When the 4th of July rolls around, it's almost guaranteed you’ll be invited somewhere -- potentially at the last minute as plans come together. Or maybe you’ll be the one inviting people over the night before the barbecue!
Either way, you might not have a ton of time to prepare something to bring with you—but that’s where these recipes help.
Most of them are pretty quick—or at least easy and hands off, like the Banana Sheet Cake. Some of them you can make ahead if you have at least a little bit of forewarning, such as the Pasta and Bean Picnic Salad, the Gazpacho, and the Swiss Chard Tzatziki.
Our advice? Whatever you do, make some fresh lemonade! People often forget about what people at their party will be drinking, and if it’s especially hot, folks will be especially grateful.
Grilled Radicchio Salad
Ever try grilling radicchio? You need so little to make this taste so good—just some olive oil, salt and pepper, and a bit of grated Pecorino.
Baked Stuffed Jalapeños
For those who love spicy heat, these jalapenos are a must. The recipe has two options for fillings—a simple cream cheese filling, or bacon and Monterey jack cheese! (And if you have a little extra time, try these BBQ Bacon Jalapeno Poppers. They take a little more time to assemble, but are so very good.)
Blueberry Pitcher Margaritas
Make up a batch ahead of time, let it chill, and you’re ready to serve a crowd. (Or try these Watermelon Margaritas!)
Banana Sheet Cake
Sheet cakes are so great for large gatherings—it’s all in one pan so it’s easy to transport. A cream cheese frosting seals the deal. Make the cake the night before or the morning of your cookout if you have time so the cake has a chance to cool before you frost it.Continue to 5 of 21 below.
Ceviche with Avocado and Grilled Corn
Ceviche is the perfect no-cook dish—the fish is “cooked” in lime juice and then gets tossed with grilled corn, avocado, and cilantro, and served with tortilla chips.
Chilled tomato soup just screams of summertime. Use any early season tomatoes you’ve got.
7-Layer Magic Bars
Ah, magic bars. Cutting them into small squares means one batch goes a long way! And really, these are so concentrated in flavor and sweetness that a bite or two is all you need.
Pasta and Bean Picnic Salad
There’s no mayo in this pasta salad! Canned beans speed up the process—prep the veggies and whisk up the vinaigrette while the pasta cooks.Continue to 9 of 21 below.
People often bring food to a party and forget about this easy and memorable idea: a cool, refreshing pitcher of lemonade!
Cucumber Salad with Mint and Feta
Thin-skinned cukes get sliced thinly and tossed with radishes, mint, and feta, along with a white wine vinaigrette. This is a crisp, refreshing side dish to serve on a hot day.
Swiss Chard Tzatziki (Yogurt Dip)
It is hard to go wrong with anything cucumber related in the summertime. You can serve this with pita chips or a veggie platter of sliced carrots, celery, or radishes. Or slather it on your burger!
Berries and Banana Fruit Salad
The colors in this salad look patriotic and tossing the fruits with honey and lemon juice makes it feel like more than just a simple fruit salad. The lemon juice also helps prevent the bananas from browning.Continue to 13 of 21 below.
It takes just 15 minutes to put together this dish where cubes of red snapper are "cooked" with lime and lemon juice. Plan ahead because it takes 3 totally hands-off hours for the dish to be ready but when it is simply dive in. Optional: Serve with tortilla chips or wrapped in corn tortillas.
Easy Cucumber Salad
Cucumbers, rice vinegar, and chopped fresh herbs make a crunchy and cool simple summer salad. A tablespoon or two of dill, basil, or Thai basil elevates the salad, but you can leave them out and the salad is still a perfect side for summer dishes like grilled salmon or pulled pork sandwiches.
Pico de Gallo (Fresh Salsa)
This simple salsa recipe is full of chopped fresh tomatoes, chili peppers, red onion, cilantro, and lime. Serve it with tortilla chips and watch it disappear quickly.
Agua de Jamaica (Hibiscus Iced Tea)
Made with an infusion of hibiscus flowers, this cold tea is refreshing. Served with a squeeze of lime, it's almost punch-like. You control the amount of sugar, and optional spices like cinnamon or allspice add some additional layers of flavor.Continue to 17 of 21 below.
Green Bean Salad with Basil, Balsamic, and Parmesan
Use the abundance from your garden or grab green beans from a local farm market to make this easy cold salad. It's even better on day 2, so go ahead and make it the day before the 4th. Toss cooked beans with olive oil, red onion, fresh basil, and Parmesan, and you've made the dish in just a half hour.
Greek Pasta Salad
This pasta salad has all the flavor of a traditional Greek salad. It's full of fresh tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, Kalamata olives, and feta cheese. Because it's made with pasta and not salad greens, it won't wilt as it sits on the picnic table.
Easy Shrimp Dip
Ten minutes is all it takes to whip up this cold dip with cream cheese, small pink shrimp, and hot sauce. If serving outside, put on a bed of ice, and serve with plenty of crispy crackers and raw veggies for dipping.
Peanut Butter Buckeyes
Balls of peanut butter filling dipped in chocolate take just 12 minutes to make. Chill for an hour and these no-bake treats are ready. They keep in an airtight container in the fridge for several weeks so you can do all the work far ahead of time.Continue to 21 of 21 below.
Classic King Crab
Even if you don't live in a region where crabs are abundant, you can get pre-cooked, frozen king crab at most grocery stores. A quick 5-minute steaming is all it takes to prepare them. Cook, cover, and take immediately to the cookout. There's something about sitting around a picnic table and cracking crab legs that leads to fun, casual conversation.