8 Must-Have BBQ Side Dishes for Your Next BBQ Cookout

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When planning a BBQ cookout, many people tend to pour all their TLC on the main courses, leaving the side dishes to the wind. 

Well, side dishes deserve the same attention and treatment, too.

With this list, you can match your best main course recipes with a mix of crowd-pleasers and some unconventional pairings — starting with the cowboy pasta salad. 

1. Cowboy Pasta Salad

Do you know why this salad is called a cowboy pasta salad? 

Traditionally, the name “cowboy pasta salad” comes from the fact that the ingredients and flavors of this dish are inspired by Western-style cooking.

In our family, though, we have a different definition of “cowboy.” To us, cowboy means anything goes. And I think the same applies to this recipe.

Begin by cooking a pound of shell or spiral pasta as directed on the packet. Cook it until it just reaches al dente, then turn off the heat and run cold water over it.

Then, in a large bowl, combine your pasta noodles with the rest of the ingredients for your salad.

These include a can of drained and rinsed black beans, a can of drained corn, a pint of halved cherry tomatoes, one diced red bell pepper, and half a cup of chopped red onion.

Now, let’s move on to your dressing. 

Grab a bowl and whisk together half a cup of ranch sauce, a quarter cup of BBQ sauce, a teaspoon of chili powder, and a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper. 

Give it a good mix. Once your dressing is well combined, pour it over your pasta mixture and toss it around to make sure every bit is coated evenly.

Before serving, sprinkle a quarter cup of freshly chopped cilantro and half a cup of shredded cheddar cheese on top for some extra flavor and a pop of color.

2. Grilled Zucchini With Walnuts & Ricotta

Now, let’s move on to our next delicious recipe: Grilled Zucchini With Walnuts & Ricotta. 

You can’t just season your zucchini with salt and pepper and call it a day. You need to add more character. So, for this recipe, you’ll need four medium-sized zucchini.

Start by trimming off the ends and then cut each zucchini into thin slices lengthwise. Toss the slices in a bowl with two tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper.

Then, place your seasoned zucchini on the grill for three to four minutes per side. Transfer them to a serving platter afterward to cool down. 

While your grilled veggies are resting, grab a small bowl and mix half a cup of ricotta cheese and a quarter cup of walnuts.

To this mixture, add your seasoning, which includes one minced garlic clove, a tablespoon of chopped basil, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and a dash of salt and pepper. 

When your whisked ricotta is mixed completely, put a dollop over your grilled zucchini, then top it off with a garnish of chopped basil and a sprinkle of lemon zest. 

And now you have an upgraded grilled zucchini dish that your guests will be impressed with. It’s simple, effortless, and unique.

3. Strawberry Spinach Salad

Whoever said salads were boring has never had a taste of this strawberry spinach salad. 

It has a blend of sweet strawberries, tangy feta, herby chicken, and crunchy pecans that can really change people’s perspective on this side dish.

So, if you want to try making this at home, start by toasting half a cup of sliced pecans in a skillet for about three to five minutes. 

You’ll know they’re ready when your pecans become fragrant and lightly golden. By that time, you can set them aside to rest.

Next, get a bowl and add six cups of fresh baby spinach, a pint of hulled and sliced strawberries, and a quarter cup of chopped red onions.

This will be the base for your salad.

In another bowl, make the dressing with a quarter cup of balsamic vinegar, two tablespoons of olive oil, one tablespoon of honey, and half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard — plus, salt and pepper to taste!

When the dressing is well blended, drizzle it over the mixture with spinach leaves and lightly toss them so that they get coated evenly.

Lastly, sprinkle some toasted pecan on top followed by about half a cup of crumbled feta cheese. Give everything one more gentle mix before serving to your guests.

This recipe is a colorful and refreshing side dish that complements the flavor of any grilled main course you plan on having. 

4. Three-Pickle Potato Salad

If you love eating pickles as a snack, you’ll love making this three-pickle potato salad. Here’s why. 

It’s got all types of pickles you can think of, including dill (the number one pickled product, in my opinion), pickled red onions, and pickled okra. 

So, to begin, submerge two pounds of your unpeeled red potatoes in salted water and boil them for about 15 to 20 minutes. 

After 20 minutes, drain your potatoes and wait until they cool down before slicing them into bite-sized pieces. 

Then, grab a large bowl and toss in your sliced potatoes along with your dill ingredients. These include half a cup of diced dill pickles, pickled okra, diced sweet pickles, and pickled onions.

Now, get a different bowl and make your salad dressing. The ingredients for this include three-fourths cup of mayo, two tablespoons of Dijon mustard, and a tablespoon of pickle juice. 

To your dressing bowl, add your seasoning, which consists of half a teaspoon of garlic powder, a quarter teaspoon of black pepper, and a quarter teaspoon of paprika. 

Once your dressing is mixed completely, pour it over your potato mixture and stir gently. 

This next step is completely optional, but you can also fold in two chopped hard-boiled eggs and a quarter cup of chopped parsley to add more texture to your dish. 

When you’re happy with your salad mixture, cover the bowl with cling wrap and put it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. 

But, if you want the potatoes to absorb the flavors further, you can leave your bowl in the fridge for as long as four hours. 

Once you take it out, give it a final stir before serving it nice and cold. Trust me, this zesty side dish is the perfect addition to any BBQ party, especially on hot days.

