36 Make-Ahead Dishes to Prep Before the Fourth of July
No matter how you plan on celebrating the Fourth, it's much easier to sit back and relax when you know dinner is already taken care of. These delicious sides, mains, and desserts can chill in your fridge until the Independence Day cookout officially begins. Spend your holiday outdoors with friends, family, and food—not in the kitchen.
These dainty little tarts have an unusual depth of character, thanks to their graham-cracker-like crusts.
Creamy Potato Salad
Here's a salad you can feel good about eating at your next cookout or picnic.
Rum Baked Beans
The secret to this tender baked bean medley? Rum. Make it ahead of time by preparing steps 1 and 2. Cover with foil and refrigerate up to 2 days until ready to bake.
Salted Melon Margarita Pops
The tequila is subtle in these beautiful light green ice pops, but don’t underestimate it: They pack a punch. The lightly sweetened, subtly salty flavor almost feels like Gatorade, but these are nothing like a recovery drink.
American Flag Cheesecake Bars
Decorate these easy cheesecake bars as American flags by using blueberries for the star section and piping jelly in thin lines to resemble the strips. It's a great make-ahead dessert for summer entertaining.
Mexican Corn Salad
Mexican street corn morphs into an epic salad in this dish. Beautiful to behold, this salad shines thanks to the combination of colors and textures—crisp golden corn, juicy cherry tomatoes, peppery radishes, and creamy nuggets of cheese. This potluck-perfect side is easy to make ahead of time, and it gets even more flavorful when it sits overnight. Simply wait to stir in the cilantro until just before serving for the prettiest presentation.
Slow Cooker Baby Back Ribs
Barbecue season is here, but we'll let you in on a secret: All you really need for crowd-pleasing ribs is the right recipe and a slow cooker. Savory, tender, juicy, and slow-cooked to perfection, this recipe for Easy BBQ Ribs is our newest and best. And just because it's easy doesn't mean this recipe lacks character. Add our homemade Rib Rub and Fancy Barbecue Sauce for a foolproof meal that's truly special.
Red Velvet Ice-Cream Cake
You are sure to set off the fireworks when you serve this eye-catching layer cake at the Fourth of July cookout. Don’t worry about the frosting wilting in the summer heat. We added a teaspoon of unflavored gelatin to the frosting recipe to help it stabilize, so it won’t melt down before you cut into the cake.
Pesto Pasta Salad with Tomatoes and Mozzarella
This bright and fresh Caprese-inspired pasta toss is the ultimate summer main for a busy weeknight, outdoor picnic, or lunch on the go. With just two steps, it couldn't be easier.
Summer Melon Salad
Put to good use all of the in-season melon at hand this time of year with a delicious, savory and sweet salad. Use a small scoop or melon baller to form perfectly formed individual melon spheres.
Strawberry Dream Cake
This gorgeous cake is even more amazing when you slice into it, revealing the rows of perfect strawberries.
The acidity in this dish gives your palate a great reset that lets you enjoy the different levels of richness, fruitiness, and sweetness in the vegetables. Use cooked, undressed field peas from the Marinated Field Peas, or use the same method with butter beans, simmering 5 to 10 minutes longer.
Easy Berry Tart
This vibrant and impressive dessert literally couldn’t get any easier. Rather than making a stovetop custard from-scratch, we use boxed pudding mix combined with Cool Whip (trust us on this one) as a shortcut to the rich and luscious vanilla filling that makes this tart amazing. Once you pour this decadent filling into your simple almond and cookie crumb crust, all that’s left to do is let it chill, and then top it off with plenty of fresh fruit. We used various types of summer berries—strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries—for ours, but feel free to use your favorite fruits here… fresh, ripe peaches would make a great addition. To amp up the almond flavor, try adding 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract to your filling. Or hey, if almonds really aren’t your thing, you can definitely substitute a different nut (like macadamias) or simply leave them out all together and increase the amount of cookie crumbs in your crust by about 1/3 cup.
Three-Bean Pasta Salad
We combined two potluck classics—pasta salad and three-bean salad—to make one tasty new side dish. Blanched celery is the unexpected star in this side dish; it has a tender-crisp texture and bright green color. Swap out the canned beans for your favorite cooked field peas.
Tomato, Peach, and Corn Salad
The summer's favorite produce is compiled together to create this vibrant and beautiful salad. The salad is tossed in a sweet and savory honey vinaigrette and topped with feta for a stunning finish.
Fourth of July Confetti Roulade
This festive roulade recipe is the perfect ending to your outdoor picnic, but it can be used for any occasion; simply use different colored sprinkles to match your occasion. A splash of orange liqueur is optional in the creamy filling, but don’t skip the fresh lemon juice in the frosting. The gelatin in the whipped cream filling keeps it stable; be sure to cool it for 5 minutes so it doesn’t turn gummy.
Slow-Cooker Beef Nachos
From the Kitchen of Julie Hutson, Callahan, Florida. "This is surprisingly yummy to have such simple ingredients."
