The Perfect Memorial Day Weekend Menu

Memorial Day weekend—it’s the kick off of summer, and the perfect time to fire up your trusty grill. I won’t lie, I love grilling year round. California weather has its perks. But I know that for many parts of the country Memorial Day weekend is the beginning of outdoor hangouts and cook offs.

With this in mind, I put together the perfect Memorial Day weekend menu that’s centered around the grill, and full of fresh, seasonal ingredients. I like to keep things light and flavorful during the summer and the recipes below fit the bill.

Remember to always cook on a clean grill to prevent sticking and burning. If you don’t have a wire brush, just use a balled up piece of tin foil and some tongs and scrub away. Once the grill is clean, brush it with vegetable oil.

Sip: Mint, Jalapeño Lemonade

Mint Lemonade // The Perfect Memorial Day Menu // The Gourmet Dad

Here’s the number one rule of grilling: always man the grill with a cold beverage in hand. One of our family’s favorites is crisp, tart, homemade lemonade. I like this recipe from Martha Stewart which adds mint to the mix. You can also add jalapeño juice to punch things up a bit.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup sugar for simple syrup
  • Ice cubes
  • 1 2/3 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons julienned mint, plus leaves for garnish
  • 1 lemon, sliced 1/4-inch thick, plus more for garnish
  • 1 jalapeño (optional)

Directions

1. In a small saucepan, combine sugar and 1/4 cup water. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat. Let stand until completely cool.

2. If you want to punch things up: purée a jalapeño in 2 cups of water. Put in a pot and bring to a quick boil. Once cool, strain through a fine mesh strainer or coffee filter.

3. In a large pitcher half-filled with ice, add 2 cups water, lemon juice, simple syrup, mint, and lemon slices. Stir to combine. Add the jalapeño juice to taste, either in the whole pitcher of lemonade or in each individual serving.

4. Serve over ice. Garnish with mint leaves and lemon slices.

 

Main: Dean’s Brick House Lemon Rosemary Chicken

Dean’s Brick House Lemon Rosemary Chicken // The Perfect Memorial Day Menu // The Gourmet Dad

A rustic recipe from my book, this lemon rosemary chicken re-creates some of the magic of cooking in a country brick oven, with the help of a couple of bricks and a handy charcoal grill. I’d suggest, for presentation purposes, if nothing else, that you buy a couple bricks and dedicate them to cooking and cooking only (you’d be surprised how useful they can be). Otherwise, you can grab a couple of bricks from the garden, thoroughly clean them off and wrap them well in aluminum foil. Grilling with bricks is a great way to make sure the heat is evenly distributed, but it’s also a lot of fun to watch the kids’ faces when you plunk the bricks down on top of their dinner. The first time Liam saw me do it, he blurted out, “A brick?” in utter shock. “Did that come off the house?” The dish itself is hearty fare, just right for a Memorial Day celebration with the entire family. Or if you have a smaller crowd, look forward to using the leftovers for wraps, sandwiches, soups or pastas.

Ingredients

Serves 6

Chicken:

  • Two whole chickens (3 to 3½ pounds)

Marinade:

  • Juice and zest of 4 lemons
  • ½ cup fresh minced rosemary
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano
  • 1 shallot, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Grilled lemons:

  • 5 lemons, ends slightly trimmed and halved
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Leaves from 3 sprigs fresh rosemary

Dean’s Brick House Lemon Rosemary Chicken  // The Perfect Memorial Day Menu // The Gourmet Dad

Directions

1. Wrap 4 bricks in aluminum foil.

2. Rinse the chickens, remove everything from the cavities and discard. Pat the chickens dry inside and out.

3. Butterfly the chickens. First, cut along both sides of the spine of one of the chickens with a pair of kitchen shears. Remove the spine and discard (or save for stock). Locate the small V-shaped bone between the breasts and make a small slit with a paring knife, just cutting the top of the bone. Lift the chicken up, holding both breasts and crack outward to almost snap the breastbone.

4. Place the chicken, rib side down, on a cutting board and press into the breasts with the heels of your hands just enough to flatten the chicken. Repeat the butterflying process with the second chicken. Place each butterflied chicken in its own roasting pan. (You can also use two resealable bags.)

5. In a blender, purée all the marinade ingredients except the salt and pepper until smooth. Pour the marinade over the chickens and rub on all sides. Refrigerate the chickens, covered, for at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours.

6. Once the chickens have marinated, oil the grill grate. Prepare a charcoal grill, letting the fire burn until the coals are medium hot. (You can use a gas grill if you don’t have a charcoal unit, but the flavor will be better with charcoal.) While the grill is heating up, remove the chickens from the refrigerator. Let the excess marinade drain off and let it come to room temperature. Season with salt and pepper. Discard the marinade.

7. Place the chickens, skin side down, on the grate and then place two bricks atop each chicken, one per breast. Close the grill lid and cook for about 15 minutes.

8. Carefully remove the bricks, flip the chickens and replace the bricks. Continue grilling the chickens for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the juices from the thighs run clear and the internal temperate reaches 165°F. Remove the chickens from the grill to clean platters and let them rest, loosely covered with foil, for 15 minutes. Leave the bricks on the grill.

9. Meanwhile, season the cut side of each lemon half with the salt, pepper and sugar. Drizzle olive oil over the lemon halves and place them cut side down on the grill.

