Food & Drink

The Greatest Foods of Summer, Ranked

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"Summer foods" might as well be a culinary genre in itself.

The winter has stew, spring might have chocolate bunnies, and autumn has pumpkin spice coated everything -- but summer has more food strictly associated with the summer (and summer alone) than any other. Everyone has a favorite summer food. And if you don't, you probably wouldn't be inside this article reading these words right now, would you?

The following dishes not only appeal to my own seasonal sensibilities, but represent some of the quintessential essences of the summer. Which is actually a great name for a cologne. Someone should get on that.

Anyway, put on "Summer Breeze," (the Isley Bros. version, duh), scoop a few lightning bugs from your backyard, sweat profusely, and enjoy this jaunt down the summer food nostalgia wormhole. 

cantaloupe
Shutterstock/Teri Virbickis

9. Assorted Melons

Melons are often the most maligned of all fruit, dismissed as filler who's only existential duty is to provide foils for flashier fruits like berries, bananas, and even the normally humble grape. But, if there's any time to embrace the beauty and majesty of the cantaloupes and honeydews of the world, it's certainly when the mercury rises to the top of the thermometer. A cool melon on a hot day. It's a good thing. Don't be a snob.

corn
Shutterstock/9dream studio

8. Corn (specifically, on the cob)

Growing up in New Jersey, sweet corn was a summertime staple on the same plane as not going to school and hitting your brother in the face with with a pool noodle. But objectively, it just seems that corn is fit for summer, especially whilst still attached to the cob. Can you even imagine someone in the wintertime, digging into a full ear of corn? It's a little bit messy. Honestly, it's kind of goofy. And you need to work a little bit harder to really get the most out of it. It's kind of an egregious thing to eat, really. Frankly, the summer is the only time something like this could even be remotely acceptable.

clam bake
Shutterstock/MSPhotographic

7. Clam Bakes

The first of two seafood entries on this list, the clambake is more than just a dish, it's a food-based activity. It brings the people together. And nothing screams warm weather camaraderie like a bunch of people hovering over a steaming plate of crustaceans. For the woefully uninformed, a clam bake is a New England-centric tradition of steaming various seafood (think lobster, crab, mussels, clams… basically anything with a shell and no face) over seaweed. You place all this in a pot. Then, you rejoice. It's a concentrated dose of summer in one belt-busting sitting.

caprese salad
Shutterstock/Lapina Maria

6. Almost Anything With Fresh Tomatoes

Let's address the obvious, right up front: caprese salads don't exactly scream "summer food" as much as some of these other items. But consider that tomatoes -- the quarterback of the caprese -- are irrefutably better in the summer than any other time of year. A tomato in any other season, almost isn't even a tomato at all. Even the basic BLT can vault to the ranks of summer food supremacy by leaning on this in-season fruit. And the caprese -- which is the best summer salad, even besting the summer salad --  is made that much better with a summertime tomato. It's refreshing. It's light. And with a light drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette, it becomes the best summertime trifecta this side of the Sharknado trilogy (I personally think any installment after #3 to be non-canon). 

s'mores
Shutterstock/Olga Miltsova

5. S'mores

Cupcakes around the campfire might have the alliteration advantage, but the actual act of roasting a marshmallow over a roaring fire is one of those cliched wholesome activities that is actually heartwarming and delightful -- like spending time with a grandparent, or wearing a coat made of live puppies. The s'more is the de facto dessert of camping. And camping is the de facto activity of the summer. Well, after going to the beach, mowing the lawn, and avoiding the smelly water that falls from air conditioning units, of course.

lobster roll
Shutterstock/Rebecca Fondren Photo

4. Lobster Rolls

If the words "lobster roll" make you conjure images of white dudes in snapback hats, Sperrys, and cheap aviator sunglasses -- you're exactly right. But still, as far as summer sandwiches go, a buttered bun filled with fresh lobster and a touch of mayo is the simplistic savior of everyone who wants a taste of lobster without opting for the price of a full tail, or for the people who don't want to admit they don't know to actually crack open a lobster... and in some cases, those with an aversion to placing a live creature into a boiling pot of death water. It's easy. It's fun. It's the height of summer seafood.

hot dogs
Shutterstock/MSPhotographic

3. Hot Dogs

The humble hot dog is such an essential summer staple, we actually have an entire holiday dedicated to taking off work to watch men and women test the limits of their own gastrointestinal fortitude by eating as many hot dogs as they can in 10 minutes. Well, there's the whole "we aren't British anymore" aspect of the Fourth of July, too. But still, no summer eating competition or backyard barbecue would be fully complete without the hot dog. And don't worry: if you aren't going for speed, you can feel free to eat the bun and the wiener at the same time, Kobayashi. 

2. Italian Ice

You might be wondering, "Hey, this list is great, but where is ice cream, Mr. Internet Writer?" I'll tell you right now, in hopes to avoid any further editorial disappointment: ice cream isn't coming. Instead, I'm putting ice cream's lighter, more refreshing, non-dairy based cousin at the #2 position. Why? For starters, I think Italian ice is certainly more of a seasonal dish. Ice cream -- though cold -- is a dessert that can and is generally enjoyed all year long. Summer is really the only season where people actually eat Italian ice with regularity. Also, while truly great ice cream may best truly great Italian ice in terms of quality, moderate-to-kind-of-shitty Italian ice is always better than its ice cream analogue. Most importantly: Italian ice is simply the more refreshing option for a hot summer day. You might like ice cream more, personally, but Italian ice is the superior summer dessert.

watermelon
Shutterstock/Ekaterina Kondratova

1. Watermelon

I believed that swallowing watermelon seeds cause watermelons to grow inside my stomach till about three years ago. Yet I ate them anyway. That's how much I love watermelon. They're natural. Healthy. Cheap. Refreshing. Hydrating. Large. Nice to look at. And, you can even turn them into a keg. Not only are watermelons the ideal summer fruit, they are pretty much exclusively reserved for summer. It's like the essence of summer was bottled by mother nature and placed in an edible vessel. It's like the beginning of Grease suddenly turned into a fruit. It's like God took the image of a young Ken Griffey Jr. smacking a massive donger in the left field bleachers, and allowed it to grow on a vine. Watermelon isn't just the best food of summer. It's the food of summer. But remember to spit out the seeds. Just in case.

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Wil Fulton is a staff writer at Thrillist and a passionate doer of other stuff. For more info, you'll have to do a free background check.