A Picnic Menu to End All Picnic Menus

May 12, 2018

We’ve partnered with New Belgium Brewing to showcase a picnic menu that's perfect for welcoming the season.

Spring is here, and if you haven’t already, it’s time to take advantage of the short sleeve-friendly temperatures and season’s first fresh produce before the sweltering summer heat kicks in. Break out your picnic basket; this is not a drill.

Paired with fried chicken and potato salad, Tartastic Strawberry Lemon Ale is the perfect picnic beer. Photo by Rocky Luten

I live in New York City—where balconies and backyards are pretty hard to come by—so I’ve had plenty of practice swapping my dining table for a blanket and small patch of grass at the park near my apartment. As far as picnic fare goes, I’m a sucker for the classics—you'll always find some fresh fruit, potato salad (with an herby twist, thanks to some pesto), and super fudgy brownies in my basket. Still, sweets and starches do not a picnic make, so when I'm inviting friends along for the ride, I'll round out the menu with some more substantial dishes. I’m talking fried chicken, deviled eggs, and a shaved asparagus salad so bright and refreshing you’ll be making it on repeat all season.

The Menu

Pulling it all together

Cold fried chicken is your friend. While it's a classic picnic food, cold fried chicken tends to stir strong feelings—some people love the softer skin that results from refrigeration overnight while other people prefer just-fried. Keep both camps happy by making sure your breading stays slightly crispy. Just let the fried chicken cool completely before putting it in an airtight container, or pack it up in layers of brown paper and/or paper towels in a brown paper bag.

Assemble your deviled eggs in two parts. Deviled eggs make great finger food, but they’re not exactly made for traveling. So you don’t wind up with smushed filling, make the recipe through step four at home and then finish up at the picnic. Pack the filling in a piping bag (or just a regular old plastic bag) and squeeze it out into the halved egg whites once you've arrived at your destination; bring along some herbs or pepper for dusting on top.

Dress the salad on the scene. Shaved veggies and delicate greens can get mushy if you toss in the dressing and store them overnight. Wait to dress the Shaved Asparagus Salad until just before you leave, or simply do it at the picnic. You'll also want also make sure to pack the burrata separately, so you don't loose any of the precious cream until it's time to eat. Similarly, if you're adding greens to your potato salad, you can toss those in on the scene as well so they don’t get wilty.

Make a checklist. There are a few things you probably already know you need, but just to be safe I always write down a checklist to make sure I don’t forget anything. (Trust me, you don’t want to accidentally leave the forks and knives at home, or realize you don’t have a bag for trash when it’s time to clean up.) On top of the usual suspects, there are a couple of extras you may want to consider. Mini salt and pepper shakers plus a little kit of extra herbs or other seasonings can be helpful for prettying up food after traveling. And if you're bringing beer, make sure you also bring along a bottle opener!

Make as much as you can the day before. There’s no need to scramble to prep all of the food hours before your picnic is set to kick off. The beauty of most picnic food is that it can be made a day or two ahead. Slice and dice fresh fruit and veggies, fry up the chicken, assemble the potato and asparagus salad, and make the deviled eggs all in advance so that the only thing you have to do on the day of is pack up the storage containers. If you’re feeling particularly organized, you can even try and check every item off your list the day before.

Invest in a practical picnic blanket. Even if the sun is shining on the day of your picnic, there’s a chance the ground could be holding onto moisture from yesterday’s rainfall. Don’t fall victim to damp grass by investing in an outdoor blanket with a waterproof nylon bottom—it will literally save your butt. (It’ll also save your friends’ butts, and they’ll thank you for it.)

Let your friends lug the water. Whether or not you’re asking friends to bring any of the food, definitely ask everyone to bring their own water. This will prevent your own kit from getting too heavy and help make sure everyone stays hydrated.

Consider stepping up the serve ware. While paper plates are a nice lightweight option, sometimes something a little heftier (like bamboo or tin) can give your picnic a more special occasion-feel. Ditto for real silverware, which you can roll up in napkins and tie with twine ahead of time.

Do you have any tried-and-true picnic dishes? Share your favorites in the comments!

There’s no better way to cool down on a sizzling afternoon than with a refreshing beer. For a picnic-ready brew that pairs perfectly with this menu, bring along a six-pack of our partner New Belgium Brewing's Tartastic Strawberry Lemon, a refreshing ale that just may be your new summer go-to.

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Erin Alexander

Written by: Erin Alexander

Erin Alexander is the Managing Editor of Food52.

1 Comment

Anna H. May 22, 2018
Inspirational! The sun is out on the East End for the first time in a while; a picnic sounds like fun, even if it's just in the yard.