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Family walking down to the beach for a picnic
3 Next-Level Ways to Do a Picnic

3 Next-Level Ways to Do a Picnic

  • Photos by Linda Pugliese
  • Recipes by Shira Bocar

Take a seat and a bite out of summer with these three spreads that you'll be excited to assemble—and delighted to share.

When the weather is glorious and a trip to the beach or park beckons, make a day of it with an outdoor meal you can linger over for hours. We’ve created three picnic spreads that put the mmm in summer—and a premium on your time. Whether you’re heading out with family, a few friends, or a hungry crowd, we’ll show you what’s worth making yourself and how to put delicious personal spins on store-bought finds. Now, let’s get out the basket and start packing.

The Italian Escape

This unexpected menu easily feeds a crowd. We used porchetta as a starting point and built a buffet of flavor-packed small bites around it.

  • 1
    Make a Main

    Give pulled pork a break from barbecue sauce. An herb-spice paste infuses the meat as it braises in the oven until fork-tender. To transport it, we love Stanley’s Adventure vacuum crock (3 qt., $65, stanley-pmi.com) Cut the ciabatta rolls before leaving home, then let guests pile on the pork and top it with crisp, thinly sliced fennel.

  • 2
    Pick Up

    Buy an assortment of antipasti for people to spear with toothpicks. Here, we offered roasted artichokes, meaty Castelvetrano olives, spicy Calabrian chiles, and chunks of Grana Padano cheese. Potato chips are a no-fail side; look for ones fried in olive oil to complement the theme.

  • 3
    Add a Twist

    Instead of hauling a cooler filled with cans and bottles, premix a simple, refreshing punch of ginger beer, lager, and Campari that scales up well, and pour it from a thermos or large Mason jar.

  • 4
    Serve with Style

    Pour ice into a bowl and pile fresh cherries on top. End the feast with “ice cream” sandwiches that won’t melt. Instead of the cold stuff, spread creamy mascarpone cheese between two cookies -- we highly suggest Jules Destrooper butter waffles, which taste like sugar cones and get a little soft from the filling, just like the classic freezer-case version.

The Mediterranean Mixer

Light, bright mezze skew more elegant than all- you-can-eat. Bring them to an outdoor concert or movie with another couple or two.

  • 1
    Make a Main

    Spanakopita—savory spinach and feta wrapped in phyllo—transforms nicely into a more portable slab pie. We used store-bought pizza dough and added mozzarella to make it more substantial. For a hearty salad, salt zucchini and squash slices for half an hour, then drain. (The salt draws out excess moisture.) Toss with honey-mustard dressing, pecorino, and basil.

    Get the Spinach-Feta Pizza Slab Pie Recipe

    Get the Zucchini-and-Squash Salad Recipe

  • 2
    Pick Up

    Bring unique snacks, like oversize Spanish corn nuts, or quicos, and fried fava beans; you’ll find them in the cheese section of grocery stores or in specialty shops. Pair them with a canned (yes, canned) wine, such as Underwood, which is crisp and should be served lightly chilled—even the Pinot Noir ($28 for 4, unionwinecompany.com). For dessert, break up some halvah, a sesame-based confection that comes in lots of flavors; pistachio flavor suits this spread (from $7 for 1/4 lb., seedandmill.com).

  • 3
    Add a Twist

    Dress up store-bought hummus with a surprising condiment, and pair it with a rainbow of carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes. Our favorite mix-ins are Zia Green Chile Company Hatch green chiles ($10, ziagreenchilico.com), Southport Grocery Smoked Onion marmalade ($8, southportgrocery.com), Brooklyn Delhi Roasted Garlic achaar ($9, brooklyndelhi.com), and Tobagi Sliced Cabbage kimchi ($9.50, nj.hmart.com).

  • 4
    Serve with Style

    For oven-to-blanket ease, dole out the spinach pie directly from the pan you baked it in.

The New All-American

When you’re planning a family-friendly picnic, the key is to satisfy the pickiest palate without sacrificing flavor. Our finger-licking winner: extra-crunchy Korean-style fried chicken and classic sides like potato salad and watermelon.

  • 1
    Make a Main (And a Stellar Dessert)

    The chicken is double-fried in a rice flour-based batter, which results in supremely crispy skin, even at room temperature. Transport it in a brown paper bag lined with waxed paper to absorb oil. A vinaigrette-tossed potato salad is creamy but light. Finish with the perfect one-hand dessert, a chocolate-chip cookie and brownie hybrid, aka the "brookie."

    Get the Crispiest Fried Chicken Recipe

    Get the Herbed Celery-Potato Salad Recipe

    Get the Chocolate-Chip Streusel Brownies Recipe

  • 2
    Pick Up

    Pickles are a bright, vinegary companion to the chicken, and they’re guaranteed to stay crisp in the summer heat. We went for pickled okra, a nod to the southern roots of the main dish (Rick’s Picks Smokra, $10 for 15 oz., rickspicks.com).

  • 3
    Add a Twist

    Amp up cooked corn-on-the-cob by cutting into bite-size pieces and topping with chopped scallion, lemon zest, fresh herbs, salt, a pinch of red-pepper flakes, and a drizzle of olive oil. Cucumber juice takes lemonade from expected to exciting. You can make the juice a few days in advance; just bring it in a jar, and let guests mix it in their lemonade to taste (or splash some in seltzer for an even lighter sip). 

  • 4
    Serve with Style

    Cut watermelon into fingers, instead of half-moons, so you can hold them by their ends -- no muss, no fuss, no sticky cheeks. Here's how to do it: Cut a whole watermelon in half crosswise. Position each half, cut-side down, on a cutting board. Cut 1-inch slices crosswise. Cut each slice into “fingers,” leaving rind at ends.