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Cookout Side Dishes

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For the most part, cookouts are all about the meat.  However, the tasty side dishes that are served alongside charbroiled hamburgers, chicken, fish, and steak make a cookout a unique event and represent the diverse backgrounds of your guests.

Cookout side dishes must be durable, dependable, and delicious.  The best cookout side dishes won’t easily perish despite being out of the refrigerator and in the sun for several hours.  In addition, they need to taste delicious when served at room temperature and not need to be kept warm or chilled (unless they will be eaten right away).

Salads are an excellent choice for a cookout because they balance out the richness of the meat.  Vegetable salads include Caesar salad, Greek salad with kalamata olives and feta cheese, green bean or broccoli salad with crispy bacon, and caprese salad with tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and olive oil. 

Pasta and rice salads are also popular at cookouts.  Pasta salads include everything from parmesan cheese to pine nuts, salami, and pesto.   

Potato salad, macaroni salad, and coleslaw are traditional cookout favorites.  However, these salads must be treated with care to avoid guests from getting sick if the dishes are exposed to sunshine.  It’s recommended to keep these salads in an ice chest until it’s time to eat and to stow the leftovers when people have finished eating. 

Fruit salads and gelatin salads also provide balance to the meat and other side dishes.  These salads are an excellent choice for cookouts, as long as they can hold up in warm temperatures.

Party trays are easy to tote to cookouts and are popular with guests.  Vegetable trays can include an assortment of peppers, mushrooms, baby carrots, olives, and cherry tomatoes paired with hummus or a savory dip.  Cheese trays can feature both hard and soft cheeses and assorted crackers.  Fruit trays are delicious in the summer and can include fresh berries, watermelon and cantaloupe, grapes, and orange slices. 

Side dishes can be more substantial, for example, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, pasta casseroles, and savory cornbread.  Corn on the cob is a popular side dish that joins the meat on the grill.  

Of course, no cookout would be complete without chips and dip.  Offer an assortment of chips including blue and red corn chips, sour cream and onion, barbeque, and the classic thick cut potato chip.  Keep in mind that chips may be the only side dish that children will eat at the cookout, so make sure to provide plenty.

Cookouts are an excellent opportunity to share your family’s special recipes and to taste food that your friends and family enjoy.  Many side dishes have been passed down through families for years.  Ask people to bring their favorite side dish to a cookout, and be prepared to enjoy a diverse and delicious spread of food.

More about this author: Kristen M. Anderson

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