12 Great Side Dishes for Your Next Cookout

Esquites Pasta Salad
Photo: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Ruth Blackburn / Prop Styling by Christina Daley

No cookout is complete without a delicious spread of side dishes. Here, we're featuring a dozen options that would make perfect additions to your menu, from this Classic Slaw that's right at home on the side of smoked meats, like Smoked Brisket, to a Gazpacho Salad that allows seasonal produce like heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, and basil to shine. You can also try grilled corn, a fresh watermelon salad, or these baked beans, the latter of which made the list of our most popular recipes of 2021. Pick one, pick two, or even three — you can't go wrong, whichever you choose. Read on for the full spread.

01 of 12

Classic Slaw

Classic Slaw
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Torie Cox & John Somerall / Prop Styling by Audrey Davis

"When you visualize a table loaded with barbecue items, I bet there is a heaping bowl of slaw," says barbecue expert and F&W Best New Chef 2021 Matt Horn. His slaw recipe is a natural side for smoked meats, with a cooling, creamy, tart-sweet dressing that balances the richness of the barbecue. For another pop of color, throw in a shredded carrot or two.

02 of 12

Grilled Corn on the Cob with Calamansi Mayo

Grilled Corn on the Cob with Calamansi Mayo
Victor Protasio

Chef Sheldon Simeon's recipe for a Hawaiian twist on Mexican elote features grilled corn slathered in a creamy, cheesy calamansi mayonnaise, which gets its acidic twang from a sour citrus fruit native to the South Pacific (you can substitute Key Limes in a pinch). Ichimi togarashi (Japanese chile flakes) add heat; aonori (dried seaweed) flakes add umami oomph and island style. It's an easy and irresistible side dish for a luau-inspired cookout: Try serving it with Simeon's Huli Huli Chicken Wings.

03 of 12

Gina Mae's Baked Beans

serving dish with baked beans
Photo by Caitlin Bensel / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Lydia Pursell

Scholar Regina Bradley (nicknamed Gina Mae as a child) added a few special touches to her husband's baked beans recipe to make it her own. "A cookout's DNA is found in the sides and who made them. This task is not for the faint of heart or the thin-skinned," wrote Bradley, in an essay for Food & Wine on the hierarchy of a cookout. "If your beans taste burnt or your potato salad has raisins or olives, we talking bad about you 'til your grandchildren hear about it." For this summer-perfect side, Bradley dresses up store-bought barbecue sauce with extra brown sugar; apple cider vinegar balances the smoky sweetness. For a thicker version of these saucy beans, bake them 10 to 15 minutes longer before topping them with bacon. If Vidalia onions are unavailable, substitute any sweet yellow onion.

04 of 12

Roasted Hot Honey Sweet Potato Salad

Toasted Hot Honey Pecan Sweet Potato Salad
Photo by Antonis Achilleos / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Hannah Greenwood

This sweet potato salad makes a colorful, satisfying side dish. Seasoning the potatoes with smoked paprika creates a sweet and savory balance while the hot honey dressing adds a touch of tangy heat. Homemade pickled red onions, crunchy toasted pecans, and fresh parsley round out the dish. Leftover pickled onions can be used in tacos, sandwiches, or wraps.

05 of 12

Masala Grilled Vegetables with Spicy Mint Chutney

Masala Grilled Vegetables with Spicy Mint Chutney
Greg DuPree

Grilled summer produce meets a chile-spiked herb dressing in these Masala Grilled Vegetables with Spicy Mint Chutney. Heat and oxygen are no friends to fresh herbs; both break down the chlorophyll that gives leaves their green color, transforming bright emerald to muted brown almost instantly. Using a blender or food processor to prepare this sauce safeguards the color by instantly cutting and coating the herbs with oil, locking in the green. To guarantee extra vibrancy, refrigerate the oil before using. In keeping with the cooler-is-better practice, splash the chutney over the warm rice salad just before serving. To make ahead, grill the vegetables beforehand and serve at room temperature for a light lunch or stunning side dish. To reheat, simply toss vegetables on a baking sheet and bake at 350°F until heated through.

06 of 12

Watermelon Salad with Feta and Mint

Watermelon Salad with Feta and Mint
Photo by Antonis Achilleos / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Thom Driver

This easy summer watermelon salad is perfect to make for eating under the warm sun. Watermelon and mint add plenty of refreshing flavor, while briny olives and feta offer the perfect counterpoint to the sweet fruit. Jacques Pépin cuts a small, seedless watermelon into rounds with a melon baller for this salad, but you can chop the watermelon into cubes instead.

