9 Books for When You Need to Bring Food to a Cookout

Summer is coming!

Howdy cookbook fans!

And welcome to COOKOUT SEASON! With apologies to my southern hemisphere pals, this weekend marks the unofficial start to summer, at least in the US. With summer comes backyard parties, potlucks, cookouts, and picnics—whether they’re masked and socially distanced, reuniting vaccinated friends and family, or hanging out in your own backyard.

What will you cook? Today, a few ideas to get you started. And while there are a bunch of cookbooks written specifically about this topic, I’ve tried to think a little outside the box on these picks. Also, these are not grilling/barbecue books—we’ll get there, promise.

This week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Dianne Jacob. Dianne’s book Will Write for Food, a guide to the business of food writing, just came out with its fourth edition. Head over to her blog to read her interview with me on trends in the cookbook industry.


In case you missed Tuesday’s issue: Is TikTok the future of cookbooks? Plus a culinary musical! 1,708 pages on pizza! What Amazon reviews can tell us about celebrity chefs in the UK! Martha Stewart’s kitchen reorganization tips! And much more! Become a paid subscriber to read:


9 Cookbooks for Cookout Season

The World Eats Here by John Wang and Storm Garner

Look, I am never going to pass up an opportunity to recommend this book. And if you’re going to bring a dish to an outdoor party, why not get your recipe from one of the biggest outdoor parties there is: the Queens Night Market, where vendors cook specialties from around the world in a giant, joyous feast. Not every recipe in this book lends itself to portability—I’d skip the fried-to-order stuff if you’re on the move—but the ones that do are knockouts. (Also according to their website, the market is BACK! June 19!) Recipes to try: Antiguan ginger beer (page 42), Guyanese pine tarts (page 58), Balkan ćevapi (grilled meat patties, page 91), Sudanese salata aswad (eggplant salad, page 129), Bangladeshi jhal muri (spiced puffed rice snack, page 165).

Jack Allen’s Kitchen by Jack Gilmore and Jessica Dupuy

Jack Allen’s Kitchen is a mini-chain here in central Texas, and I’ve always described it as a suburban chain done right. Gilmore is a longtime Austin chef and his dedication to using local ingredients at this scale is remarkable—and also means his tacos and cheeseburgers and giant Cobb salads are way, way better than they have to be. His cookbook is organized by season, but it’s pegged to our weird Texas growing seasons, so feel free to skip around as necessary if you live elsewhere. Recipes to try: Graham’s peach tea (with vodka, page 18), quick pickled cucumbers (page 31), okra tomato salad (page 132), blondie brownie pie (page 157), grilled spice carrots (page 214), JAK’s slaw (page 270).

Cook Real Hawai’i by Sheldon Simeon with Garrett Snyder

The first photo of Top Chefster Sheldon Simeon in this book is of him and his family eating a feast at a picnic table, so you know you’re in good hands. This book is just packed with party food: there’s an entire chapter on heavy pupus, which Simeon describes as “a spread of appetizers so bountiful and grand you could graze like a gazelle on the vast savannah until completely stuffed. No need eat dinner first.” My kind of party! Other chapters look at rice, noodles, sweets and drinks if that’s more your dish-to-pass style. Recipes to try: kim chee dip (cream cheese-based, page 32), crispy gau gee with shoyu mustard (fried wontons, page 42), pancit (Filipino noodle stir fry, page 180), chocolate birthday cake butter mochi (page 247).

Soul by Todd Richards

Another book full of photos from cookouts with family and friends, this book shares how Atlanta chef Todd Richards cooks: taking inspiration from generations of Black American cooking, and making dishes all his own. Each chapter here explores a different ingredient (collards, onions, berries, lamb, etc.), so this is a good one to crack open if you find yourself with a bounty of one particular ingredient and no idea what to do with it. He also offers full menus, if you’re the one hosting. Recipes to try: strawberry barbecue sauce (page 86), lamb meatball skewers with fig yogurt sauce (page 113), chilled cantaloupe soup with chorizo and goat cheese (page 201), pickled plum and mustard greens salad (page 233), deviled egg spread (page 252), curried broccoli salad with peanuts (page 305).

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

Because you know you were going to poke around on her website for ideas anyhow! Longtime recipe blogger Deb Perelman’s first cookbook is, as the kids say, all bangers, no skips. I’ve been known to bring her mom’s Rosh Hashanah cake (page 239), packed with three pounds of apples, to parties year round. If you don’t already have this one, add it to your shelf now—especially if you like to bake. Recipes to try: whole wheat raspberry ricotta scones (page 15), vinegar slaw with cucumbers and dill (page 54), honey and harissa farro salad (page 78), ratatouille sub (page 91), salted brown butter crispy treats (page 201), spicy brittled peanuts (page 286), spritzy ginger lemonade (page 301).

Queso! by Lisa Fain

It’s a cookbook about queso. That’s the rec. Get your slow cooker, buy some Velveeta, open it to (almost) any page (some of them are not Velveeta-based/slow cooker friendly), make the queso. Enjoy. Recipes to try: Austin diner-style queso (page 32), damn good queso (page 35), Canutillo chile con queso (page 61), Indian queso with jalapeño chutney (page 85), Hill Country sausage queso (page 95).

Midwest Made by Shauna Sever

Midwesterners love a potluck, and it shows in their bake goods. Here, Shauna Sever explores the bars, pies, cookies, and counter cakes of the region, from the “you betcha” side to the “oh for sure” end. (I grew up in Wisconsin, I’m allowed to make jokes.) Honestly, so long as you skip the holiday chapter, this is another one you can probably open to any page and be happy. But I have a few ideas for you anyway. Recipes to try: big bold blueberry pie (page 93), crispy iced oatmeal flats (page 118), double chocolate zucchini loaf (page 142), scotch-a-roos (page 167), auntie Amy’s taffy apple salad (page 215).

Tailgreat by John Currence

When you think about it, a picnic is kind of like a tailgate without a game afterwards. My point being that Mississippi chef John Currence’s book of recipes for football pregaming are also mighty tasty in other settings. I’m a big fan of Currence’s books across the board, and this particular one stands out for its tips on how to bring food places and prepare it outside your home kitchen. And for just how fun it is. Recipes to try: green onion and country ham hush puppies with pineapple rum barbecue sauce (page 51), God’s own buffalo chicken dip (page 93), Mississippi Delta cucumber and white onion salad (109), boudin kolaches with spicy yellow mustard (page 149), “Elvis” peanut brittle and peanut butter banana pudding (page 205).

Julep by Alba Huerta and Marah Stets

And finally, someone’s going to have to bring the drinks, may as well be good ones. And how better to show the way to refreshing outdoor drinking than Houston bartender Alba Huerta. Here she explores the cocktails of the Southern US, offering context and variations along the way. Some of these you can batch prepare ahead of time, some will need to be finished or even made to order at the cookout. There are also a bunch of bar snack recipes that double wonderfully as a potluck contribution. Recipes to try: homemade cherry bounce (page 54), attic cellar kalimocho (page 88), Chatham Artillery punch (page 142), pickled shrimp with escabeche vegetables (page 178), summer salad with habanero-ginger vinaigrette (page 185).