Recipe Spotlight

15 Side Dishes You Can Leave in the Sun at Your Next Cookout

These recipes don’t need to be chilled—and can even withstand a little of summer’s heat.

Published May 23, 2023.

Cookout season is upon us! 

This means that you’ll likely be toting lots of side dishes to your fair share of outdoor events. Which always begs the question: What dish should you bring that won’t wilt in the sun or otherwise quickly lose its appeal?  

Fret no further. We’ve compiled a list of dishes that travel well and don’t need a cooler to stay fresh and flavorful. Most can also be made ahead.

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1. Israeli Couscous with Lemon, Mint, Peas, Feta, and Pickled Shallots

For nutty-tasting couscous, we toasted ours before cooking it via the absorption method, which ensured even cooking. We then tossed it with a zippy lemon-mustard vinaigrette and lots of bold flavorings. 

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2. Crunchy Kettle Potato Chips 

Crunchy, salty kettle chips are a cookout staple, and ours taste so much better than store bought. Ready in just 40 minutes, these chips do not require a deep fryer. And because we fry them in moderately hot oil, they cook up crunchy—not mouth-cuttingly hard or shatteringly delicate. Make our standard kind, or try a smoky barbecue or buttermilk-chive version instead. 

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3. Crispy Eggplant Salad with Tomatoes, Herbs, and Fried Shallots

We dehydrated our eggplant in the microwave and then shallow-fried it before marinating it in nam prik—a bright Thai condiment made with lime juice, fish sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic, and chiles. The dish works well alongside everything from sticky rice to grilled rib eye. 

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4. Marinated Grilled Tomatoes with Fresh Mozzarella

For a twist on classic caprese salad, we grilled the tomatoes to give them char and smoky depth. We then steeped them for an hour in a punchy dressing with chopped basil and bite-size pieces of creamy mozzarella for a superflavorful salad.

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5. Kohlrabi, Radicchio, and Apple Slaw

Every cookout needs a coleslaw. For a fresh take, we traded cabbage and mayo for a variety of root vegetables and a Dijon-based vinaigrette. We used a grater to quickly turn the hard vegetables into tender shreds, and avoided a waterlogged salad by tossing them with salt and sugar to soften them slightly and draw out moisture before combining them with the other ingredients. 

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500 Recipes

The Complete Summer Cookbook

Ready to take the party outside? This book is designed to keep you and your kitchen cool, with make-ahead meals best served cold (or at room temp), fix-and-forget recipes that won't heat up the kitchen, and lots more.

6. Italian Pasta Salad

One co-worker described this dish as “everything you love about an Italian sub but in salad form.” Rather than raw vegetables, we incorporated intensely flavored sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, and pepperoncini. For heartiness, we included salami and chunks of mozzarella. Bring this to a party once, and you’ll be asked to bring it to all future gatherings. 

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7. Watermelon Salad with Cotija and Serrano Chiles

To counter the abundant juices contributed by the watermelon, we made a dressing with assertive ingredients: lime juice, scallions, serrano chiles, and fresh cilantro. Chopped roasted pepitas and cotija cheese adhered to the surface of the watermelon pieces and held on to the dressing (rather than sliding off) and also added richness.

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8. Peaches, Blackberries, and Strawberries with Basil and Pepper

To create a salad with great fruity—versus overly sweet—flavor, we macerated the fruits in just enough sugar to release their natural juices. Before that, we muddled the sugar with herbs and zests, which ensured that their flavors would be evenly distributed. Lastly, lime juice contributed welcome brightness. 

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9. Pa Amb Tomàquet (Catalan Tomato Bread)

Pa amb tomàquet is as simple as cooking gets. Halve some ciabatta, toast it dry under your broiler, and then rub the toasts with a garlic clove to add subtle savoriness. Spoon grated ripe tomatoes over them, drizzle on some olive oil, and they are ready for a party.

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10. Fattoush (Pita Bread Salad with Tomatoes and Cucumber)

This salad combines fresh, flavorful produce with crisp homemade pita chips and bright herbs. To eliminate excess moisture that could sog out the toasted pita, we made the bread moisture-repellent by brushing its craggy side with plenty of olive oil before baking. 

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Equipment Review

The Best Soft Coolers

Though you won't need one for these recipes, coolers are a summer necessity. Soft ones are lighter and more portable, but can they compete in cold-retention with hard coolers? And which brand is best?
Read Our Review

11. Pai Huang Gua (Sichuan Smashed Cucumbers)

Flavored with vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and sesame oil, smashed cucumber salad comes together quickly and is a refreshing take on a cookout vegetable side. Cooling and crunchy, this savory Sichuan dish is an ideal accompaniment for spicy or smoked dishes. 

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12. Fluffy Dinner Rolls

To elevate any backyard barbecue, replace store-bought rolls with these fluffy, moist, homemade ones. We took a classic dinner roll recipe and applied the tangzhong bread-making method, which adds extra moisture to the dough in the form of a flour paste. The added liquid in the dough extends the rolls’ shelf life for more than a day. You can even convert the dough into top-loading hotdog buns if you really want to kick your cookout hotdogs up a notch. 

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13. Ultracreamy Hummus

Our velvety-smooth hummus is satisfyingly rich and serves up to 10 people. For the best texture, we simmered canned chickpeas in water and baking soda for 20 minutes and then easily removed their grainy skins by gently swishing them in water. Steeping garlic in lemon juice tempered its sharp bite but still added that critical savory allium flavor.

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14. Roasted Red Bell Pepper and Walnut Dip (Muhammara)

This vibrant Middle Eastern pepper and walnut dip is a crowd-pleaser that provides sweet, smoky depth and velvety texture. Adding a small amount of cracker crumbs to our mix helped absorb any extra juices from the roasted peppers, so the dip wasn’t runny. Pomegranate molasses offset the richness of the walnuts. 

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15. Briam

Made with the summer produce, this layered dish of potatoes, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini baked and bathed in olive oil is a stunner. Serve it as a side or even a main course.

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