07 of 12

Fairy Tale Eggplant with Crispy Shallots and Thai Dressing

Fairy Tale Eggplants with Crispy Shallots and Thai Dressing Recipe
Photo by Tara Donne / Food Styling by Chris Lanier / Prop Styling by Raina Kattelson

Chef Joe Ogrodnek (BNC class of 2014) pulls out all the stops with this next-level eggplant dish. First he seasons the eggplant and lets it sit before charring on the grill to draw out moisture and add flavor from the inside out. Then he adds plenty of crispy-crunchy texture to the silky grilled eggplant by stuffing each one with peanuts, fried shallots and garlic, fresh herbs, onions, and radishes before drizzling the punchy dressing on top. Delicious hot or room temperature, they're perfect for your next summer cookout. Be sure to using hot water in the dressing to help dissolve the sweet, floral coconut palm sugar.

08 of 12

Esquites-Style Poblano Pasta Salad

Esquites Pasta Salad
Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Ruth Blackburn / Prop Styling by Christina Daley

Esquites is the creamy corn salad version of elote, the beloved Mexican street food where corn on the cob is slathered with mayo and sprinkled with chili powder and Cotija cheese. Here, we've taken esquites and turned it into a pasta salad, loaded with charred corn, zucchini, scallions, and poblano chile. A crema-mayo mixture flavored with lime and cilantro adds a bright finish, while Cotija and ancho chile powder seal the deal. The hearty dish is ideal for barbecues or packing for a picnic. We call for orecchiette, but you can also try this with shells, lumachi, or any smaller pasta that will scoop up the corn kernels in its curves and crevices.

09 of 12

Mini Kabob Potatoes

Mini Kabob Potatoes
Photo by Julia Stotz / Food Styling by Caroline K. Hwang / Prop Styling by Samantha Margherita

A crispy exterior with a soft, fluffy center makes these quick-cooking fried potatoes a fun addition to a kebab feast. At Mini Kabob in Los Angeles, these popular potatoes are served alongside skewers such as the Beef Shish Kabob, a delectable eggplant dip, toum, and parsley and onion salad.

10 of 12

Sweet Corn Succotash with Shiitakes and Sugar Snaps

Sweet Corn Succotash with Shiitakes and Sugar Snaps Recipe
Photo by Tara Donne / Food Styling by Chris Lanier / Prop Styling by Raina Kattelson

This bright, buttery succotash by Katy Sparks (F&W Best New Chef 1998) is a perfect summer side dish that comes together in minutes. "My inspiration for this dish is to take a fresh look at an American classic, succotash, which is usually sweet corn cooked together with lima beans or other green beans," Sparks says. "I like to lighten it up with summery snap peas and add meaty shiitakes for depth of flavor. Fresh basil in the smoked paprika butter elevates the whole recipe to something that pairs wonderfully with anything you want to throw on the grill: chicken, pork, fish, burgers, eggplant, and peppers."

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Gazpacho Salad

Gazpacho Salad Recipe
Photo by Tara Donne / Food Styling by Chris Lanier / Prop Styling by Raina Kattelson

This side dish from Anne Quatrano (F&W Best New Chef class of 1995) celebrates the best of summer with a combination of chilled gazpacho and chunky, fresh vegetables. "It's a perfect way to highlight all that is right about summer vegetables at their peak," Quatrano says. "We utilize tomato scraps for a juicy vinaigrette, and all the bounty of the summer can be combined in a delicious and healthy salad." For a meatier bite, substitute melted lardo for extra-virgin olive oil in the dressing. Leftover tomato-cucumber water works well in a savory cocktail with crisp blanco tequila.

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Stone Fruit Salad with Collard-Peanut Pesto

Stone Fruit Salad with Collard Peanut Pesto
Photo by Jessica Pettway / Food Styling by Micah Morton / Prop Styling by Paola Andrea

"Nowadays, when I serve plums and nectarines, like in my Stone Fruit Salad with Collard-Peanut Pesto, I'm transported to parties where we dapped, hugged, boogied, and kissed under the moonlight," says cookbook author Nicole A. Taylor of her Juneteenth celebrations. In this savory fruit salad, roasted peanuts, collard greens, and Parmesan yield a hearty pesto that's the perfect partner for honey-dressed wedges of plums and nectarines. Fonio, a West African grain similar in texture to couscous, soaks up the pesto, flavoring each bite of this salad.

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