Picnic foods for every day, all summer long

Butterflied chicken can be cooked in the oven or on the grill and makes a great picnic main to take on the go all summer long.
(Ben Mims / Los Angeles Times)

With Memorial Day weekend in the rearview mirror, summer is practically here. Even though I’ll still be staying inside more than in years past, I’m making it a point to get out and have a picnic at least once a week. There’s nothing like lounging on a blanket in an open field — especially after months of being cooped up inside — while sipping drinks and snacking on sandwiches, pasta salads and other “outdoor” foods to restore the indoor-weary soul.

After months of stews and cakes, I’m ready for outdoor lunches of carne asada burritos and tacos al hongo eaten on my minuscule patio — maybe with a side of creamy potato salad one day or Lodge’s easy vegan Caesar salad the next. Outdoor dinner on Monday will be several slabs of seared tofu drenched in ginger scallion sauce over rice, then an easy jerk-ish chicken and bread salad on Friday to kick off the weekend. For dessert, I want grab-and-go sweets like my colleague Genevieve Ko’s insanely delicious peanut butter cookies or her s’mores rice crispy treats. My summertime staple banana pudding will work too, but built in small cups to take with me, along with a single spoon and napkin, on the move. It’s carefree summer food that tastes best when enjoyed outdoors and blissfully six feet away from anyone who’d want to steal a bite.

Tacos 1986 Tacos al Hongo

Time 35 minutes
Yields Serves 4


After you cook off lots of mushrooms and marinate them in addictive salsa macha, you’ll have an instant taco lunch all week long.

Jerk-ish Chicken and Bread Salad

Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Yields Makes 4 to 6

This easy oven-roasted chicken works just as well on the grill; rest the cooked bird on the bread to allow it to soak up all those flavorful juices.

Once you’re done mincing, dinner is a snap. You’ll want to make quarts of the sauce to keep on hand for spooning over any leftover proteins or veggies.

Lodge Vegan Caesar Salad

Time 15 minutes
Yields Serves 8

As indulgent as the classic, and so good, you’ll want to eat the whole serving amount yourself.

Salted Chunky Peanut Butter Cookies

Time 35 minutes
Yields Makes about 4 ½ dozen cookies


As the Lay’s potato chip tagline taunts, I bet you can’t eat just one.

Classic Banana Pudding With Homemade Vanilla Wafers

Time 2 1/2 hours, largely unattended
Yields Serves 4 to 6

Good vanilla pudding, ripe bananas and supremely crunchy vanilla wafers — it’s a classic combo for a reason.

Ask the cooks

Your recent article about butterflied chicken caught my eye. One problem for me is that invariably, the thicker part of the chicken doesn’t cook as quickly as less meaty parts like legs and wings. Any suggestions how to grill in such a way that the bird is cooked so that the thinner parts don’t get overdone and dried but the thicker parts are cooked but still juicy?


— Tony Cole, Redondo Beach

Hi Tony, this is a great question! Butterflied chicken is great to cook on a grill because it’s easier to maneuver than a whole, orb-shaped bird, and the skin gets evenly crispy. Invariably, though, the meat will cook a little unevenly and the white meat will always be done sooner than the dark meat.

One way to combat this is to flatten the chicken further after you butterfly it. Place the splayed chicken on a cutting board and use a meat mallet to pound the thicker parts of the breasts and any other bulbous sections down until all the meat is of an even thickness (or close to it). This will lead to a more evenly cooked chicken that won’t result in a patchwork of doneness.

Start the chicken skin-side down over the flame to render its skin and get it crisp, then flip it over onto the indirect side of the grill to finish cooking slowly until perfectly cooked all over.


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