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33 Labor Day recipes for the best summer sendoff

Whip up easy and inventive appetizers and mains that will wow guests on Labor Day.
/ Source: TODAY

Labor Day weekend is a bit bittersweet. Just as its fellow Monday holiday, Memorial Day, symbolizes the unofficial start of summer, Labor Day signals that summer is coming to a close. Many towns and cities return to school following the weekend of fun, food and festivities and, for those of us aren't seaside locals, it's often one of the last trips to the beach before fall comes a few weeks later.

While the holiday has a much deeper historical meaning rooted in union uprisings and workers demanding fair treatment, Labor Day weekend has become a last hurrah of sorts. And we're here to make the most of summer ingredients, smoky meats, vibrant berries, easy apps and all the things we love to serve during the warm season's signature barbecues, picnics and parties.

Whether you're a traditionalist who will never stray from hot dogs and burgers to commemorate summer or someone who is committed to making every end-of-season cookout different than the year before, we've got a recipe that'll make you the cookout champion. Upgrade plain toppings to unique, chef-approved sauces and serve dips that'll be the talk of the table for months. Enjoy meaty mains or a lighter vegetarian — all that really matters is that you enjoy … and these Labor Day recipes make it easy to! (P.S. Don't forget Labor Day side dishes and desserts!)


Burrata Caprese Salad

Valerie Bertinelli's go-to recipe for warm-weather gatherings, this recipe no-cook, full of flavor and only requires a few ingredients. All the elements pair so well together and make for an easy and impressive starter or side dish.

Street Corn Elote 'Fingers'

Swap chicken fingers and other bar-style apps for these fun, festive and veggie-forward corn "fingers." It's got all the classic flavors of Mexican street corn but is served in a creative, kid-friendly way.

Cheeseburger Dip

A backyard barbecue cheeseburger in dip form! Ever wondered what to do with all that leftover ground beef and cheese? Wonder no more! Beef, cheese and fresh toppings give you all the satisfying flavors of a cheeseburger in a flavorful, shareable dip.

This recipe is as seasonal as it gets! Tomatoes are at their peak right now, and so is sweet and juicy corn. It couldn't be a better time to throw all these seasonal vegetables together to make a delicious salad with a little Middle Eastern flair, thanks to the grilled halloumi.

Maybe you've had fried tortilla chips with cheese and hot peppers. And maybe you've had stuffed potato skins. But pork skin nachos are on another level. These are as rich as can be — and worth every calorie.

Everything Bagel Dip

This recipe is a way to provide everything bagel goodness in dip form. It comes together so easily and packs a serious punch of flavor. Feel free to omit the capers and scallions if you want to keep the recipe as simple as possible.

Spicy Bacon-Cheddar Deviled Eggs

In this garlicky, cheesy and bacon-packed recipe, deviled eggs are exciting again. If you're ever left tasked with bringing an appetizer, these come in handy because you can make them ahead of time, they take under 30 minutes to put together and you can customize them to your own tastes.

Chopped Cheese Tots

Add this beefy, cheesy mixture to crispy tots to take them to a whole other level. It's a comfort dish that kicks off any Labor Day party spread with a bang.

This simple finger food looks glamorous and impressive but is super easy to make. Zucchini has a subtle earthy flavor that perfectly complements the light ricotta cheese filling. The basil leaves offer a pop of fresh, pungent, peppery and aromatic flair for the perfect end of summer app.

Ginger-Miso Pasta Salad

No mayo alert! This Japanese-inspired pasta salad is filled with edamame, carrots and bell peppers, and its dressing is made with miso, ginger, soy and sesame. It gets better as it sits, which means it's perfect for picnics.

Bacon and Caramelized Onion Dip

Caramelizing onions and bacon together is the secret to this creamy dip that's a winner for any festivity. It's incredible on its own or topped with some mozzarella and broiled before guests arrive. It'll prep their appetites for all the smoky meats to come!

Al's Grilled Vegetable Skewers

Ensure your veggie sides stay tender and crisp without them all mushing together in a bowl. Al's grilled vegetable skewers are the versatile side dish for any type of main dish at a barbecue. They're light and Labor Day-friendly, as the zucchini, summer squash and tomato are typically at peak season during this time.

Bludso's Potato Salad

If you don't get your elbows dirty, you aren't making potato salad right. You have to mix it with your hands to make sure all the flavors are mixing in. It should taste good every step of the way.

Loaded Bell Pepper 'Nachos'

Think the gang will miss those crunchy nachos? Prepare to be surprised. Everyone seems to enjoy the sweet, crispy bell pepper base and appreciate the color, nutrition and flavor that they bring to the table. It's low-carb love! And this dish is incredibly versatile: If you're serving a vegan crowd, skip the meat, cheese and sour cream and double up on the beans, corn and salsa. Dairy-free? Omit the cheese and sour cream. It's a cinch to adjust, it's ridiculously easy to toss together and you can warm leftovers in the oven or microwave when you're ready to eat.

