Labor Day's not the end for this year's outdoor cooking—depending on where you live, you've probably got at least a couple more months' grilling time. But there's no time of year with a bounty of produce better suited to cooking over the coals, nor a more pleasant time to linger in the yard all day, sipping on something frosty.
Labor Day is often considered a last hurrah, a till next year to summer. And so we better honor it! Check your charcoal stores (or propane levels) and start dreaming up a menu—and keep these 8 tips for successful, memorable late-summer grilling in mind:
Have something for everyone. (That is, your vegetarian and vegan friends.)
How to make friends with the herbivores at any cookout: Make sure they've got something good and grilled to eat, too, and aren't stuck arranging a plate of corn and potato salad alone.
Grill hearty cauliflower steaks, tender, sweet carrots, fat slices of zucchini (bonus points for tossing them in marinade post-grill), or a mélange of vegetables for a chunky, charred pasta sauce. Put on some tofu, veggie burgers, or slabs of halloumi for a little more heft. And you can never go wrong with a few ears of corn, marinated tomatoes, or eggplants while you're at it.
Start marinating now.
There's nothing worse than being caught off guard day-of by some unexpected marinating time. This is a good reason to pick out any recipes you're planning on making today and plan accordingly. (And to keep on the safe side, give yourself at least a full day's worth of marinating before you plan to grill.)
Wood's your secret weapon.
How to make whatever you're cooking about 16 times more delicious: Seek out wood chips or planks.
If there's bread of any kind, grill that too.
Brushing hot dog and hamburger buns with a little butter and then sliding them onto the grill is the next best thing to making them yourself. (Which, hey, you could do, too.) Toasty and warm and slightly charred, they'll make whatever you slide onto them even better.
And if you've got a day-old baguette or any type of rustic loaf, slice that up and throw it on the grill, too. Pile it high with toppings of your choice (including, but not limited to, hummus, cheese, pickled veg, grilled squash or eggplant—the possibilities are endless).
Make your burgers special. (It's just as easy as making any ol' patty.)
There are just a few tried and true tips you'll need to follow to make them the best yet. Beyond that, sky's the limit: Add spices—toasty cumin, fennel seeds, chile flakes—to your burger blend. Or go wild with mix-ins! Off the grill, add a swipe of jam and a creamy cheese to the (toasted) buns, and grill onions to top off the patties. DIY a special sauce.
Truly last-minute grilling? Turn to fish.
Fish cooks in less time than it takes the grill to heat up. You've got a couple of ways to go about it, and as our community member cheese1227 wrote in this article, "Either pick the right gadget or pick the right fish." Cedar planks are your friend. Grilling baskets are your friend. Cast iron pans are your friend.
P.S. A fish sandwich is a welcome alternative to a burger! And shellfish are a good grilling option, too.
Meat (fish excluded) can be seared and then grilled, veg grilled low-and-slow and then seared. It's the best of both worlds: a gorgeous, flavorful crust and the smoky goodness of grilling. (If you've ever seared a steak and then finished it in the oven, this is the same idea.) You can even do the searing bit on the grill: Just reserve a corner of the grill for a cast iron skillet.
Grill dessert and you've got one less dish to wash.
Grilled peaches. Grilled plums. Grilled watermelon. Grilled pineapple. Grilled pound cake and cookie bars and pain de mie—yes! Add a scoop of ice cream and win over everyone. (Be sure to clean the grill grates especially well to avoid any crossover from bacon burgers to peaches.)
This article was originally published in August 2016, but we're running it again to fire up your Labor Day grilling this year.