Recipe Spotlight

9 Make-Ahead Hits for a Barbecue 

Prep-friendly potato salad and big-batch cocktails make cookouts a breeze.

Published May 24, 2023.

When the warm weather hits and the grills roll out, I prefer to be outdoors as much as possible. For more time in the sunshine (and less in the kitchen), I rely on recipes that I can prepare and forget, and I take advantage of their built-in resting periods. By the time the sun sets and the burgers are done flipping, these sides come out better than ever. Here are some of my favorite foods to prepare in advance for a barbecue.

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10 ingredients. 45 minutes. Quick, easy, and fresh weeknight recipes.


Amid all the sweet, smoky flavors coming off the grill, a bright and crunchy slaw is always a welcome respite. Our Spicy Barbecue Coleslaw amps up flavor with horseradish, dry mustard, and cayenne pepper and can be made two days in advance. Our recipe starts by removing excess water in the cabbage, which keeps the slaw extra-crisp and prevents the dressing from becoming diluted. Or for a slaw-adjacent twist, try our Shredded Carrot and Serrano Chile Salad, which uses fish sauce, roasted peanuts, lime, and fresh herbs for a zippy salad with complex flavors.

Potato Salad

Something about a bite of a juicy burger immediately followed by a forkful of potato salad just hits right. Our Torn Potato Salad with Toasted Garlic and Herb Dressing incorporates a toasty, garlicky dressing with an abundance of herbs for a refreshing twist on classic potato salad. To absorb as much flavor as possible, potatoes are boiled in salted water and then hand-torn into craggy pieces, which cling onto the dressing in every nook and cranny. 


Torn Potato Salad with Toasted Garlic and Herb Dressing

A fresh approach to a familiar dish.
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Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are the ultimate pop-in-your-mouth appetizer and, from experience, always disappear quickly. Our Basic Deviled Eggs use mayonnaise and sour cream for a creamy base, with white vinegar and spicy brown mustard added for extra tang. The filling mixture can be made two days in advance and piped in right before serving. 

Macaroni Salad

Nothing beats a cooling, creamy pasta salad to pair with items hot off the grill. Our Hawaiian Macaroni Salad cooks the noodles until soft to absorb the dressing, yielding the best of both worlds in terms of flavor and make-ahead ease. The pasta is tossed with cider vinegar, mayonnaise, and fresh elements such as finely chopped scallions, carrots, and celery. For a spicier version that calls out flavors from the grill, try our BBQ Macaroni Salad, which adds hot sauce, cayenne pepper, chili powder, and barbecue sauce for an extra kick.


Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

Hawaiians cook their macaroni until it's "fat." Turns out they know what they're doing.
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Cold Fried Chicken

My colleague Matthew Fairman implores you not to sleep on cold fried chicken. For one thing, it’s a bit of a power move. While lots of people are arriving at that backyard potluck with sides or a pack of hot dogs to toss on the grill, if you show up with a big batch of Lemon Pepper Wings . . . well, let me just say you won’t be bringing any back home with you. And though they’re great fresh out the fryer, I can tell you from experience that they are also irresistible a day later straight out the fridge. Same goes for our One-Batch Fried Chicken, if you’re looking for something a little more classic. Finally, keep an eye out for our Sweet Tea–Brined Fried Chicken (coming soon in the August/September 2023 issue of Cook’s Country). Brined in sweet tea and inspired by a recipe engineered to make the best picnic fried chicken, its supercrunchy coating stays crisp until way after the last piece is snatched from the table.


A great barbecue is all about balance. For me, that means briny, pickled sides to munch on between savory grill items. Classic "kosher" pickles are sure to hit the spot—our recipe is a quick version of long-cured, deli-style pickles. To make the pickles, we toss cucumbers in salt and let them sit in a colander for 1 hour, which draws off the cucumbers’ excess moisture and thoroughly seasons the spears. A combination of dried and fresh dill and lots of garlic lends extra flavor. Best of all, the pickles come together in 1 hour and can be made up to two weeks in advance. For other make-ahead pickled condiments that pair great with barbecue foods, try our Pickled Red Onion or our Refrigerator Pickled Okra.


'Kosher' Double-Dill Pickles

Homemade pickles are bushels better than store-bought, and making them doesn't have to be a weekend-long affair.
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Condiments and Dips

While they seem like a simple contribution, homemade condiments can be applied to everything from the grill and are sure to please a crowd. Our Lemon Aioli is perfect slathered atop burgers or used as a dip for savory snacks and fried foods. The creamy base comes together quickly in a food processor, with a boost of lemon juice, Dijon mustard, garlic, and cayenne pepper. Olive oil is stirred in at the end for extra flavor.

Or if you prefer the sweeter side of things, try our Cannoli Dip, which also comes in chocolate chip–orange and pistachio-lemon variations. This recipe emulates the decadent filling of an Italian cannoli, with ricotta, mascarpone, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla stirred together to create a luxurious base. Serve with any combination of cookies, wafers, graham crackers, and fresh fruit. 


Cannoli Dip

Just as delicious as traditional cannoli—but a lot more fun.
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Batch Cocktails

While a frosty beer or glass of chilled white or pink wine can be perfect for a warm summer evening, sometimes it’s nice to take it up a notch. Batch cocktails served in a pitcher are sure to amp up the sophistication (in terms of taste, not prep work). Our Mixed Berry Rosé Sangria incorporates dry rosé wine with assorted mashed berries and Grand Marnier for a boozy, fruity kick. The mixture is infused in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours and can be made up to 24 hours in advance. Before serving, berries are stirred in for a showstopping final result. 


How To Cocktail

The first-ever cocktail book from America’s most-trusted test kitchen includes essential classics, twists on old favorites; and brand-new test kitchen creations.

Make-Ahead Cake

Some desserts get even better with time, and I like to use those to my advantage for make-ahead occasions. Our Chocolaty Tiramisu is the perfect example; ladyfingers are soaked in coffee, espresso, and dark rum and benefit from a resting period in the fridge (at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours). The ladyfingers are sandwiched between rich mascarpone cream and chocolate ganache. Or try our Tres Leches Cake, a sweet sponge cake soaked in “three milks” (heavy cream, evaporated milk, and sweetened condensed milk). A long rest allows the dairy to thoroughly perfume the cake, and the cake can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. 

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