From the perfect margarita to the best potato salad, here are 5 essential Memorial Day recipes

Reach for a few simple, secret ingredients to make cookout staples, like grilled chicken and cocktails, even better

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published May 29, 2021 4:30PM (EDT)

Burgers Cooking On A Grill (Getty Images)
Burgers Cooking On A Grill (Getty Images)

For many, Memorial Day weekend marks both the start of summer and the beginning of cookout season, and after a year of being cooped up, it feels like this should be a year to really do up outdoor entertaining right. We can start by improving upon the basics, whether that's making a better summer cocktail or finding ways to make staples — whether that's potato salad or grilled chicken — more flavorful with less effort. 

Here are five stellar summer recipes to get you started:

Make a perfectly-balanced margarita 

There are a few cocktails that, to me, signal the start of summer: a good daiquiri, a gin and tonic with extra lime and a tart and sweet margarita. In her column, "The Oracle Pour," Salon's Erin Keane encourages readers to put aside what they may have encountered in the wild: the hangover-inducing sugar bomb of cheap pitchers for the table, the sickly-green plastic jug of buy-in-bulk supermarket mix. 

"Fresh lime juice, orange liqueur, a good tequila and some ice are all you need," Keane wrote. "The key is balancing those ingredients in a ratio that works for you." 

She recommends a  4-3-2 margarita formula, made with four parts tequila, three parts orange liqueur and two parts fresh lime juice. It's easy to scale up or down depending on the number of folks drinking. Oh, and Keane's recommendation to swap out Tajín Clásico seasoning for the typical salt around the glass rim? Genius. 

Pull out this secret ingredient to make a better potato salad 

According to Salon's Joseph Neese, the key to better potato salad is a sour cream, which cuts the heaviness of mayonnaise. "The sour cream will make your taste buds think of a beautiful, baked potato," he wrote. 

The rest of the recipe is very simple, calling for several tablespoons of mustard, a cup of diced hard-boiled eggs, diced bread and butter pickles and scallions. 

Make a better, crunchier summer salad with tips from Molly Baz 

Last month, Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams interviewed Molly Baz about her mouthwatering "Cook This Book: Techniques That Teach and Recipes to Repeat," which includes a recipe for a "crunchy, creamy, salty, savory and sweet salad involving rotisserie chicken, cabbage, cotija and Corn Nuts." 

"The idea behind this," Baz told Williams, "was that cabbage is a vegetable that you can keep in your fridge for a month. Rotisserie chicken or leftover chicken is something that's always in my fridge or easy to come by. I thought about a quick dinner salad that doesn't require a lot of prep that you can always have on hand and then built it out from there. And the corn nuts come in, and they're basically just an alt crouton."

Reach for coffee and beer for a more flavorful grilled wing 

A few winters ago, I wrote a recipe for Coffee Porter-Brined Wings, which double-down on the coffee flavor by using coffee porter in the marinade and ground espresso in the rub. While I initially developed the recipe so that the wings could be oven-roasted, they work really, really well on the grill. 

Once the wings are brined and rubbed, simply oil your grill grates with vegetable oil and heat grill to medium heat. Place wings directly on the grill, and cook until skin is crisp and meat is cooked through while turning occasionally, about 15 to 20 minutes.

For dessert, grill peaches before smothering them with whipped cream

Use your grill for more than meat and vegetables this holiday weekend, and toss peaches over the coals (or propane flame) for a simple, satisfying dessert. 

As I wrote last May, "Peaches are the ideal fruit to toss over the fire because after just a few minutes, their natural sugar begins to caramelize into a sweet, fruity syrup and their flesh becomes tender enough to slice through with a spoon." 

Once they're soft and have some grill marks, cover the peaches with a generous amount of whipped cream and garnish them with some fresh mint leaves. 


By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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