In the summer, my ideal weekend plans involve packing up the car with a picnic and my favorite people and dining al fresco at my go-to shaded spot. With the help of these simple tips, you too can (effortlessly) pull off a flawless picnic and impress your friends and family while you’re at it. Pull out that basket and let’s get packing.
1. Have a Picnic “Tool Kit” Ready to Go.
Become a picnic pro and pack a “tool kit” for anything you or your guests might need. I always make sure to include a wine bottle opener, wet wipes for any sticky spills, sunscreen, a mini cutting board, a serrated paring knife, a tin of flaky sea salt and a jar of lemon juice (for any last-minute adjustments to salads). I’m also a big fan of this picnic set from Wüsthof ($49.95) that includes three of the essential items for my tool kit.
2. Skip the Paper Plates.
Yes, paper plates are very convenient, but for a more elegant experience (and a greener alternative), opt for reusable enamelware plates instead. I love these gray speckled plates from the shop at Food52 (4 plates for $80).
3. The Best Way to Pack Ice.
As you can imagine, keeping ice frozen on a hot summer day is not easy. My tip: pack extra ice in a large thermos like this one from Stanley for drinks and cocktails ($36 for 2qt thermos). It will do a better job of keeping that ice frozen and clean than your all- purpose cooler.
4. Dress for Success.
To avoid the dreaded soggy salad and limp garnishes, pack your dressings, herbs and nuts separately. Right before your picnic guests are ready to eat, toss your salad and sprinkle with your reserved garnishes. This will keep your food looking and tasting fresh. (BTW: This is where that lemon juice and flaky sea salt in your tool kit will come in handy.) This simple orzo pasta salad from The Clever Carrot is one of my favorites.
5. Crisp Up Those Vegetables.
If you’re planning on serving cut up vegetables with dip or a shaved vegetable salad like this colorful one from Bon Appetit Magazine, let your sliced vegetables sit in an ice bath in your fridge overnight. Shortly before running out the door, drain the vegetables and pat them dry. This simple step will ensure that your produce is fresh and extra-crisp right up until you’re ready to serve.
6. Rethink Your Sandwiches.
I must confess that my least favorite part of a picnic is making individual sandwiches for every person. To cut the work in half and knock out 4 sandwiches in one swoop, pick up an unsliced Pullman loaf from your local bakery. Instead of slicing the bread crosswise, slice it lengthwise. This will give you long slices of bread allowing you to make one giant sandwich to then cut into 4 portions. A large serrated knife comes in handy for a task like this ($6).
7. Picnic Like the French
Skip the cooking altogether and pack a simple, stylish picnic just as the French do. Head to your local grocery store or favorite specialty food shop and pick up a baguette, a large chunk of quality cheese, your favorite tinned seafood (I love the olive oil-packed options from Bela seafood), fresh berries and a carton of sweet cherry tomatoes. Guests can dig in with their hands, keeping the picnic casual.