6 Ways to Make Your Memorial Day Picnic Way Better

Looking to create the best barbecue ever? These special touches won’t go unnoticed.

Restaurants around DC are offering grill kits and Memorial Day specials. Photography courtesy of Shutterstock.

All barbecues are fun—invite some friends over, spring for a few six-packs and some hot dogs, and you’ve got the makings of a great afternoon. But something we’ve noticed about Washingtonians: They like to be the best at things. If you’re looking to create a memorable Memorial Day party—one your guests will be talking about all summer long—these tips will help you make that happen.

DIY the mac and cheese

There is no need serve macaroni and cheese you bought in a box or from the deli at your local supermarket. Gooey gratins are simple to execute—provided you have a good recipe­­—and show your guests you put some thought into this backyard affair. Try Vidalia’s Mornay-topped mac or Michael Mina’s truffled side dish.

Buy the best ground beef and sausages . . .

The butchery scene has bloomed in Washington—in the past couple of years we’ve welcomed new shops from Red Apron (in Union Market and the Mosaic District and soon Penn Quarter), Jamie Stachowski went brick-and-mortar in Georgetown, and Three Little Pigs popped up at 5111 Georgia Avenue, Northwest. It’s now easy to buy the best ground beef and sausages to grill up at home. And bonus for culinary newbies: Using good product means you don’t have to worry about a lot of complicated seasonings and side dishes. Just chop up some toppings, fire up the grill, and let the meat be the star of the show.

. . . But don’t forget vegetarians

If you’re a vegetarian, you know frozen veggie patties. Those plastic-wrapped hockey pucks are all too often the only option at picnics and parties, because hosts tend to remember at the last minute that someone might show up and not want a burger. Don’t make your meat-eschewing friends feel like afterthoughts—plan enough meatless dishes that they aren’t stuck snacking on salad all night. If your main veg offering is heavy on carbs—this pretty pasta primavera, for instance—balance it out with protein-packed apps like hummus and black bean dips or marinated grilled tofu skewers.

Stick a bottle of vodka in a watermelon

You’ll need to prepare this one three days in advance, but you know everyone’s going to love it.

Obey the master

A while ago, we asked Ray’s the Steaks/Hell-Burger meat master Michael Landrum—he may have some issues with his landlord, but the guy makes the best burgers in town—for his best grilling techniques, from patty shaping to testing doneness. The advice holds, so read up before you head outside.

Shine from the start

The great thing about barbecues is that the main course—burgers and dogs—is so straightforward. This leaves plenty of time to get fancy with the appetizers. Try the Bombay Club’s Malabar shrimp and chutney for something elegant, or ChurchKey’s shrimp corn dogs for a more fun, retro snack.