Memorial Day Menu Items, Ranked

In Depth

Memorial Day weekend is finally here. Some of us will be staying in and relaxing and others will be seeing Mad Max: Fury Road on repeat in the nearest air-conditioned theater, but many of us will be attending Memorial Day parties at which plenty of food will be served. As reminders that summer and the pleasures that come with it are nearly upon us, Memorial Day parties are all equally good—but the food served is not.

Below I have ranked the 20 most likely food and [non-alcoholic] drinks you will encounter at the parties you attend this weekend. Whether you agree or disagree with my decisions, I hope this weekend is your most delicious of the year.

20. Ice cream

No one needs to deal with the effects of lactose when they’re trying to have fun in the sun. Especially if you’re not at your own home, with access to the bathroom that makes you feel most comfortable. Have some in the freezer for the most daring among your guests, but don’t force it on anyone unless you give them a side of Lactaid.

19. Water

It’s important to stay hydrated this weekend, so this should be accessible to all guests. Keep in mind, however, that there are plenty of other [non-alcoholic] ways to do so.

18. Veggie dogs

When it comes to grill-able fake meats, you can do so much better than veggie or tofu dogs. In my experience (please suggest good brands if you know of them), their unpleasant texture require so many additional toppings to be tolerable, and no one has time to do more than squeeze a little mustard and relish on before hopping back in the pool.

Because there will be someone at your party who requests one, keep a pack on hand.

17. Lemonade

A more pleasurable form of non-alcoholic hydration than water, as long as it’s not too sweet. It also never bugs me when watered down by melted ice, so who cares if it’s 90 degrees on Monday!

16. BBQ ribs

Why are these the lowest-ranked real meats on the list? Because they’re messy as hell. Whether made with a dry rub or slathered in BBQ sauce, there’s just too much to clean after finishing. Finish a hot dog? There’s no trace that you even ate it. Finish ribs? It’s all over your face and hands and clothes and someone else’s towel after you sneak a wipe while no one’s looking.

15. Watermelon

Here’s an even better form of hydration than lemonade! No sticky residue. No need to worry about whether it’s too sweet or too tart. It’s edible water that everyone can enjoy and make the same Beyoncé joke about. How fun.

14. BBQ chicken

Not quite as messy as ribs, but still a pain to eat compared to the ease of the boneless handheld meats you’ll read about below.

13. Corn on the cob

If you think it’s hypocritical of me to put something as messy as corn on the cob above BBQ ribs and BBQ chicken, you’re absolutely right. But this is my list and I’ll cover my teeth and face in corn if I want to.

12. Coleslaw

One of the three queens of Memorial Day sides, and vessel for the supreme condiment: mayonnaise. This is great on its own, or as a topping on any of your main dishes. People will see your coleslaw and say, “I actually don’t like coleslaw much,” but 30 minutes later you will see them spooning seconds onto their plate. “I didn’t know I liked it!” they’ll respond after you give them a knowing smile, secretly hoping they save enough for your third helping.

11. Popsicles

Whether you buy the original Otter Pops or similarly named generic brands, any brand of quickly frozen popsicle will do. People might scoff at your selection of artificially flavored and colored dessert, but then they will eat them. Oh, how they will eat them. Your box of 100 will be gone before you can say, “Orange is the only color that’s left? Whatever, hand me two.”

10. Iced Tea

There’s only one cold drink that’s more refreshing on memorial day, but we’re not there yet. Growing up in Texas, I drank sweet tea all the time. (Shoutout to my friends at Bill Miller BBQ.) But as I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered the joys of unsweetened iced tea. The simple perfection of it. Brew up a pot, pour it over more ice than you think you need, and serve with a bendy straw. If you don’t serve with a bendy straw you’re in trouble.

9. Baked beans

The second-best side (and most intestinally consequential) are baked beans. Whether from a can (who cares, tbh) or made with love over the span of an entire day, they go wonderfully with just about everything on this list. Even the popsicles. Hand me an Otter Pop and a bowl of baked beans and I will not complain. (Though everyone else might in 1-2 hours!)

8. Veggie burgers

This is your best bet for fake meat. Whether made with beans, mushrooms, tofu, or a combination of non-animal protein, store-bought veggie burgers have become good enough over the past decade or so to satisfy even the most ravenous carnivore in your life.

7. Fried chicken

Mayyyybe this doesn’t belong, but I had to throw it in. Though cooking it could probably be a pain (you don’t want to be inside on the stove while everyone else is out by the pool), if you showed up with a tub of Popeye’s or KFC, it wouldn’t go uneaten. It’s easy to eat with your hands, and far less messy than its BBQed brethren.

6. Hot dogs

The world was changed when a genius decided to serve long, skinny, processed meat of questionable origin on a custom-made bun. Some people claim it was invented in Germany, others in America at the 1904 World’s Fair, but all most many of us can agree on one thing: they’re delicious. I’m a ketchup/mustard/relish kind of person, but respect everyone’s topping preferences. Because when we eat hot dogs, we are all family.

5. Corn dogs

Just when you thought hot dogs were the pinnacle of mystery meat, Americans went and wrapped it up in cornmeal and dunked it in a deep fryer. I will not accept your personal preferences when it comes to complementary condiments; corn dogs should be served with mustard only.

4. Arnold Palmer

The best non-alcoholic drink for a Memorial Day party combines the second and third best non-alcoholic drinks for a Memorial Day party. Make plenty of each, because these will go faster than one of Mr. Palmer’s drives! Right? Was that a good sports joke? Did I do OK?

3. Potato salad

Mayonnaise. Potatoes. I’m finding it hard to believe we’re in heaven.

2. Beef burgers

You’re serving burgers. We know you’ll be serving burgers. People will leave if you’re not serving burgers. So serve burgers.

1. Pulled pork

Ah, yes. The queen of Memorial Day meats. Marinate it all day Sunday, cook it all day Monday, and serve topped with coleslaw, pickles, and love. No meat memorializes better.

Image via screengrab.

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