New Potatoes with Shaved Celery, Buttermilk, and Dill
Crisp potatoes and a mild creamy dressing help keep this chunky potato salad from being anything but boring. Chill at least 1 hour before serving.
Deep Eddy Blueberry Lemon Drop Pop
These adult ice pops are the perfect refreshing summer treat. We made ours using Deep Eddy vodka as we find it to be exceptionally vibrant in flavor, but feel free to use your own favorite brand of flavored vodka. Raspberries would also be a delicious fruit to highlight in these bright and boozy pops.
Tequila Slaw with Lime and Cilantro
Grab a bag of packaged coleslaw mix, and you've saved yourself the time of slicing cabbage and shredding carrots. A splash of tequila adds spirit and complexity (we urge you not to leave it out), while lime juice's zing perks up earthy cabbage. Serve on tacos, alongside barbecue chicken, with grilled flank or skirt steak, or with (or on) burgers.
Esquites (Creamy Corn Salad)
Esquites is a cousin to elote--that street food favorite of creamy cheese-coated corn cobs. You can also find this off-the-cob version with Mexican street food vendors. It's great on its own or served as a side dish with grilled meats.
Blackberry-Peach Cobbler Bars
Marinated Field Peas
Banyuls vinegar is cask aged but smoother and less oaky than sherry vinegar. Sub a milder vinegar, like Champagne or white wine, that won't compete with the earthiness of the peas.
Mixed Berry Cream Pie with Double Chocolate Crust
Brushing red currant jelly onto the berries makes them shine, like those fruit tarts you see in bakeries. If you can't find red currant jelly, use strawberry jelly (don't subsitute jam or preserves).
Strawberry Lemonade Vodka Pops
We all know cauliflower is delicious when it mimics mashed potatoes—but just wait until you taste cauliflower treated as a classic potato salad. This low-carb take on a summertime favorite might just become your new favorite barbecue side dish. With a diversity of flavors and textures—as in, crunch from smoky bacon and peppery celery balancing the fluffy cauliflower and rich, creamy, fresh herb-studded dressing—this cauliflower salad became an immediate staff favorite.
Tahini-Blueberry Sheet Cake With Strawberry Buttercream
Perfect for a graduation party or summer cookout, this impressive dessert offers the ease and crowd-friendly factor that we associate with a sheet cake, as well as a delightful twist of creativity and surprising vibrancy with the incorporation of tahini and fresh berries. If you have a jar of the trendy sesame seed paste hanging out in your pantry, trust us—it’s high time to go beyond hummus and welcome it into your dessert life. Tahini lends a delicious toasty quality to the tender cake while fresh blueberries dotted throughout the batter balance this nutty depth with their bright, juicy sweetness. A simple strawberry buttercream ties everything together and makes for a low-effort, eye-catching presentation.
Sour Cream Potato Salad
Everyone needs an easy potato salad recipe in their summer sides rotation. We used sour cream to lighten this mayo-based potato salad up a bit. To lighten it up even more, substitute sour cream for greek yogurt.
Quick Berry Frozen Yogurt
Quick Berry Frozen Yogurt is described by one tester as "a melt-in-your-mouth experience like no other!" Quick Berry Frozen Yogurt is definitely a summer treat you and your family will love.
Pascagoula Potato Salad
"On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, some people eat gumbo with a dollop of potato salad instead of rice. Delicious!"
Gin and Juice Pops
Campari balances out the sweetness that Hawaiian Punch provides along with that eye-catching color. The mixture of sweet, sour, bitter, and herbal flavors makes one delicious popsicle that screams summer.
Corn Salad With Soybeans, Cherry Tomatoes, and Basil
This simple, tasty salad from Abra Berens' Ruffage is summer in a bowl. Pan-frying the corn kernels enhances their complex sweetness, and adding fresh basil and tomatoes brings in a note of bright acid.
Pimiento Cheese Crackers
Here is the approximate way my thinking went when I was dreaming up these crackers:
I have delicious pimiento cheese. I should eat that.
It will be best upon a cracker.
What type of cracker would be the superior vehicle for the cheese?
Sweet Fancy Moses, what if the cheese WERE THE CRACKER?????
After all, in my forays into cracker-making I had discovered that many crackers are just fat and flour and seasonings. And I had made cheese crackers which were just fat and flour and seasonings and cheese. Well, pimiento cheese is cheese and fat and seasonings, so what would happen if I just added flour and baked it?
Magic, people, this is what happens, pure alchemical wizardry.
Red, White, and Blue Layer Cake
"I wanted to play into the patriotic colors of the Fourth of July holiday, and layered cakes are a great way to make a splash. Plus, kids love a colorful dessert."
Grilled Corn Pasta Salad
This vibrant, flavor-packed summer side dish combines a bounty of favorite seasonal flavors into a single, epic pasta salad. The recipe comes from our friends The Food Gays, and they developed this colorful grilled corn dish as a fresher, brighter alternative to the typical mayo-based pasta salads that often show up a summer parties. Packed with fresh produce and dressed in a light and zippy lemon-mustard vinaigrette, this grilled corn pasta salad is anything but boring. Give it a try at your next summer cookout and enjoy as the compliments pour in.