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Chef JJ Johnson shares 7 tips for planning a last-minute Memorial Day party

Make store-bought foods tastes homemade with your own personal touches

Planning a last-minute Memorial Day party? JJ Johnson, award-winning chef and owner of Fieldtrip in New York City, is here to share his tips and tricks for throwing together a completely unplanned cookout — including how to dress up store-bought potato salad and macaroni salad and how to make strawberry shortcake using store-bought pound cake, and he even provides his Memorial Day weekend playlist so you have one less thing to worry about.

Dress up store-bought potato salad

If you’re running around and don’t have time to make it from scratch, buy store-bought potato salad, then, when you get home, you can doctor it up with your own own hard-boiled eggs, sweet relish and salt and pepper. As always, taste as you go.

Jazz up store-bought macaroni salad

I also love to use store-bought macaroni salad when I’m tight on time. Add a bit of Old Bay seasoning and crumbled Ruffles potato chips for crunch, and it'll taste homemade.

Corn on the cob with a bow

Always buy fresh corn with the husk, and tie the husk into a bow so your kids can easily hold it after grilling.

Cheeseburgers with chip-topping bar

A great way to step up your cheeseburgers is to add chips — whether that’s Spicy Nacho Doritos, Funyuns, Flamin' Hot Cheetos or Flamin' Hot Ruffles. Set out a bunch of chip options at your burger station so guests can mix and match toppings. This is especially fun for kids.

Make strawberry shortcake with store-bought pound cake

You can easily make your own whipped cream, slice up store-bought pound cake and strawberries, and your guests can make their own strawberry shortcake. If you want to elevate your whipped cream, feel free to add a splash of your favorite bitters or citrus extract. Some of my family members like a dash of Maldon salt for that sweet-and-savory combo. This takes less than five minues to prep!

Booze-infused watermelon cubes

Soak your watermelon in tequila, vodka or bourbon overnight, then cut it up into booze-infused cubes. These can be used as garnishes for beer and cocktails or even enjoyed alone.

Pre-batch large-format drinks

I like to buy lemonade by the gallon and add vodka or tequila to it for an easy large-format drink I can make in advance. I recommend buying two jugs — one for the kids (sans alcohol, of course) and one for the adults.

Chef JJ's Memorial Day Weekend Playlist