Labor day weekend can be a very fun weekend, but it always comes with a little sadness to me as usually it marks the end of Summer. Labor day cookout menu ideas are always something I start thinking about early though. When you plan early, usually you can execute the plan pretty simply without too many hiccups along the way. We are going to discuss everything from deciding what to do yourself to desserts. Let’s get to planning.
Amount Of People
The first step into planning a menu for any occasion is determining the number of people you will be feeding. Also, are you planning to purchase and prepare all the food yourself, or will this be a pot luck style cookout? Will kids be attending or all just adults? If you are planning to purchase and cook all by yourself, I would suggest starting a few days early with grocery purchases. The store will be less busy, and this will give you time to get organized and prepared. Pot luck style is easier in my opinion if you are having many people over, but all items on the list will still need to be planned for.
Appetizers or finger foods is the start of the whole cookout. People always come hungry and this will curb hunger while everyone can socialize.
- Pickle dip and Ritz crackers
- Bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers
- Tortilla chips with salsa or nacho cheese
- Vegetable plate and dip
- Sandwich pinwheel roll-ups
- Meatballs in BBQ sauce/cocktail sausages in BBQ sauce
- Shrimp cocktail
- Pigs in a blanket
Keeping little ones in mind chips, shellfish, and spicy stuff might not be the best ideas. cocktail sausages can be a choking hazard for children under 2 as well. You can add these kid-friendly appetizers for kids:
- Fruit plate
- Grilled cheese sandwiches cut into fun shapes
- String cheese
- Crackers of any kind
I try to think of things that kids can walk around and eat, without making a huge mess.
When you love to grill, like I do this is usually the one area I like to shine in. I will grill anything that can be grilled. Some of my favorite holiday party proteins are:
- Grilled Chicken – Breast, thighs or wings. Marinade and grill, or season, grill then sauce.
- Ribs – Trim them up, season and grill. I like to leave some with no sauce and have BBQ sauce on some.
- Pork tenderloin – I take a shortcut with these and buy a pre-seasoned tenderloin.
- Kabobs – You can do and protein on these, shrimp is great this way, and add vegetables.
- Brats – The beer brats are my favorite.
- Smoked Sausage foil packets – Usually served with peppers, onions, and potatoes in them. This is more like a whole meal in one.
- Brisket – This is best slow cooked/smoked.
- Hamburgs/Hotdogs – This is a go-to for a cookout. Mainly because it is easy, quick and the majority of people like one of these or both.
You can mix and match with your proteins. Don’t just make one, especially if you might be having a crowd over. Having options will make for a happier crowd, plus people will pick and try everything before it is over with. Here you will find a video with other variations of some foil packets to make, and even includes one desert.
Everyone loves a good side item to go with a beautifully cooked and flavorful protein. This is where the kids will eat mostly from as well.
- Macaroni and cheese – This is a have to have at any cookout for my family and children.
- Baked potatoes – You can set up a baked potato bar, people can fix what they want on their potatoes.
- Potato Wedges – Grilling really brings out the flavor of these, pair with a dipping sauce.
- Diced garlic potatoes – Add crushed garlic or garlic powder and onion. This is one of my favorites.
- Grilled corn– You can usually find some good fresh corn at the grocery near labor day. This is so good on the grill.
- Squash and Zucchini – Olive oil, salt, and pepper make this taste great with a grilled flavor.
- Macaroni Salad – Mustard base will be more homemade style while mayonnaise-based will be more of a store-bought style.
- Cole Slaw – So simple and a cookout staple.
- Apple Salad – Make this elevated with pecans and raisins.
- Thick Sliced Tomatoes – Salt, pepper, basil, oregano, parmesan, and mozzarella cheese make any tomato slice taste so yummy.
Side dishes are great, and you can put your own spin on old favorites for something new. If you enjoy cooking, it is always nice when people start asking who made your dish because it tastes so good. Many of these side dishes I would recommend a grill pan or grill basket for. This will keep your vegetables from falling through the grill grates. I use mine just about every single time I am grilling, which is usually 3-4 times a week. *As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases
My favorite part of the cookout is here. Desserts are so fun to make, and even more fun to eat! I will be honest in the fact I am usually not elaborate with desserts too much. They get eaten so fast, and no one really cares how they look, but more about how they taste. Here are a few of my favorites and the best part is I always make these a day ahead.
- Jello cake or some people call this a poke cake. Either way, it is delicious.
- Chocolate lasagna, this is a very rich pie consistency dessert.
- Strawberry shortcakes.
- Mini fruit pies.
- Cheesecake topped with whatever fruit or chocolate sauce you like.
- Cookies, any flavor, or even buy a package at the store, remove from package and put them on a plate.
- Popsicles for kids.
By the time you get to this part of the meal, people are full and will usually eat small amounts of dessert right then. Although most of the time anyone would be willing to take some home and have it for later. Those late-night munchies get even the best of us from time to time.
If you are going to have a cookout and more than just a couple of people I suggest doing it potluck style. The host will usually take care of the main dish, or proteins, and one side dish. I will ask people to bring a side or a dessert each. This will leave you with plenty of food to go around for everyone. If you have friends that don’t like to cook, or don’t have time, you can ask these friends to bring:
- Plastic flatware
- Sturdy paper or plastic plates
- Drinks (soda/pop and or juice boxes for kids)
- Plastic cups
- Bagged ice
All of these things are needed if you intend on avoiding having to do so many dishes at the end of the cookout. Also, this keeps your personal stuff from potentially getting broken.
Wrap It Up
We have covered quite a bit here from appetizers, to desserts. I hope these labor day cookout menu ideas help get you well on your way with planning for the perfect cookout. Doing everything by yourself can get a little overwhelming at times, that’s why I suggest potluck style. This can also help the financial side of purchasing all the things needed. Remember it is quite alright to ask for help, and if you are hosting people are generally more than happy to provide a side, dessert, cups, or ice. Whatever you may need. Happy Labor Day weekend.
If you are planning your first cookout and need to purchase a grill, you can check out my post on how to pick a grill here.