No cookout (or celebratory meal of any kind) is complete without a few side dishes. And we're not talking limp store-bought coleslaw or bland baked beans—we take our side dishes seriously in these parts. Since you'll likely have your grill up and running already, it's a natural move to make some space for side dishes, too: grilled corn, cabbage, mushrooms, even oysters for a terrific starter. But, for the sake of ease and practicality, you need options for sides you can make ahead as well—especially chilled items that'll cleanse your guests' palates of all those charred flavors. We've got you covered with dishes like a cooling watermelon, mint, and feta salad (improved with just a couple of simple tricks) and banh mi–inspired panzanella. All that and more follows in this list of 30 delicious side dish recipes.
On the Grill
Unless you live in a handful of Gulf or Pacific states, grilled oysters might be an unfamiliar concept. But they're a wonderful splurge for a special occasion, and particularly appropriate if you find yourself with oysters that you don't love raw. Just shuck the oysters, top them with a flavorful compound butter (try garlic-parsley, Parmesan-basil, or kimchi), and grill until the butter is melted and the liquid inside the shells is bubbling.
Grilled Green Bean Salad With Red Peppers and Radishes
Our favorite cookout salads combine the smoky flavor of grilled vegetables with the fresh crunch of raw ones. Case in point: this combo of blistered green beans, sweet raw red peppers, spicy radishes, and scallions, tossed in a simple dressing of olive oil, Dijon mustard, and lemon juice. It's not so much a recipe as it is a template: Swap in whatever vegetables you like (grilled asparagus and raw shallots? Grilled cauliflower with vinegary capers?) according to the same formula.
Grilled Skewered Shishito Peppers With Teriyaki Glaze
If you're preparing chicken yakitori for your Labor Day get-together, you'll need vegetables to accompany it, and you may as well stick to the skewer theme. Sweet green shishito peppers pair well with teriyaki sauce (homemade strongly preferred), and grilling them is fast and easy. Double-skewering them makes flipping a snap.
Grilled King Oyster Mushrooms With Bacon and Teriyaki Glaze
For a side-on-a-stick that's a bit more showy, we slice meaty king oyster mushrooms into one-inch pieces, then reassemble them on skewers, alternating the pieces with bacon. As the fat from the bacon renders on the grill, the mushrooms will be more than happy to absorb all that smoky flavor and added moisture—they won't end up dry, as so many grilled mushrooms do.
Grilled Mixed Mushrooms With Sesame Dressing
Here's a more basic technique for keeping grilled mushrooms juicy: Just cut them into uniform pieces and grill them over moderate, indirect heat. When grilling a variety of 'shrooms, like portobellos, creminis, shiitakes, and king trumpets, skewer each type separately to ensure even cooking. These meaty bites don't need a sauce, but basting them with a blend of mirin, sesame seeds, and soy sauce punches up the flavor and provides a little insurance against drying out.
Simple Grilled-Potato Salad With Grilled-Lemon Vinaigrette
Though a good mayo-based, traditional potato salad can be a lovely thing, once you try a grilled-potato salad, you may find it hard to go back. Here, we parboil the potatoes, toss them in a simple mixture of olive oil and herbs, and cook them over direct heat until they're crispy and well browned. Lemon halves, thrown on the grill alongside them and charred for a deeper flavor, become a tangy vinaigrette for dressing. The recipe is vegan as is, but a little bacon wouldn't be out of place if you feel so inclined.
Grilled Flatbread With Olive Oil and Za'atar
When I was growing up, my Palestinian grandmother would make tray after tray of soft flatbread, topped with olive oil and the earthy, aromatic Middle Eastern spice blend za'atar. In this version, we add yogurt to the dough to make it especially tender, and grill it until it's golden brown, charred in spots, and warmed through. Don't be shy with the za'atar, either—the bread ought to be caked in the stuff.
Grilled Scallion Pancakes
Our scallion pancakes come out great when made in a skillet, but also work amazingly well on the grill. Cooked over live fire, they develop puffier interiors and shatteringly crisp crusts—just what we're looking for in our scallion pancakes.
Grilled Tofu With Chipotle-Miso Sauce
Despite their varied provenances, salty miso and smoky chipotle are a perfect team for flavoring slabs of crispy grilled tofu. We marinate the tofu in some of the mixture before grilling and brush the rest on after to add more savoriness and spice.
Simple Grilled Asparagus
Few vegetables are as easy to grill as asparagus, or as satisfying. With a little olive oil and salt and a hot fire, you can transform the fresh-flavored stalks into an incredibly addictive finger food—charred and a bit shriveled at the top, while retaining a juicy snap. Don't forget to whip up some creamy two-minute aioli for dipping.
Grilled Cabbage With Spicy Thai Dressing
If the only way you've ever eaten cabbage at a barbecue is in coleslaw form, you're missing out. When grilled over very high heat, cabbage takes on a sweet, nutty flavor and crisps up on the outside, but keeps its crunchy center. Here, we serve it with a fiery Thai-inspired sauce made with chili, fish sauce, garlic, and lots of herbs.
Grilled Cabbage With Yogurt and Mint
For a cooling, creamy complement to a smoky wedge of grilled cabbage, try this Greek-inspired sauce of yogurt infused with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and fresh mint and parsley. The rich consistency of a yogurt-based sauce nicely bridges the gap between grilled cabbage and coleslaw.
Grilled Cabbage Wedges With Ginger-Miso Dressing
Here, we sauce our grilled cabbage with a powerful ginger-miso dressing that's sweet, salty, earthy, and tangy all at the same time. Its balance of flavors comes from a mixture of brown sugar, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and hot red pepper flakes.
