The Six Elements of the Perfect Picnic

The March issue of our mother publication Fort Worth Magazine reminds us all to get outside.

Wild Fort Worth outlines more than 20 trails and outdoor activities for the spring season. But, if you’re going to be on the go, you’ll need to stay nourished and hydrated. Don’t just grab for a boring protein bar. Do it right with tips for packing a picnic from chef Jim Dunleavy, food and beverage director of Eatzi’s Market & Bakery. If you needed an excuse to keep some fried chicken on hand, he’s your man.

The biggest factor to consider when choosing bread for a picnic is time. Bread will get soggy and spoil a meal if sandwiches are made long before it’s time to eat. On the other hand, you don’t want to waste time making them when you’re supposed to be enjoying nature. The answer lies in choosing the right bread.  Pick a coarser bread like Eatzi’s Jewish rye, a seeded whole wheat or a multigrain loaf. They will hold up better than a typical slice of white bread while you’re traveling. If you don’t like coarse bread, skip the sandwiches and just do cheese or antipasto with a French baguette; tear off what you want when you’re ready to eat.

Most dry salamis, like soppressata, work very well in a picnic basket, as the best flavor comes out at room temperature. Slice it thin for a sandwich or bring along small stick salami and cut when you are ready to eat. Also, don’t be afraid to pack cold fried chicken. It’s a picnic classic for a reason; refrigerating the chicken after cooking causes the breading to stick better, so you get all the breading and meat in one bite. If you’re going on a hike longer than two hours, add an ice pack to be safe.

Turn to individual portion desserts for practical picnic items. When picking picnic desserts, it’s important to keep temperature in mind as chocolate and mousse-based desserts do not hold up well when it’s warm. Custard and creams can present food safety issues if they are not kept cold enough. Stick with individually portioned desserts like cupcakes, which are a good option as everyone can choose their favorite flavor. Eatzi’s also has Lemon Blueberry and Raspberry Pistachio Fruit Tarts. They’re small enough to eat without utensils, hold up well all day and aren’t high risk when it comes to food safety. Plus, they’re pretty enough to class up any picnic blanket.

Stick to vinegar-based dressings. Anything dressed with a vinegar base keeps well in warm weather, like a diced cucumber and tomato salad.

For warm weather picnics, a good sparkling wine or a sweeter white like pinot grigio are great choices for sipping outdoors. If beer is more your taste, try a lighter beer with fruit or citrus notes. You can still get creative if you’re avoiding alcohol — try DRY Soda as it’s light, refreshing and comes in a range of more sophisticated flavors like cucumber, Fuji apple and vanilla. 

When it comes to cheese, go with feta. In addition to the classic Greek salad, feta can accompany fresh melon (watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe) on picnics, where the sweet-and-salty flavor works wonders.