5. Juicy Tomato Salad

When I host BBQ parties, I’m not always sure what my guests want to eat. That’s why I enjoy whipping up different types of salads to cater to everyone’s tastes. 

So far, I’ve shared a strawberry salad recipe and a pickle salad recipe. Now I’m giving you all the details on my juicy tomato salad, which should be a breeze to make.

All you need to do is select two pounds of ripe tomatoes of various sizes, cut them into small wedges, and put them in a big serving bowl. 

Let’s talk about dressing now. Grab a fourth cup of extra virgin olive oil, two tablespoons of red wine vinegar, one minced garlic clove, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, and a teaspoon of honey. 

Add a pinch of salt and pepper to taste before whisking everything together. 

Now, bring back your bowl of tomatoes, pour in your homemade dressing, and toss everything with your salad tongs.

Let your coated tomato salad rest for about 15 to 20 minutes to let the flavors come together. 

Then, just before serving, you can add half a cup of fresh basil leaves and crumbled feta cheese to add more depth in flavor.

6. Smoky-Sweet Baked Beans

When talking about side dishes, it’s hard to beat a classic like this smoky-sweet baked beans.

Unlike the other items on this list that balance out the smokiness of a BBQ main course with fresh or zesty flavors, this smoky-sweet dish enhances it. 

If that’s what you’re looking for in a perfect side dish, here’s how you can make this recipe. 

Begin by warming up your oven.

White waiting for your oven to heat up, cook six slices of bacon over medium heat in a Dutch oven or oven-safe skillet. Once they become crispy, remove them from the stove and set aside for now. 

With the bacon juices still in the skillet, add one diced onion and sauté until it caramelizes. This should take about five minutes. 

To the same skillet, add three minced garlic cloves and cook for an additional 60 seconds. 

Next, add two cans of drained and rinsed navy beans to the skillet along with a can of baked beans with the sauce and half a cup of ketchup, followed by a quarter cup of molasses.

But that’s not all.

For more flavor, throw in two tablespoons of brown sugar, one tablespoon of Dijon mustard, one tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, plus one teaspoon of smoked paprika and cayenne pepper.

Stir well and bake uncovered for 50 minutes or until you arrive at a nice, thick sauce. 

If it’s still too runny, put it back in the oven to bake longer —  maybe 10 more minutes should do it. 

When you take it out of the oven, toss in your cooked bacon, and dig in. With this timeless side dish, you’re all set to host a grand BBQ party!

7. Creamed Corn With Basil

After attending countless grilling parties, I’ve realized that corn is a staple in many BBQ cookouts. 

And while there are countless corn recipes out there, I would be amiss to overlook this creamed corn with basil recipe. 

So, to make this, melt two tablespoons of unsalted butter in a skillet. Then, add one small chopped onion and sauté for around five minutes.

In the same skillet, stir in two minced garlic and cook until it becomes fragrant. This should only take about a minute or so.

At that point, add four cups of corn kernels. If you want it fresh, you can buy four or five ears of corn from a farmer’s market. If not, four cans of ready-made corn kernels from the store will do.

With your corn inside the pan, pour in half a cup of water and cook for about eight to 10 minutes. 

In a separate bowl, make your cream sauce by whisking together half a cup of heavy cream, half a cup of milk, a tablespoon of all-purpose flour (which works as a thickening agent), and a pinch of salt and pepper. 

Once your creamy mixture is well combined, pour it into the pan with the corn and stir to combine. 

Let the dish simmer for an additional three to five minutes. Make sure the cream has thickened before removing the pan from the heat. 

While your cooked corn mixture is cooling down, stir in a quarter cup of grated Parmesan cheese until it melts, and fold in a quarter cup of fresh basil leaves. 

And there you have it, a creamy, comforting side dish perfect for any grilling event — whether it be a small get-together or an all-out bash!

8. Pepper Sauce Watermelon Wedges

If you don’t have enough time to cook your side dishes at home, here’s a trick I learned: grab a simple plate of watermelon slices and drizzle it with a bottle of pepper sauce. 

This unexpected pairing is sure to make heads turn and pique their curiosity. So, if you want to leave a lasting impression with this trick, here’s a step-by-step guide you can follow.

Start by grabbing six pounds of seedless watermelon. Cut them into wedges, arrange them nicely on a serving platter, and leave them to the side for a while. 

While your watermelon wedges are resting, make your pepper sauce.

To do this, combine half a cup of water and white vinegar, a quarter cup of sugar, a tablespoon of salt, a teaspoon of black pepper, and half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes in a pan. 

Bring this mixture to a boil, stirring constantly to completely dissolve the salt and sugar. Once your pepper sauce is well combined, remove the pan from the heat and let it rest. 

As your pan is cooling down, stir in a quarter cup of finely chopped mint and basil leaves before drizzling the sauce all over your watermelon wedges.

You can serve the dish immediately or chill it in the fridge for an hour before serving. It’s up to you whether you prefer it warm or cold. 

For me, I like it better cold, especially if we’re having a cookout in the summertime.

Celebrate the Delicious Diversity of BBQ Side Dishes

Balance is the most essential thing in a BBQ party.

If you want to put all your focus on the main courses, don’t forget about the side dishes too!

Keep in mind that your main course is only as good as your side dishes. So, plan well in advance, know which pairings work well together, and most importantly, enjoy yourself while you’re at it!

If you run out of ideas for your next BBQ cookout, hopefully, this list can help make the brainstorming process easier for you.

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