Get-togethers are the high point of spring and summer. It just doesn’t get any better than a day in the sun with friends, family and paper plates loaded with delicious home cooked food. This month we’re going to make some of my favorite picnic and potluck recipes to get you ready for your next cookout. With these dishes on your side, your party will be the one everyone’s talking about for the rest of the year, but you’ll spend so little time cooking that you’ll have plenty of time left to enjoy the company and the sunshine.
HamburgersWhat outdoor activity would be complete without burgers? There are many ways to make them, but this is my basic go-to mix. It has the perfect combination of flavor, with or without condiments. For the best results with beef burgers, you should keep the ground meat cold during the entire process of preparation. If you want to go full-flavor with less fat and calories, mix in some ground turkey or chicken.
- 1 lb. 80/20 ground beef (or ground turkey or chicken)
- ¼ cup sweet onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- Salt & pepper
- In a bowl, combine ground beef, onion and parsley and mix quickly with your hands.
- Using a digital scale, divide your ground beef mixture into 4-ounce portions. That’s a quarter pound pre-cooked weight, which is plenty for a good burger.
- Using your hands, flatten each portion and shape it until it is slightly wider than the bun. Make a small dimple in the center with your thumb to help burgers keep their form as they cook.
- Heat a skillet (cast iron is best if you have it) over medium-high heat and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. When the skillet is hot, a drop of water will quickly sizzle and evaporate.
- Place burgers in the skillet and let them cook undisturbed for 2 minutes. Flip the burgers and allow to cook for 2 minutes on the other side.
- Flip every minute or so until burgers reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
IMPORTANT: The USDA insists that beef hamburgers be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, which is considered well done. If you don’t like well-done burgers, you assume the risks associated with undercooked meat. For your information, rare burgers are 120-125 degrees, medium-rare is 130-135, medium 140-145, and medium-well 150-155.
Oven-Baked Seasoned Tater WedgesFrench fries are a guilty pleasure, but my oven-baked seasoned tater wedges are much better for you and so tasty you can leave the guilt at home! This is one dish that everyone will love, guaranteed. Serve them with ketchup, your favorite dipping sauce, or on their own.
- 4 baking potatoes
- 1/8 cup oil
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Cut potatoes in half lengthwise, then cut into wedges (4-6 per half, depending on the size of the potato). Transfer to a bowl and toss with oil to coat.
- Add remaining ingredients to a large zipper bag and shake to combine.
- Add potatoes a few at a time to the bag and shake to coat the wedges. Transfer wedges to a baking dish lined with aluminum foil.
- Bake for 20 minutes at 450 degrees, and then flip wedges and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes.
Slow Cooker BBQ Beef SlidersWho can say no to barbecued beef? This version keeps it simple by using your slow cooker to do all the hard work for you. Less than 15 minutes of prep time is all you need, start to finish!
- 2 lbs. boneless beef roast (chuck is my favorite)
- 1 cup water
- Salt & pepper
- Perfect BBQ sauce (recipe follows)
- Add water to slow cooker. Sprinkle roast with salt & pepper and place in slow cooker.
- Cook on low setting for 6-8 hours, or until fork tender.
- Use two forks to shred the roast. Add BBQ sauce and stir to coat completely.
- Serve on slider buns or burger buns with pickle slices.
Perfect BBQ Sauce
Sure, you could grab a bottle of sauce from the market, but if you have never made your own, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. I prefer to make this sauce the day before so that it can cool completely. This also gives the flavors plenty of time to mesh and develop. In a sealed container, it will store well in the refrigerator for two weeks, but it rarely lasts that long.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium sweet onion, finely minced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 1 cup leftover coffee
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup brown sugar, packed
- ¼ cup honey
- 2 tablespoons black pepper
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Sauté the onion in olive oil over medium-high heat until translucent and soft. If you notice the onions start to brown, reduce the heat. The goal here is to cook them thoroughly and keep them very soft. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 minute.
- Transfer onion and garlic to a saucepan, add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer uncovered until reduced by half.
- Allow to cool completely and use as you would any barbecue sauce.
Better Than Fast Food Cole Slaw
- 8 cups finely diced cabbage
- ?1/4 cup diced carrots
- ?3 tablespoons onions, minced
- The dressing
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- ?1/2 teaspoon salt
- ?1/8 teaspoon pepper
- ?1/4 cup milk
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- 1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Combine slaw ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
- Combine dressing ingredients in a separate bowl until thoroughly blended, and then stir into slaw.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours—and preferably overnight—before serving.
Michael Nolan is a professional gardener and food writer based in Atlanta. His digital cookbook, Food Camp: Kitchen Survival Skills, is available on Amazon or through his website, MyEarthGarden.com.