42 Easy Cold Dinner Ideas For Hot Summer Days

To keep your house cool, your wallet safe from endless dinners out, and your life on track, we rounded up the best summertime cold dinners for hotter-than-hot days.

Grilled Shrimp Lettuce Wraps
Photo: Greg DuPree; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners; Prop Styling: Kathleen Varner

There's nothing more fun than summer in the South, but there's also nothing hotter. When the temperature starts to spike, the last thing you want to do is stand over a hot stovetop and heat up the entire kitchen at dinnertime. But sticky summers are inevitable, and dinner still needs to be made. To keep your house cool, your wallet safe from endless dinners out, and your life on track, we rounded up the best summertime cold dinners for hotter-than-hot days.

These recipes take minimal effort, make use of time-saving kitchen hacks, and taste like a family favorite waiting to happen. There's twists on old classics and introductions to new recipes that are bursting with summer's best ingredients. With refreshing shrimp-topped salads, no-fuss pita sandwiches, slow-cooker spectaculars, and grill classics, you won't need to touch that stovetop. Here are our favorite dinner ideas for hot summer days that taste great hot or cold.

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Herbed Chicken-And-Rice Salad

Herbed Chicken-and-Rice Salad
Antonis Achilleos; Food Styling: Ali Ramee; Prop Styling: Christine Keely

Microwaveable rice and rotisserie chicken will help you pull together this pretty entree salad without having to turn on the stove. Chock full of fresh vegetables and herbs, but hearty enough to satisfy your appetite, this meal is a winning choice for any hot summer night.

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Lemon Vinaigrette Pasta Salad With Field Peas

Lemon Vinaigrette Pasta Salad with Field Peas
Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Claire Spollen; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners

Use whichever pasta you prefer and combine with an easy honey-lemon vinaigrette and fresh veggies for a side dish that goes with anything. Pick up a can of field peas and the only cooking involved here is boiling the pasta—or even better, pull some pre-cooked pasta from the fridge.

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Chicken Caesar Salad Sandwiches

Chicken Caesar Salad Sandwiches
Jennifer Causey; Prop Styling: Christine Keely; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Cut that rotisserie chicken to the bone for these delicious sandwiches that are perfect for lunch or dinner. The chicken salad mixture can be prepared a day ahead for extra ease when assembling your sandwiches. Make extra Caesar dressing while you're at it to use on a side salad.

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Tropical Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Tropical Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Photo: Jennifer Causey; Prop Styling: Christine Keely; Food Styling: Torie Cox

These healthy lettuce wraps are no-cook and all good. The light chicken salad mixture brings both heat and sweet for a 15-minute recipe that's anything but boring. Serve in crisp butter lettuce leaves, wheat wraps, or over a bed of greens.

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Easy Egg Salad

Easy Egg Salad
Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

Southerners do love to smear up an egg salad sandwich on the go, so pack up a basket of these to eat outside on your porch or at the park. This recipe has more punch than the typical egg salad, thanks to lemon juice, zest, and hot sauce.

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Watermelon Gazpacho

Watermelon Gazpacho
Greg DuPree; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Cat Steele

We didn't know a five-ingredient recipe could look and taste so elegant, but this chilled soup is proving otherwise. If watermelon is your favorite summer fruit, here's a unique, fun, and delicious way to prepare it. And the only appliance you need to warm up is your blender.

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Shrimp Cobb Salad With Bacon Dressing

Shrimp Cobb Salad with Bacon Dressing
Photo: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Missie Neville Crawford; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Make use of hardboiled eggs in your fridge and pre-cooked shrimp from the seafood counter so the only thing you have to prep for this salad is the bacon. Once you taste this dressing, you won't mind the few minutes you spent frying it (the microwave is always an easy alternative). This light recipe feels so much more indulgent than it is.

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Greek Grilled Chicken Pita

Greek Grilled Chicken Pita
Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

This is worlds away from that boring deli chicken sandwich, while still being easy enough to whip up on the busiest of days. The chicken gets cooked out on the grill, leaving your kitchen nice and cool. Serve with a side of chips or fresh fruit.

