickles with ranch dipping sauce.
Finally, have you tried the most popular soup of the summer? Julia Moskin’s best gazpacho, we mean. You could serve little shot glasses of it for guests to sip while the grill heats up.
Burgers, steak, chops, chicken, seafood, veggie burgers. Whatever you love to grill, we have a recipe for it (and a complete how-to guide). Melissa Clark’s grilled flank steak with Worcestershire butter is a reader favorite, as is Mark Bittman’s soy-grilled steak. For rib lovers without a grill, these balsamic-glazed oven ribs are your ticket to sticky-fingered bliss. (Related: If you’re looking for a good brine, this one works beautifully with any pork, especially tenderloin or chops.) One of our most popular recipes this summer was huli huli chicken, which you should try now if you haven’t. If you like grilled seafood, these spicy grilled shrimp are foolproof, as is this grilled salmon with crispy kale. For those who are avoiding meat, try the ultimate veggie burger, black bean burgers and portobello mushroom cheeseburgers.
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It’s a truth universally known, but not acknowledged: No one really cares how you grill your meat. It’s all about the sides. Sam Sifton’s pickleback coleslaw (above) is dressed with pickle-juice dressing, and it goes great with barbecue pork or chicken. Potato salad, macaroni and cheese and baked beans are classic dishes that are never out of place on a picnic table. (For a lighter take on potato salad, try chickpea salad with fresh herbs and scallions. It’s like potato salad without the nap.) And a big bowl of chicken salad served alongside a basket of split Hawaiian rolls sounds like a brilliant idea to us.
Finish your last-gasp-of-summer meal with a celebratory sweet. Peach upside-down cake is a beautiful idea, but for the lazier cook, this crazy-simple peach cobbler is equally delicious. (It works with fresh, frozen or canned peaches.) And children of all ages will love putting together any one of these ice cream cakes: orange Creamsicle, spumoni or mint-chocolate chip. It’s more assembly than cooking, so substitute whatever ice cream flavor you like! Everyone loves cheesecake (or these no-bake cheesecake bars) and banana bread (plain or swirled with Nutella). And have you heard of Kentucky butter cake? It’s a simple dump-and-stir poundcake that’s doused in a buttery syrup flavored with sugar and vanilla while still warm from the oven. It’s tender and moist, and some editors here think it tastes like a better version of Sara Lee poundcake. Finally, for those of you who already have fall feelings, these apple cider whoopie pies, or these apple pie bars, will get your taste buds ready for sweater weather.