44 Labor Day Recipes to End Your Summer With a Bang
Steak, shrimp, and plenty of sides—we've got it all.
To me, nothing says summer quite like the heady smell of smoke, emanating from a grill at a backyard BBQ. Enveloped by that smell, I'm likely to have friends nearby, an ice-cold beer in hand, and a freshly charred meal on the way. This very smell, recurring each weekend from May through August, makes me hope that summer will never end.
But alas, when Labor Day inevitably rolls around, the twilight starts retracting earlier into the evening, and the weekly gatherings begin to slow, the bliss of summer also feels like it's slipping out of reach. And that may well be the case. But there's always time for a final stint outdoors with fire and lots of food.
For this year's BBQ swan song, I'll turn to the newest cookbook by grill master, Texan, and cookbook author extraordinaire, Paula Disbrowe: Thank You for Smoking: Fun and Fearless Recipes Cooked with a Whiff of Wood Fire on Your Grill or Smoker.
In the book, Paula shows us how to add a hint of smoky flavor to all manner of foods, using your grill and a few clever tricks (read: no special equipment needed). You'll find recipes for meats, fish, and vegetables, of course, but also for smoked seasonings and spices; for smoked beans, pulses, and grains; and even for smoked cocktails.
Here are two of Paula's new recipes to add to your Labor Day menu, plus 30 more grilled meats, veggies, sides, and even desserts to round out your BBQ and celebrate the end of the season to the fullest.
1. Grilled herbed chicken breast with radicchio
Here, do-anything chicken breast takes on all the smoky goodness of the barbecue, and gets piled atop a zingy marinated radicchio salad. The dish is complete with more than a few shavings of Parmesan and salty oil-cured black olives.
2. Grilled Chicken Thighs With Lemongrass Glaze
Want juicy, aromatic chicken thighs with a punch of freshness at the end? This recipe's just the ticket. A mixture of lemongrass, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, and chile acts as a marinade and a sticky glaze post-grill, and then the thighs are topped with a squeeze of lime juice and a sprig of cilantro for good measure.
3. Grilled Ribs With Salt & Pepper
Sometimes, simple really is best, and these ribs are a testament. They're flavored with salt and pepper alone, but come off the grill tasting caramelly and complex.
4. Grilled Steak Salad With Fish Sauce Vinaigrette
This clever take on steak salad marinates the meat after it's cooked, allowing it to caramelize fully on the grill and then absorb a ton of flavor from a fish sauce, lime juice, and brown sugar combo. It then gets piled on a tangle of crisp greens and bright herbs, making for a refreshing BBQ main.
5. CPK-Style BBQ Chicken Pizza
You may have grown up with this familiar, comforting pizza—and now it's ready for its comeback. Tangy BBQ-sauced chicken is heaped over foolproof pizza dough, then tossed on the grill for an extra crispy-crunchy crust.
6. Smoky shrimp with lemony orzo, green olives & feta
In this guaranteed summertime favorite, quick-cooking shrimp get tossed on the grill for just a few minutes before mingling with lemony orzo, bright-tasting green olives, and a generous crumble of feta.
7. Grilled Salmon Tacos With Avocado Sauce
Tacos with all the fixings just scream summer, and these salmon-y beauts with chunky avocado sauce are no exception. They also come together in a flash—just 10 minutes to tender flakiness.
8. Beef & Kimchi Burgers
It's not a BBQ without a burger, right? Right. But how to make them special? Try these beef patties mixed with a hefty portion of spicy, funky kimchi, which helps keep the burgers juicy. You can top them with whatever your heart desires, but avocado or a crunchy slaw wouldn't be out of place.
9. Chicken and Steak Skewers with a Tahini-Yogurt Marinade
The earthy, nutty tahini–yogurt marinade that goes on these skewers is extremely versatile (and extremely delicious). According to recipe author EmilyC, it "works well with all kinds of protein, from chicken and beef to salmon or lamb," as well as tofu, seitan, or veggie skewers.
10. Leela Punyaratabandhu's Ghee-Smoked Chicken & Rice With Spicy Mint Sauce
Inspired by South Asian biryani, this chicken and rice dish is anything but traditional—smoked ghee and peppy shallot oil give everything a whole lot of personality.
11. Esteban Castillo's Michelada Ribs
Zesty, spicy ribs with an effervescent flair, thanks to beer—save a few cans for a cook's treat.