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Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos

Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos
Caitlin Bensel

Taco night just got way easier with your slow cooker, which leaves you ample time to savor the summertime breeze outside. Top with shredded purple cabbage, jalapeño and radish slices, and tomatoes, or choose an assortment of your favorite toppings.

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Tuna Pasta Salad

Tuna Pasta Salad
Caitlin Bensel

Summer isn't the right time for a heavy tuna casserole; thank goodness we've got something better. Packed with fresh arugula, cherry tomatoes, and some pickled peppers for a pop of heat and color, this light pasta salad hits all the right notes. Use a good-quality tuna packed in oil for the most succulent flavor.

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Salmon Bagel Sandwiches

Salmon Bagel Sandwiches
Photo: Victor Protasio; Food Styling: Torie Cox; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke

Stay cool with this recipe that you can eat from brunch to dinner. Cook the salmon ahead in the slow cooker in an aromatic blend of lemongrass, fennel, scallions, and dry white wine. Then assemble the best salmon bagel you've ever had.

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Slow-Cooker Carnitas Tacos

Slow-Cooker Carnitas Tacos
Greg DuPree; Prop Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

Slow and low braising will make carnitas fork-tender. If you like, you can broil the meat on a sheet pan after until it's brown and crisp. Serve the pork with tortillas, shredded cabbage, diced avocado, queso fresco, and lime wedges.

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Chicken Salad With Grapes and Pecans

Chicken Salad With Grapes and Pecans on a plate with leaf lettuce and crackers
Will Dickey

We like any two-step recipe that instructs us to "combine" and "chill." Turn leftover chicken or rotisserie chicken into an elegant but simple chicken salad. The juicy grapes and nutty pecans provide a nice balance to the just-sweet dressing.

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Chilled Radish-and-Avocado Soup

Chilled Radish-and-Avocado Soup
Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Ginny Branch; Food Styling: Torie Cox

This refreshing summer soup gets a peppery bite from radishes, hot sauce, and ancho chile powder. The spice is wonderfully balanced out by creamy avocados, tangy whole buttermilk, and a little honey for sweetness.

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Field Pea Fattoush Salad

Field Pea Fattoush Salad
Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners

This salad makes the most of summer field peas. Bright and fresh in flavor from mint and lemon, it gets great added crunch from both the crisp romaine and toasted pita. If you can't bear to turn on the range, just throw it in the toaster oven.

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Ham Salad

Cheese Puffs with Ham Salad
Alison Miksch; Prop Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller; Food Styling: Torie Cox

This retro Southern recipe is ideal for having on hand when you don't feel like cooking. Serve on a buttery croissant (or between two slices of whatever bread you have), with a side of crackers, or over leafy greens for a quick, comforting meal. Have the ingredients at room temperature so they are easy to combine.

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Slow-Cooked Barbecued Chicken

Slow-Cooked Barbecued Chicken
Becky Luigart-Stayner

This chicken recipe is prepped right in the slow cooker and then left to cook for five hours. The homemade sauce gets a special Southern touch from cola and bourbon. Of course barbecue chicken is just as delicious cold as it is hot, especially with a helping of potato salad on the side.

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Shrimp-and-Corn Succotash

Shrimp-and-Corn Succotash
Johnny Autry; Prop and Food Styling: Charlotte L. Autry

We serve this succotash cold so it tastes as refreshing as can be on summer nights. While we like tossing in a few green beans, you can substitute your favorite veggies, be they tomatoes, summer squash, bell peppers, or field peas. 

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Chicken Salad-Stuffed Tomatoes

Chicken Salad-Stuffed Tomatoes
Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Kathleen Varner; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Take advantage of in-season tomatoes and make this irresistible handheld chicken salad dish. This is another of our favorite rotisserie chicken recipes, especially since it requires just five ingredients.

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Kale-And-Chicken Salad with Jalapeño-Lime Dressing

Kale-and-Chicken Salad with Jalapeño-Lime Dressing
Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners

This salad is a cool and light dinner option that will keep you full thanks to the healthy greens and plentiful protein. We tell you how to massage the kale so the leaves are nice and tender—without any cooking.

