Look, I like burgers and such as much as most cookout aficionados, but when I really want are sides. Lots of them, with plenty of variety: crunchy veggie salads, creamy dips, filling beany dishes, carb-load potato or pasta salads, and the colorful fruit fresh thing or two. I want to mound them up in piles so big, my paper plate buckles. It’s a time-honored tradition of Memorial Day as much as breaking out the bug repellant or flip flops.
These sides are all keepers. Lots of them also play nice with making in advance, allowing you to bring on those lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer in an appropriately chill fashion.
Classic Potato Salad
This is it: the potato salad summers are made of. A touch of sour cream makes this potato salad especially creamy. Use Yukon golds for a more robust flavor, and celery for those signature pops of crunch.
So many backyard bashes seem to have a void of green veggies on the table. If you’re invited to a cookout and asked to bring a dish, this one will deliver on all fronts. The winning combo of salty bacon and crisp-tender blanched broccoli florets never fails to please. Even haters of broccoli love this salad.
A simple homemade dressing with just enough mayo to add a little body makes this coleslaw a standout. Not into chopping? Grab a bag of slaw mix from the grocery store, then mix the dressing. For coleslaw that’s not watery or weepy, dress the salad no more than 2 hours before serving.
Green Goddess Pasta Salad
Totally plant-based, this creamy and herby pasta salad won over Tik Tok and has the side benefit of being a safe bet for parties with vegetarians or vegans in the mix.
Roasted Sweet Potato Salad
Guys, this is THE salad I can’t get enough of. I bring it to every party and everyone asks for the recipe. It’s make-ahead friendly, and leftovers make the best lunch ever. But this is so good, leftovers are unlikely.
Trinidadian Boiled Corn
It’s hard to resist the pull of fresh corn when summer rolls around, but the sweet corn in May isn’t quite peaking yet. This amazing Trinidadian street food fixture is perfect for less-than-perfect corn: slowly cooked in a rich broch of coconut milk that reduces to a sauce and clings to every kernel, it’s incredibly flavorful.
These Filipino stir-fried rice noodles are a fixture of gatherings, and offer a playful range of textures. It’s best made shortly before serving, but it’ll steal the show if you put in the effort.
If you have the grill going, why not maximize the coals and grill up some potatoes? Halved fingerlings cook fast but aren’t too small to slip through the grates. The finishing touch grilling a lemon half to squeeze over right before serving is especially genius.
Trader Joe’s Homemade Cowboy Caviar
Can I tell you how much I miss living near a Trader Joe’s? If I did, I’d make this in a heartbeat. It’s a recipe designed just for those specific Trader Joe’s offerings so you can grab the ingredients in one trip and toss it together in a jiffy. Non-TJ’s folks like me can make our classic Texas caviar, and everyone’s a winner.
Watermelon Salad with Cotija, Jicama, and Lime
Drawing on the Mexican affinity for savory fruit salads, this uber-refreshing salad packs crunch from the jicama and a little creamy-salty action from the cotija. Big cold chunks of watermelon make this supremely moreish.
Cajun-Spiced Grilled Corn
Plump sweet corn that’s grilled, based with butter, and plastered with savory Cajun seasoning is hard to resist. Keep plenty of napkins ready!
Instant Pot Baked Beans
I will eat baked beans any day of the week, prepared any way. For purists, here’s a go-back-for-thirds recipe starting with dry beans and bacon that’s streamlined in the Instant Pot. My favorite way to enjoy these is on top of a Memorial Day grilled hot dog.
Two-Minute Feta Dip
Four ingredients. Two minutes. Who doesn’t love feta? I’m sold.
Grilled Bacon Jalapeno Poppers
If it’s been a while since you’ve had jalapeno poppers, it’s time to rekindle that relationship. Prepare the filling, assemble the poppers, and have them at the ready for grilling.
Napa Cabbage Picnic Salad
This one makes a big splash at potlucks. It’s fresh and packed with tender raw vegetables. Sprinkle the almond slivers just before you set it out for guests.
Tomatillo Avocado Salsa
I love how this stretches out avocados (I feel like I could eat $5 worth of avocados in one sitting). The other bonus is how the tomatillos slow the oxidation of the avocado, so it’s more friendly for making ahead than straight-up guac.
Cucumber, Peach, and Basil Salad
Well HELLO, peachy cucumber salad! All the good things about summer meet in one bowl of sunny freshness.
Three Bean Salad
The beauty of this potluck fixture is how it relies on the ease of opening cans, plus its sweet-tart dressing. And it only gets better as it sits.
Pull-Apart Corn Cheese Pigs in a Blanket
Mashups don’t get more playful than this. Pigs in a blanket meet corn cheese, a melty-rich Korean bar snack. After all, why do the hot dogs have to be limited to the grill?
Homemade Veggie Dip
Oof, have you see how much a veggie tray from the deli is these days? This easy veggie dip and a little knife prep will save you some bucks, plus give you a fresher, prettier, and far better veggie tray that’ll magnetically draw everyone as they wait for their grillables.
Caprese Pasta Salad
Have you noticed that the inclusion of fresh basil often equates with lots of people loving a recipe? Add in the fresh tomato and fresh mozzarella combo and you have a big hit in the making.
Easy Grilled Peppers
Grilled peppers are delicious warm or at room temp. They work solo or can top burgers, dress up grilled salmon, or sidle up nicely to steak.
Tortellini isn’t just for main dishes, though if you love those little pasta bundles with their cheesy middles, you can hog half the bowl and hope no one notices.
You’re either an artichoke person or not. If you fall in the former camp, then you know what a thrill it is to arrive at a celebration and find artichokes on the menu. They key to these being tender is steaming them prior to their stint on the grill.