15 Cookout Side Dishes That Will Steal the Show

Amanda M. Rye

Cookout season has finally arrived. What are you taking to the park, the backyard, the beach? Burgers and dogs may initially attract a gaggle of grill supervisors, but seasoned cookout attendees know it’s the sides that can quickly steal the show. So, don’t get caught flat-footed — after one bite of the salads, slaws and braises below, everyone will enthusiastically ask, “Who made this?”

Coleslaw may just be the king of the cookout sides, and this mango-laden twist from Millie Peartree shows why. Crunchy, cool and slightly sweet, the cabbage, carrots and mango shine next to any grilled meat, particularly those with a kick. Save the mayonnaise for your burger buns: All this slaw needs is a bit of lime juice and honey to bring it all together.

Just let the stunning photo above and the ever-forthright readers of New York Times Cooking sell you on this crunchy, saucy salad from Sue Li: “This salad is incredible!” “I’ll be making this over and over again.” “In a word, FANTASTIC.” “I ate the entire bowl and called it dinner.” Readers particularly love the simple peanut dressing, which adds welcome velvety texture.

Recipe: Cucumber Salad With Roasted Peanuts and Chile

Pair grilled meat or fish with this bright salad from Lidey Heuck that features tangy red wine vinegar and sharp Dijon mustard. The whole thing will take you only five minutes to assemble, but you’ll want to marinate the alliums in the vinaigrette for 15 minutes beforehand, to mellow their flavor. While the recipe calls for parsley, feel free to swap in any combination of your favorite soft herbs.

Recipe: Cherry Tomato and White Bean Salad

For a side that’s equal parts sweet and savory, make a flavorful (and hydrating!) fruit salad. In this recipe for watermelon chaat, which Tejal Rao adapted from the cookbook author Malika Ameen, toasted cumin seeds and sweet paprika add savory notes, ground cayenne and chopped jalapeño supply heat, and citrus juice and amchur powder, or dried green mango powder, pack a sweet-and-sour punch.

Your favorite pasta shape, when paired with sweet blistered tomatoes and tossed in an umami-rich sauce of nutty tahini and salty Parmesan, is all but guaranteed to steal the show at a potluck. Ali Slagle recommends waiting until you’re ready to eat to dress up the pasta salad with mint, scallions, sesame seeds and more Parm.

Recipe: Tahini-Parmesan Pasta Salad

After the main event comes off the grill, toss on corn, scallions and jalapeño to make this summery salad from Sue Li. In this five-star recipe with more than 1,500 reviews, the tart buttermilk-feta dressing perfectly balances the flavors of charred vegetables and creamy avocado. Double the dressing to serve with other grilled or roasted vegetables, per one reader recommendation.

Recipe: Grilled Corn and Avocado Salad With Feta Dressing

There’s always an abundance of mayonnaise-based salads at a Memorial Day cookout. Why not bring something a little different? For a side that’s just as good warm as it is at room temperature, look no further than this German-style potato salad from Melissa Clark, which gets its flavor not from mayo, but from whole-grain mustard and bacon.

Recipe: Bacon and Shallot Potato Salad

A pot of braised greens is the ideal accompaniment to meat that’s been cooked low and slow in a smoker or on a grill. Don’t rush Millie Peartree’s Lowcountry collard greens, as the longer they cook, the better they’ll taste. And since you took the time to stew greens, be sure to delegate cornbread duty to a friend.

Recipe: Lowcountry Collard Greens

This creamy slaw can sit out on a sun-soaked table for a few hours without issue — not that it’ll last that long. Ali Slagle skips the more traditional eggs and dairy for tahini and mustard, and has even more flavor with a paste of smashed capers, lemon zest and scallions. The end result is salty, zippy and vegan.

Recipe: Lemon-Tahini Slaw

Go from spring to summer with this deeply flavorful salad from Pati Jinich. Grilling the components helps them reach their full potential, making them a little sweeter without sacrificing crunch. To bring it all home, shower it all with a bit of salsa preparada, in this case a mixture of lime juice, soy sauce, Worcestershire, Maggi sauce and chile oil.

Recipe: Grilled Corn, Asparagus and Spring Onion Salad

This Persian salad of cucumber, tomato and onion is juicy, acidic and herbaceous — all the things you want next to rich barbecue fare. This recipe from Samin Nosrat comes together in
just 20 minutes and requires just a handful of ingredients, making it the ideal dish for those who may have forgotten they were on side-dish duty.

You don’t need much for a delicious pot of baked beans, just navy beans, some slab bacon, a little onion, molasses, dry mustard and the most important ingredient of all: time. You’ll probably want to make this recipe from Sam Sifton a day in advance, though you can also always cheat and use canned white beans for similar results in an hour or so.

Recipe: Baked Beans

What’s one to do with perfectly ripe avocados? Slice them up for this five-star salad from Melissa Clark. If it looks simple, that’s because it is, but you’d never know it from all the work the garlicky salsa verde-like dressing does in the flavor department.

Recipe: Avocado Salad With Herbs and Capers

If you love snacking on blistered shishito peppers drizzled with a little olive oil and sprinkled with flaky salt, you’ll love this salad from Sue Li. In her recipe, the mild peppers are sliced and sautéed before they’re tossed with crisp raw corn and a cumin-lime dressing, and topped with Cotija cheese and cilantro.

Recipe: Spicy Corn and Shishito Salad

A simple Caesar salad never disappoints. A grilled Caesar-ish salad, like this one from Sam Sifton, is sure to impress. A quick turn on the grill softens the romaine quarters before they’re brushed with a dressing of made with garlic, anchovies, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, olive oil and cider vinegar, and grilled once more.

Recipe: Grilled Romaine

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