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Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Salad

Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Salad
Jennifer Causey; Food Styling: Melissa Gray

This easy pasta salad is bursting with flavor from a sun-dried tomato pesto, feta cheese, parsley, and basil. Bow tie pasta serves as the base to soak up all the juices. Our Test Kitchen says it can be served at room temperature, perfect for a sweltering day.

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Broccoli, Grape, And Pasta Salad

Broccoli, Grape, and Pasta Salad
Jennifer Davick

This salad does it all. Broccoli and pecans add crunch, while grapes add a burst of juicy sweetness. The recipe calls for cooked bacon, but you can skip it for a lighter version.

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Spaghetti With Marinated Tomatoes And Mozzarella

Spaghetti with Marinated Tomatoes and Mozzarella
Alison Miksch

The Mouthwatering Marinated Tomatoes in this recipe are so juicy, you don't even have to prepare a sauce. You'll want to give the tomatoes about two hours to soak up all the fresh herbs. Then, simply toss them with mozzarella balls and cooked spaghetti and serve.

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Crispy Prosciutto, Strawberry, And Burrata Salad With Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette

Southern Living Crispy Prosciutto, Strawberry, and Burrata Salad with Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette on a platter to serve

Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

Every forkful of this salad contains abundant flavors and textures, like peppery arugula, fragrant herbs, creamy burrata, and juicy-sweet strawberries. And though it does require a few minutes of oven time to crisp the prosciutto, this is a minor sacrifice that's well worth it.

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Green Tomato Gazpacho

Green Tomato Gazpacho in a white bowl
Photographer Victor Protasio, Food Stylist Ruth Blackburn, Prop Stylist Christine Keely

Nothing cools quite like a bowl of gazpacho, the traditional summertime soup from southern Spain. We substituted green tomatoes for their tart and refreshing flavor, not to mention the gorgeous color they impart to this soup. Chill up to 24 hours before serving.

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Summer Pasta Salad With Lime Viniagrette

Summer Pasta Salad with Lime Vinaigrette
Alison Miksch

This pasta salad is filling enough for a meal and full of the flavors of summer. Other than boiling your pasta, there's no cooking involved — all you have to do is shred the meat from a deli-roasted chicken. Chop the squash and nectarines, stir in the Lime Vinaigrette, and you've made dinner without breaking a sweat.

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Chicken And White Bean Salad With Citrus Vinaigrette

Chicken and White Bean Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
Greg DuPree

Here's another recipe that makes good use of cooked chicken, whether you've got leftovers in the fridge or pick one up at the store. Toss the chicken with microwaveable snow peas, cannellini beans, purple cabbage, and oranges for a light, but protein-packed meal.

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Open-Faced Tomato Sandwiches With Creamy Cucumber Spread

Open-Faced Tomato Sandwiches with Creamy Cucumber Spread
Alison Miksch

How better to celebrate summer in the South than with a tomato sandwich? In this recipe, we layer tomatoes on toasted bread topped with a mixture of cream cheese, cucumber, and fresh herbs. Pick the juiciest, most flavorful tomatoes you can find and cut them with a serrated knife to preserve their beautiful shape and color.

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Mini Muffulettas

Mini Muffulettas
Jennifer Davick; Styling: Amy Burke

These cold-cut sandwiches make a great hand-held main for an outdoor party. They look especially festive in a red or blue-checked sandwich wrapper. Finely chopped pickled vegetables and pimiento-stuffed olives provide a tangy punch.

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Watermelon And Feta Orzo Salad

Watermelon-and-Feta Orzo Salad

Hector Sanchez

For this recipe, you'll make the orzo and vinaigrette in the morning and avoid the heat of the day. After it spends a few hours of chilling and marinating, toss the pasta with the watermelon and feta. This easy-breezy dish can be enjoyed as a main or a side.