This noodle salad has bright citrus flavors, smoky and spicy notes from the chiles and loads of freshness from an assortment of vegetables. The best part about this recipe, other than the fact that its flavor improves as it sits in the fridge, is that you can customize it, adding whatever vegetables or pasta you have on hand.

Mexican cuisine has been pairing grilled corn with cheese for centuries, which got Steven Raichlen thinking about what elote would taste like if it had been invented in Italy (and if Italians traditionally grilled corn, period, which they're finally starting to do). Imagine smoky-sweet grilled corn with sizzling garlic butter and fragrant basil.


Peruvian-style adobo sauce will transform plain, old grilled chicken into a mouthwatering masterpiece. The recipe features the unexpected sweetness of rice vinegar along with West African palm sugar, which coats each thigh in a rich, caramel flavor.

You can grill a fresh rib-eye steak just for this sandwich or you can use your leftovers to create this wonder, and either way it's going to be next-level delicious.

Charcoal-Roasted Shrimp

"This recipe takes one of the best things about South Carolina, our shrimp, and prepares it in a fun and approachable way. It's very easy to reproduce at home. I would put our shrimp up against any shrimp in the world," says Ben Harris about this easy way to prep the versatile shellfish.

These flavorful wraps are perfect serving hot or at a room temperatures in large quantities for parties. It's based off a staple Palestinian dish, musakhan, where the chicken is usually served whole, covered in sumac, as a communal meal. This version dices up the chicken and onion combo and rolls into easy-to-serve, easy-to-eat tortillas.

Rodney Scott's Famous Carolina-Style Ribs

Rodney Scott unapologetically uses MSG, which he refers to as "Jesus' Tears," in his seasoning rubs. It is a flavor maker! All the savory and hot spices and seasonings in my famous rub and sauce make these tender ribs unbelievably delicious.

Provençal Vegetable Casserole (Tian)

If you're looking to serve a vegetarian dish that is as wholesome as it is bursting with simplistic beauty, try Daniel Boulud's traditional tian.

A white-style barbecue sauce for chicken is a must-try! It gives you the perfect blend of creamy and tangy. You get a nice kick from lots of black pepper and horseradish, too.

Siri's Beer-Soaked Hot Dogs

Siri Daly loves entertaining with DIY food stations. "I'm a big fan of setting up topping bars so that guests can help themselves," she says. "In the summer, nothing is more fun or festive than a hot dog bar … except maybe grilling those toppings in foil, making clean-up a breeze!"

A dish that truly celebrates summer, this recipe is simple, fresh and utilizes what's in peak season. It's an easy combination of flavors and takes no time to cook, which makes it a great base recipe tailored to what you're in the mood for.

Sheet-Pan Clambake

No need for giant pots or special equipment — this easy twist on a classic clambake is made right in your oven using a couple sheet pans and is perfect for summer entertaining and fun weekend meals. Be sure to serve along with plenty of crusty bread for dipping and set out some large bowls to hold the empty shells!

This dish tastes like summer, with smoky and crispy grilled chicken, sweet tomatoes and creamy cheese. It’s an appetizer, salad and main course all in one.

The strong, bright flavors in chimichurri taste the best when balanced by the natural smokiness that comes from grilling steak over a grill flame. So when looking for healthy summer recipes and Labor Day dinners that'll wow, look no further.

Don't let the long list of ingredients fool you: This burger is easy to put together. The multiple layers of flavors in the meaty burger start by making our homemade barbecue seasoning. Blended into the signature tangy sauce and topped with cheese and zesty pickles make the extra effort of measuring and mixing well worth it.

Chef D's Grilled and Glazed Baby Back Ribs

When you're cooking for a group with a bunch of sides and fixings, grilled ribs always encapsulate that summer feeling. Chef D bathes his in a wet rub before grilling to ensure every taste bud's expectations are exceeded.

Barbecue Salmon

Want that sweet, smoky tang of barbecue but weary of heavier meats? Sunny Anderson has a solution: barbecue salmon. Salmon, a great fish for a crowd because it's hearty and not too pricey, gets basked in all the right flavors. When you follow the expert fish grilling tips, you'll find it simple to get those perfect sear marks.

Grilled Vegetable Paella

Grill up all your favorite end-of-summer veggies in this take on Spanish paella that's perfect for a vegetarian Labor Day spread. The grill's open flame adds a natural smokiness to this impressive dish that is filling enough to feed a crowd as the main star or as a hearty, all-in-one side dish.

The beefy flavor of skirt steak is best grilled, according to Bobby Flay, and can stand up to strong flavors such as cumin and chile powders. Also, the salad is packed with super summery ingredients like tomatoes, fresh corn, ripe avocados and lots of fresh fine herbs.