12. Grilled Romaine With Hot Dog Crispies & Pickle-Mustard Vinaigrette
Hot dogs—like you've never seen them before. Their flavor ends up being quite like bacon or pancetta, but you can use them in as high volume or accent-like quantities as you wish (say, sprinkle them over some grilled romaine, or lay them over a bed of yogurt and croutons and other grilled vegetables for a sturdier main dish).
13. Three-Down Ribs From Sylvester & Mary Hoover
Simple, specific, and utterly satisfying. Follow this recipe to a tee and you won't be disappointed.
14. Simple Grilled Seitan
Speaking of seitan, this chewy, meaty vegan hero is just begging to be marinated and grilled. And so it is in this recipe, with gingery, limey, mustardy flair.
15. Essential Tofu Burgers
Crumbled pressed tofu is mixed with cooked greens, scallions, mixed nuts and seeds, and a host of seasonings before being formed into patties. They're a bit delicate, so you'll have to bake them up before they go on the grill (but trust us, it's worth it!).
16. Black Bean & Corn Burgers
This is the most popular burger recipe on Food52 (seriously!) for good reason. Sweet corn kernels, creamy black beans, and a ton of smoky spices make up the totally vegan patty mixture, which gets grilled up and sandwiched in a soft bun.
17. Early Summer Panzanella
This rainbow of a salad is appealing enough as it is—but throw on a heap of grilled bread and several dollops of garlic scape pesto, and you're definitely in business.
18. Grilled Peach and Apricot Salad
Behold, the bounty of summer stone fruit, charred and caramelized on the grill. Huge chunks of feta cheese and prosciutto sweeten the deal.
19. A Salad of Grilled Vegetables over Crisp Lettuce with Halloumi Croutons
A mélange of grilled vegetables with toasty, melty halloumi cheese nuggets? Yes, please—and we'll take a second helping while you're at it.
20. Grilled Vegetable Pasta Sauce
If you're not quite feeling a salad this time around, we're guessing a smoky, earthy pasta sauce based on Alice Waters' ratatouille will be a fine replacement. Really, you can use any summer vegetable and make the sauce as chunky or smooth as you like.
21. Grilled Bread Salad With Broccoli Rabe & Summer Squash
Another grilled bread salad to add to your arsenal—this time with tender broccolini and summer squash that's gone for a dip in a mayonnaise marinade. The whole thing's scattered with rich, buttery pine nuts, too.
22. Grilled Baby Bok Choy With Miso Butter
We'd like to top everything with this miso butter. But it's the perfect salty, umami-rich counterpoint to herbal and slightly bitter grilled bok choy.
23. Grilled Young Carrots with Pickled Mustard Seed Dressing and Arugula
Grilling carrots makes them tender and all the sweeter, which balances perfectly with a sharp Dijon mustard dressing and peppery arugula.
24. Grilled Zucchini With Big Beans, Kale & Mustard Vinaigrette
Broad beans are marinated in a zingy mustard vinaigrette, then mix and mingle with smoky planks of zucchini and massaged kale. Salads have never been less sad.
25. Easiest-Ever Pasta Salad
We know this one's technically not grilled, but it belongs at your BBQ anyway. Every ingredient brings a burst of flavor—anchovies, roasted peppers, walnuts, and olives—and together, these bold bites really sing.
26. Ottolenghi's Burrata With Grilled Grapes & Basil
Leave it to Ottolenghi to give us the simplest, but most surprising side we've seen in a while—sweet and smoky grilled grapes alongside luxuriously creamy burrata cheese. A loaf of crusty bread will be glad to join the party.
27. Grilled Bread With Goat Cheese & Olives
Speaking of bread, it's pretty dang delicious when grilled—and then smeared with goat cheese, topped with green olives, and scattered with crispy walnut bits. Pro tip: Once the bread is grilled, rub it with a piece of raw garlic while it's still slightly hot to impart even more flavor.
28. Superiority Burger's BBQ Baked Gigante Beans With Polenta & Coleslaw
Is there anything Superiority Burger can't do? We think not—especially after trying these deliciously creamy, tangy BBQ gigante beans with baked polenta "fries" and coleslaw on the side. Did we mention the whole shebang's vegan, too?
