Your Cheat Sheet to Shopping at Trader Joe’s for a Summer Cookout

published Jul 2, 2019
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Credit: Photo: Trader Joe's; Graphic: Kitchn

The thing about summer cookouts is that they’re a time to have people over to spend more time hanging out and eating outside. So the last thing any host should want to do is get stuck in the kitchen cooking. That’s why Trader Joe’s is the best store to hit up — it’s got no shortage of barbecue-worthy shortcuts.

We walked each and every aisle to pick out products perfect for a cheap and easy, fuss-free summertime cookout. Here’s what we found.

The Best Appetizers to Get at Trader Joe’s for a Summer Cookout

Credit: Danielle Centoni

The toughest part about picking up apps at TJs? There are too many options to choose from! But you can’t go wrong with a platter of cured meats, cheeses, and a vegetable antipasto. Grab a pack of cured meats like the Spanish Combo pack ($4.99 for 6 ounces), with thin slices of jamon Serrano, salchichón, and chorizo. Then visit the cheese section for Trader Joe’s Tapas Sampler ($4.49 for 5.29 ounces) with Manchego, Iberico, and Cabra al Vino cheeses. In the canned goods area you’ll find the store’s line of “Tapas-Style” oil-packed veggies ($6.99 for 12 ounces): artichoke hearts, grilled artichoke halves, and semi-dried cherry tomatoes in olive oil. Just add a box of crackers — the Multigrain Pita Bites ($2.49 for 6 ounces) go with anything.

Credit: Danielle Centoni

Also, the store’s Frenchy frozen flatbreads (from $3.99 for 10 ounces) — like the Tarte d’Alsace, Tarte aux Champignons, and Tarte au Brie — would be a great starter fresh off the grill. Toss a few on, then when they’re melty and charred, cut them into squares and arrange on a platter. 

Credit: Danielle Centoni

Even easier? A couple of bags of tortilla chips and a selection of salsas from TJs’ dozens of options. There’s even Bloody Mary salsa ($2.99 for 12 ounces). 

The Best Entrée Ingredients to Get at Trader Joe’s for a Summer Cookout

Credit: Danielle Centoni

Pollo Asado, Carne Asada, Shawarma Chicken Thighs — the meat section at Trader Joe’s is packed with totally grill-ready, pre-marinated meats (from $4.49 per pound). Just slap them on the grill and you’re done. What’s great about these is they’d all be delicious in tortillas for a super-easy taco party. Even the Beef Bool Kogi would make excellent Korean tacos with some kimchi on top. Head to the produce section and grab a bag of slaw to add freshness and crunch. There’s about a half-dozen options, including Mango-Jicama with lime-mango vinaigrette ($4.99 for 12 ounces) and Cruciferous Crunch ($2.29 for 10 ounces). 

The Best Sides to Get at Trader Joe’s for a Summer Cookout

Credit: Danielle Centoni

We love shishito peppers tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper, then grilled until blistered, and TJ’s handily sells these diminutive fresh green peppers by the bag ($1.99 for 6 ounces). There’s also a big array of ready-to-mix complete salads, like the Southwestern Chopped Salad ($2.99 for a 13.6-ounce bag) and the Corn & Quinoa Salad with cotija cheese, roasted poblano, and cilantro dressing ($4.99 for 14 ounces).

The Best Dessert Ingredients to Get at Trader Joe’s for a Summer Cookout

Credit: Danielle Centoni

TJ’s is a s’mores-lover’s dream. Its vegan marshmallows ($2.99 for 10 ounces) are somehow much better at toasting into a wonderful golden-brown gooeyness than the usual mallows. Plus, the area above the frozen goods is a veritable buffet of s’mores accessories. The cinnamon-sugar topped grahams (3.79 for 16 ounces) are a must. And if you want to try something different, try sandwiching the marshmallows between cookies, like the Speculoos, Butter Waffle Cookies or the Butter Almond Thins (from $1.99). Instead of plain chocolate, which TJ’s has in spades, try inserting TJ’s peanut butter cups ($4.29 for 16 ounces) right into the molten marshmallows.

The Best Drinks to Get at Trader Joe’s for a Summer Cookout

Credit: Danielle Centoni

You can’t go wrong with a big bucket full of ice and lighty fizzy canned wines made just for summer. Trader Joe’s line of sparkling Simpler Wines comes in three varieties: Peach Bellini, Rosé, and White. And at about a dollar a can, you can afford to serve a crowd. For the non-wine-lovers, there’s a big selection of well-curated regional craft beers in cans. At the Portland, Oregon, store we visited, we spotted beloved Buoy IPA for just a dollar more per six-pack than Costco’s super-low price, plus a big selection of trendy beers like dry, light brut IPAs, juicy IPAs, and hazy IPAs (okay there were a lot of IPAs, but we were in the Pacific Northwest, after all).

Non-drinkers won’t be left in the cold with Lemon-Elderflower soda ($3.49 for four 8.4-ounce cans) and sparkling seltzers in flavors like blood orange and lemon-ginger ($2.99 for four 12-ounce cans).

Sample Menu

  • Spanish meat, cheese, and oil-cured veggie platter
  • Carne Asada Tacos with Corn Tortillas and Mango-Jicama Slaw
  • Corn and Quinoa Salad
  • S’mores bar with cinnamon-sugar grahams, cookies, chocolate, peanut butter cups
  • Cans of sparkling wine, craft beer, and elderflower soda