Recipes that travel for an easy Fourth of July picnic

A slice of fresh blueberry pie with a creamy topping is served on a plate next to the remaining whole pie.
Creamy potato salads, mac ’n’ cheese and cold pies that travel well to parks or backyards for the Fourth of July.
(Ben Mims / Los Angeles Times)

It’s the Fourth of July weekend, and in years past, I’ve always found myself with an invitation to a friend’s backyard for a cookout. This year, though, most of my friends who would host such shindigs are either undergoing construction or have moved to new apartments and had to give up their outdoor space and grills. Not to be dismayed, I’ve decided the party will simply move to a park, preferably one with a grill set-up, and I’ll bring all the sides and desserts to support the mains.

I’m a staunch traditionalist when it comes to the mains — you gotta have burgers, hot dogs, maybe a grilled chicken or two and some pork ribs. But with the sides and desserts, I like anything that can travel well and offers plenty of textural contrast to stand up to the meats. Here’s what’s on my list for the holiday:

To balance all the grilled meats, I love having a cold veggie-centric salad around. Adeena Sussman’s Rough Chopped Salad With Yogurt and Dukkah is ideal because the crisp veggies stay in large chunks and all you have to do is pile them over some cold yogurt and sprinkle with the premade dukkah right before serving. Or, I’ll make my Kale Pasta Salad With Parmesan and Smoked Almonds that I developed specifically for staying as crunchy and refreshing on day one as on day three (it actually only gets better the longer it sits).

For another cold but creamy salad, it’s potatoes all the way for me. I love Rodney Scott’s classic Southern-style Potato Salad spiked with mustard and vinegar. My Crunchy and Spicy Green Potato Salad packs in more greens in the form of peas and a spicy zhoug-inspired dressing. Or, you can turn potato salad into the main event with Paola Briseño-González’s Potato Salad With Spicy Green Goddess Labneh and Lobster.

As anyone who’s ever baked a pan of mac ’n’ cheese knows, all you need to do is take the dish out of the oven when you head to the park, and it’ll still be piping hot hours later, so it’s a great pack-and-go picnic side. The L.A. Times’ recipe for the “Best-Ever Mac ’n’ Cheese” really is worthy of the name, the noodles baked up in a sauce flavored with cheddar and Gruyère. But if you want to try something newer and a little fancier, Martin Draluck’s Parmesan Mac ’n’ Cheese updates a historical recipe made with Parmesan and cream and spiked with rosemary, thyme and lots of black pepper.


And for dessert, I love my duo of Fresh Blueberry Pie and/or Fresh Raspberry Pie. Each is filled with chilled fruit that stays raw, suspended in a tiny amount that’s cooked with sugar so that it breaks down and coats the fresh berries in a pleasing gel. The blueberry pie gets a pastry crust, while the raspberry one gets a graham cracker crust; swap either for the other or use store-bought, if you want. The pies travel well in a chilled cooler and are wonderful served by the spoonful from their trays just as well as if you try to cut neat slices.

But if whole pies seem too unwieldy for a picnic and you want something with plenty of zest, Nicole Rucker’s classic Key Lime Pie made as a slab pie and cut into bars is the ticket. Her recipe takes the classic and adds plenty of salt to the crust and sour cream to the topping to balance the rich, tart pie that’s as essential at a picnic or cookout in summer as a smoking grill and a cooler of cold beers.

Best-Ever Mac ’n’ Cheese

Properly made, plain old macaroni and cheese can be transcendent. A judicious amount of panko bread crumbs and some extra cheese provide the perfect crunchy-but-not-impenetrable topping for this classic side dish.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 10 minutes.

Macaroni and cheese served in two small bowls next to a casserole dish full of it.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Potato Salad With Spicy Green Goddess Labneh and Lobster

Commonly paired in many Latin cuisines, briny rich seafood — in this case, lobster — goes wonderfully with creamy potatoes in this salad, invigorated by a tart, creamy green goddess-style dressing. Because you only use a little, the lobster is affordable and its flavor goes a long way, especially when tossed with lemon for a vibrant topping to the salad, garnished with crunchy rendered-and-chopped prosciutto.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 40 minutes.

Spicy Green Goddess Labneh Lobster Potato Salad is served in a bowl.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

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Kale Pasta Salad With Parmesan and Smoked Almonds

Measure out your dressing ingredients and chop your vegetables while you’re waiting for the water to boil so you can make this salad super quick. It’s a great repository for any other leftover meat or vegetables you have chilling in the fridge.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 20 minutes.

Kale Pasta Salad With Parmesan and Smoked Almonds in a white bowl.
(Ben Mims / Los Angeles Times)

Fresh Blueberry Pie

This pie slices like a dream and tastes like a fresh version of a blueberry Pop-Tart in the best way. Do yourself a favor and bake the crust a day ahead so you can make the filling the morning of the day you want to serve it, and the process will be stress-free.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 5 hours, largely unattended.

Fresh Blueberry Pie in a tin with one slice missing.
(Ben Mims / Los Angeles Times)

Nicole Rucker’s Key Lime Pie

You can use preground graham cracker crumbs to make the crust or finely grind about 10 whole graham crackers. To serve a crowd, try the slab pie variation and cut into bars.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 30 minutes.

A slice of Key lime pie sits on a dish.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

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