29. Grilled Foil-Pack Chicken Nachos
Yes, your dreams have come true—we're here to tell you that you can make nachos on the grill. Just char some chicken, chop it up to scatter over foil packs of cheese-covered tortilla chips, seal 'em up, and go to town.
30. Grilled Chicken Caesar Lettuce Wraps
Grilled chicken's here to save the day yet again. This time, it's marinated in a Caesar-style dressing before going on the grates, and wrapped up in crisp, cool pieces of romaine.
31. Smoked Potato Salad
What's even better than regular potato salad? Smoky, multi-dimensional, utterly delicious potato salad. Since there's no mayo in sight, and instead a mix of zippy mustard and apple cider vinegar, this dish will keep well at the BBQ all day long.
32. Grilled Eggplant With Miso & Doenjang
Silky, tender eggplant gets doused in a sweet-savory-umami marinade, then tossed on the grill till plush and smoky. Serve this with white rice, noodles, or eat by itself.
33. Grilled Strawberries Romanoff
Did you think we'd forget about dessert? Not a chance. Sugared and grilled strawberries macerated in Grand Marnier want to be part of your Labor Day BBQ spread—and preferably over a double scoop of ice cream.
34. Grilled Banana with Chocolate and Crushed Peanut Brittle
Mark Bittman gives us a super-smart, mess-free grilled dessert—bananas topped with a crunchy walnut praline. The clever secret is that you grill the banana in its peel, allowing it to get warm, jammy, and a little smoky on the inside. Eat it from the peel with your desired toppings, or spoon it over ice cream. (We can never say no to ice cream.)
35. Lemon-Blueberry Bars From Dana Pollack
There’s no better Labor Day recipe than this dessert, which epitomizes everything delicious and sunny about summer. A cream cheese and sour cream filling pairs the juice of a lemon with 3 entire cups of blueberries for a bright bite.
36. Blueberry Cocoa Crumble
Chocolate and blueberries may not seem like the most conventional combination, especially for a Labor Day dessert, but leave it to recipe developer Sohla El-Wally to convince us otherwise. The filling is a classic citrusy blueberry jam, but the topping has just the right amount of super dark cocoa powder to keep things interesting.
37. Lemon-Blueberry Cornmeal Shortbread
Upgrade basic buttery shortbread cookies by giving them some summer flair in the form of freshly squeezed lemon juice and freeze-dried blueberries. It’s the perfect Labor Day dessert to enjoy while celebrating the (unofficial) end of the season.
38. Blackberry Cheesecake
If you’re hosting a large party for Labor Day, that means a crowd-friendly cake is in order. This summery cheesecake filled with a blackberry swirl and topped with a berry-licious whipped cream should surely hit the spot.
39. Vegan Coconut Tres Leches Cake With Strawberry Sauce
Tres leches cake is milky and creamy and incredibly light. But how can it be oh so milky and also...vegan? Well, reader, coconut milk and almond milk should do the trick. Our other secret is adding squash purée (hear us out!) to the sponge cake, which keeps it super soft and moist.
40. White Sangria
If luck is on our side, Labor Day weekend will be warm and sunny, which definitely calls for a refreshing drink recipe. The boozy base for this sangria is white wine, orange-flavored liqueur, a bubbly Spanish cava, and dry sherry, which are mixed together and accented with summery fruits.
41. Strawberry Daiquiri
Even if you’re not spending Labor Day weekend on a tropical island, this strawberry slushie will give you all the vacation vibes. Recipe developer and Food52 Assigning Editor Rebecca Firkser says that the trick to a not-too-sweet daiquiri is using fresh strawberries, not frozen or pre-puréed.
42. Frozen Gin & Tonic
Celebrate the unofficial end of summer with this thirst-quenching twist on a classic gin and tonic. You’ll love it so much that the bartender may give you a side eye the next time you accidentally try to order one at your local dive bar post–Labor Day weekend.
43. Smoky-Sweet Peach Spritzer
The smoky-sweet flavors in this Labor Day drink recipe come in the form of caramelized grilled peaches that are blitzed with brown sugar until the mixture turns into a super-smooth purée. Pour it over ice and top with lemony seltzer water.
It’s not an official summer holiday if there isn’t lemonade, right? Right. Skip the store-bought kind just this once and try making your own old-fashioned-style lemonade for Labor Day.
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