10. Grill the lemon halves for 5 minutes, rotating them a couple of times to achieve an even color. Sprinkle the rosemary over the lemons and continue grilling until charred and softened, 5 to 10 minutes.

11. When serving the chickens, place two of the heated bricks on a heatproof serving platter (or use two platters, with a single brick on each), drape the chickens over top, and serve with the lemons alongside.

 

Sides: Potato Salad with Arugula and Dijon Vinaigrette

Potato Salad with Arugula and Dijon Vinaigrette // The Perfect Memorial Day Weekend Menu // The Gourmet Dad

What’s more classic backyard BBQ than potato salad? This recipe by Merrill Stubbs is nice because it subs the traditional heavy mayonnaise with a lighter alternative—vinaigrette. This dish is great for parties, as you can make it ahead and let it chill in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

Ingredients

Serves 6 to 8

  • ½ small red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 pounds new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
  • 3 cups arugula, stems removed, washed and dried and very roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 5 tablespoons good olive oil

Directions 

1. Put the onion in a small bowl and cover with cold water (this will remove some of the bite). Put the potatoes in a large pot of generously salted water. Bring to a boil over high heat.

2. Lower the heat so the water is barely simmering and cook for about 10 minutes, until you can pierce the potatoes with the tip of a sharp knife and it slips out easily. Drain the potatoes well and pour them into a large bowl.

3. Gently toss the warm potatoes with the rice vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add the chives, arugula and red onion and stir through.

4. Whisk together the red wine vinegar, mustard and olive oil in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the potato mixture and toss to combine. Serve warm or keep covered at room temperature for up to an hour.

 

Sides: Grilled Watermelon, Feta and Basil Salad

Grilled Watermelon, Feta and Basil Salad // The Perfect Memorial Day Weekend Menu // The Gourmet Dad

Nothing says summertime like watermelon, right? This recipe from Recipe Runner perfectly pairs juicy watermelon with salty feta, fresh basil and tart lime juice. It might seem surprising, but don’t be scared to throw the watermelon on the grill—it’s delicious as long as you don’t leave it on the heat for too long (overcooked melon will go mushy).

Ingredients

Serves 4 to 5

  • 1 whole mini/baby watermelon
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, cut into cubes
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, sliced thin
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Balsamic reduction for drizzling
  • Crushed red chili flakes (optional)

Directions

1. Cut the watermelon into 1 inch thick slabs and lightly brush them with olive oil.

2. Place the slabs of watermelon cut side down onto a heated grill and grill for about 2-3 minutes per side or until marked and warm.

3. Remove from the grill and cut off the rind, then cut into 1 inch cubes.

4. Toss the grilled watermelon with the basil, salt, pepper, and lime juice. If you’d like to raise the heat and flavor intensity add some crushed red chili flakes.

5. Gently fold in the cubed feta being careful not to break it up.

6. Drizzle the salad with the balsamic reduction before serving.

 

Dessert: Dean’s Apple Pie

Dean's Apple Pie // The Perfect Memorial Day Weekend Menu // The Gourmet Dad

Cap off your celebrations with a crowd-pleasing favorite: apple pie. This is another recipe from my book, and my mom’s favorite. On the rare occasion that we had apple pie growing up, it was usually brought over by a friend or family. I would sit there with my slice of pie and ice cream, dumbfounded as I watched my mom slice a big ole piece of cheddar cheese, put it on top of her pie, pop it under the broiler, wait until it was all bubbly and gooey, and dig in. With a big grin on her face, she would say, “Apple pie without some cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze.” I was horrified at the thought of my mom kissing, but more so about the cheese on pie. It wasn’t until I was thirteen—when I got my first kiss—that I decided to try cheddar cheese on apple pie. Turns out, I love both of them, and haven’t stopped since.

While my recipe below follows the traditional oven route, apple pie can also be made on the grill using an old frying pan or cast iron pan. It adds a whole new level of outdoor flavor to dessert.

Ingredients

Serves 6

  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 4 tablespoons for the filling
  • One 14-ounce box refrigerated premade pie crust dough
  • ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3 granny smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch slices
  • Zest of 1 small lemon

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and cinnamon, set aside. In a small pot over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter.

3. Cut the premade dough into six 2-inch by 3-inch rectangles. Space out evenly on a cookie sheet and gently prick the crusts with a fork to keep them from puffing. Brush each crust with melted butter.

4. Bake until the crusts are slightly golden on the underside, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the cheddar cheese and bake for 3 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown and the cheese is melted. Remove and let cool.

5. In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Sauté half of the apples until soft and slightly browned, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle with about a quarter of the sugar-and-cinnamon mixture and set aside. Repeat with the remaining apples.

6. Place a pie crust on a dessert table, sprinkle with about a sixth of the remaining sugar mixture, and spoon warm apples over the crust. Top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream if desired, and a pinch of lemon zest. Repeat with the rest of the crusts.

Which of these recipes are you most excited to try?

Wishing you a great holiday weekend,

Dean

Photos: Lemonade – Skinny MS; Potato Salad- Food52; Watermelon Salad- Recipe Runner; Apple Pie – Audrey’s Apron

Gourmet Dad
  • M Harber

    Thanks Dean, My hubby is cutting a lot of fat out his diet and we love to grill so I see us using this recipe tomorrow. Keep it up please, I love reading this blog. I get ideas for things to cook with my granddaughters.