Why didn’t we think of this before? 

Summer backyard parties and everyday outdoor dining are in full swing, and it is glorious. But it can also be a little complicated, especially as the weather really heats up, to know how best to plan menus that are delicious but also safe to serve (especially if dishes need to sit out on a buffet). Most of us set the picnic table with items that are either hot off the grill or chilled out of the fridge, and both of these are wonderful options for outdoor dining. But keeping hot foods safely hot, and cold foods safely cold can be a battle against the elements, and no one wants upset tummies on the menu.

The perfect backyard menu solution: the room temperature recipe!

Enter my personal secret weapon for summer, the room temperature recipe. These are recipes that are designed to be eaten in the lovely middle ground, where the flavors come through because they are neither scorching hot nor icy.

I was first introduced to the magic of room temp recipes in Provence: fresh vegetables grilled or sauteed and let to sit in their own juices and a bit of light dressing, uncomplicated salads of rice or potatoes tossed in lemon juice and oil, and simple pastas with raw or lightly cooked sauces. Egg dishes can be a revelation when one can be patient after cooking to let them cool a bit: Italian frittatas and Spanish potato tortillas are at their peak of deliciousness at room temperature, as are many quiches. 

Backyard party
Credit: Getty / knape

What makes a good room temperature recipe?

When planning your menus, look for dishes that specifically call to be served at room temp, or are free of dairy ingredients or mayo-based sauces to ensure that they are safe to eat in that middle ground. Dressings that are based on vinegar or lemon juice all work well at room temp, so look for salads and other dishes that have those acidic ingredients. Hard, aged cheeses like parmesan and aged cheddar do fine at room temp for a few hours but stay away from soft cheeses. Salads made with beans or lentils with punchy dressings are beautiful at room temp, as are vinegar-based slaws or grated vegetable salads.

Another great reason to pick room temperature recipes: they're make-ahead!

The best part about adding some room temperature dishes to your repertoire for summer cooking is that by nature the dishes are made in advance. If you don't have time to make earlier in the day, you can make a day or two ahead, and take out of the fridge 1-2 hours before you want to serve to let the chill come off the dishes.

9 great room temperature recipes for backyard meals

Want some fun recipes to start with? Check out some of our best room temp dishes!