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Grilled Shrimp And Squash Skewers With Herbed Couscous

Grilled Shrimp and Squash Skewers with Herbed Couscous
Antonis Achilleos; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall; Prop Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas

The Israeli couscous mixed with feta, olives, parsley, and dill can be prepared in advance and chilled until it's time to eat. Everything in this meal gets a squeeze of lemon for a refreshing final touch.

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Tortelloni-And-Grilled Vegetable Salad

Tortelloni-and-Grilled Vegetable Salad
Hector Manuel Sanchez

Pick the best looking vegetables at the farmer's market and toss them on the grill. Combine them with tortelloni and our Lemon-Shallot Vinaigrette, and you have a quick, no-fuss pasta that can be served cool on a warm summer night.

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Classic Macaroni Salad With Ham

Classic Macaroni Salad with Ham
Jen Causey

This pasta salad makes full use of summer produce and is best served chilled. We don't mind that a bit. The Cajun seasoning provides all the heat we need.

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Shrimp Salad Rolls

Shrimp Salad Rolls
Photographer Victor Protasio, Food Stylist Ruth Blackburn, Prop Stylist Christine Keely

These summery sandwiches are the ideal solution for leftover shrimp, though the shellfish can also be steamed in the blink of an eye. Once cooked and chopped, the shrimp are tossed in a mayonnaise dressing seasoned with dill, chives, and Old Bay. Dig out a bag of potato chips and pour a frosty beer, and you've got it made.

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Curry Chicken Salad

Southern Living Curry Chicken Salad in lettuce cups on a tray to serve

Antonis Achilleos; Prop Stylist: Christina Daley; Food Stylist: Emily Nabors Hall

Travel and Culture Editor Tara Massouleh McCay shared her mom’s recipe for chicken salad with us. “This beloved Southern dish contains a multitude of cultures,” she writes

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Grilled Shrimp Lettuce Wraps

Grilled Shrimp Lettuce Wraps
Greg DuPree; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners; Prop Styling: Kathleen Varner

This recipe tucks grilled shrimp, cilantro, and quick pickled veggies into lettuce leaves for a light lunch or appetizer that's sure to cool you off. The shrimp is lightly charred on the grill, after gaining a nice boost of flavor from a garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and rice vinegar marinade. 

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Heirloom Tomato and Chicken Toss

Heirloom Tomato and Chicken Toss
Greg Dupree; Styling: Caroline M. Cunningham

We added shredded chicken to your usual fresh tomato salad so it’s more filling to stand alone as a main dish. 

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Cucumber Tea Sandwiches

Southern Living Cucumber Tea Sandwiches on serving platter

Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

This luncheon favorite will always be on rotation in our kitchens. Don’t miss our Test Kitchen’s tip for preventing soggy tea sandwiches. 

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Crispy Chicken-and-Broccoli Salad

Crispy Chicken-and-Broccoli Salad
Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Kathleen Varner; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

Pick up your favorite fried chicken tenders (we’re admittedly partial to the ones from Publix) to throw together this no-cook salad. 

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Chilled Cucumber Soup

Chilled Cucumber Soup
Victor Protasio; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis

How pretty is this vegetarian soup? “I’m in a club where everyone makes a recipe from that month’s magazine,” wrote one five-star reviewer. “When this was served, everyone loved it!”

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Fried Chicken Sliders with Pimiento Cheese

Fried Chicken Sliders with Pimiento Cheese

Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

Test Kitchen Pro Ivy Odom developed this recipe for easy entertaining. Store-bought shortcuts like fried chicken tenders and pickled okra make this adorable recipe quick and easy. 

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Persian Salad Olivieh

Southern Living Persian Salad Olivieh (Persian Chicken Salad) on a platter to serve

Antonis Achilleos; Prop Stylist: Christina Daley; Food Stylist: Emily Nabors Hall

“I wasn’t overly interested in cooking growing up, but I always jumped at the opportunity to help prepare Salad Olivieh,” writes Travel and Culture Editor Tara Massouleh McCay. This delicious mash-up of chicken, egg, and potato salads is traditionally served on the final day of Nowruz, the celebration of the Persian New Year.

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