Grilled Leeks With Romesco Sauce
While the results can be delicious, slow-roasting leeks over a fire is quite time-consuming—you'll do better by parboiling them until they're tender, then shocking them in cold water and grilling them over high heat. When they're softened and slightly charred, we serve them in traditional Catalonian style with romesco, a rich, mildly sweet, and beautifully red sauce of almonds, roasted tomatoes, and red peppers.
Grilled Corn, Tomato, Feta, and Herb Salad
The end of tomato season is only a few weeks away, which means that come Labor Day, you should be doing all you can, while you can, to enjoy fresh, perfectly red and ripe tomatoes. Corn, another vegetable that's best eaten only at its absolute peak of summer freshness, is a natural match for them. With this salad, we celebrate both ingredients, charring the corn until it's sweet and nutty, mixing it with juicy chopped tomatoes and briny feta, and tossing it all with a simple olive-oil-and-lemon dressing.
Eggplant Spirals With Greek Yogurt, Tomatoes, and Cucumber
The mild, verging-on-bland flavor of eggplant, a liability in many people's eyes, is an asset when you pair it with stronger ingredients—eggplant makes a great canvas for other flavors. By thinly slicing globe eggplant and rolling it up with various tasty fillings, you can make it a lot more interesting. In this Greek-inspired recipe, we choose a mix of yogurt, feta, Mediterranean herbs, garlic, and lemon juice for stuffing our spirals.
Grilled Provoleta Cheese
This dish gives a whole new (and fabulous) meaning to the term "grilled cheese." Halloumi is a popular choice for grilling cheese, but it's not the only one. For a grilled version of the pan-fried provolone that's commonly seen in Argentina—served with olive oil, oregano, and red pepper flakes—look for a harder provolone that will retain its shape a bit longer on the grill. It'll still soften until it's gloriously gooey and spoonable, ready to top slices of toasted baguette, but it won't melt away completely.
Balsamic Vegetable Skewers
It's wise to keep structural integrity in mind when you're choosing vegetables for skewers: Eggplant, though often seen on vegetarian kebabs, is soft enough to easily slip off the stick and into the fire. Better is hardier produce, like squash and red onion. Cut them into similarly sized slices or chunks to encourage even cooking, and toss them with a tangy balsamic vinaigrette for extra flavor.
Grilled Trevisano or Radicchio With Gorgonzola, Olive Oil, and Saba
Intensely bitter when raw, Italian trevisano and radicchio become surprisingly sweet and succulent on the grill. Turn the charred leaves into a full-on salad by dressing them with olive oil, sweet Gorgonzola, and the wine grape–based syrup called saba.
The Best Basic Grilled Corn
There are several ways to grill whole ears of corn; our favorite is to simply shuck them and add them straight to the grill. That takes a bit more prep than grilling the corn in its husk, but will save time later when you're serving it. The corn comes out blistered, charred, sweet, and juicy, needing no more than a dab of butter and salt—if that.
Grilled Corn With Garlic and Ginger Soy Butter
Opinions vary on this matter, but for me, grilled corn just isn't complete without butter, and a compound butter gives you a great opportunity to add strong contrasting flavors. Here, we start with a basic soy butter—the mixture of soy sauce and butter that's a beloved corn topping in Japan—and incorporate garlic, ginger, and lemon juice.
Grilled Corn With Spicy Korean Miso Sauce
Proof that every cloud has a silver lining, this recipe resulted from a failed Serious Eats attempt to make a Korean fried chicken/corn on the cob mashup. We ended up reworking the gochujang-flavored sauce, cutting it with savory miso and loosening it up with creamy mayo, as a coating for grilled corn. The finished sauce is rich and spicy, perfect for offsetting the corn's sweetness.
Grilled Mexican Street Corn (Elotes)
Arguably one of the best Mexican street-food snacks is elotes, corn on the cob dripping with a creamy, flavorful sauce—in this version, it's made with mayonnaise, Mexican crema, Cotija cheese, chili powder, and lime juice. Don't just take my word that this is the best corn on the cob recipe you'll ever try—watch and see how quickly it disappears when you make it.
Off the Grill
Watermelon, Feta, and Mint Salad
Watermelons yield a lot of fruit, and, as much as I enjoy eating it plain, plowing through an entire melon's worth of fruit that way can get a little humdrum. A common and nicely refreshing use for it is watermelon, feta, and mint salad; the salty feta is an excellent match for the fresh flavors of the melon and mint. This recipe keeps it basic, but adds chopped lemon zest to enhance the salad's aromatic qualities.
Raw Corn Salad With Shiso and Basil
Shiso, the bright, grassy, and vaguely bitter herb that's often seen as a sushi garnish, is just as useful for cooking as any other fresh herb. We recommend experimenting with it in any summery salad. But if you want a good place to start, try it in this salad of raw corn cut straight off the cob, sharp radish, tomato, cucumber, and a simple balsamic vinaigrette.
Blistered-Tomato Pasta Salad With Basil
As ubiquitous as pasta salad is at cookouts, it's tough to find one that's executed well; most are a discordant mess of clashing textures and flavors. The best approach we've found for making a good one based on Western wheat noodles is to treat it more like pasta than like a salad, by saucing it instead of dressing it. Here, we cook ripe cherry tomatoes in olive oil until they burst, making a light sauce to coat the pasta. Raw basil leaves added at the end lend a touch of freshness.
Spanish Pasta Salad With Chorizo, Piquillo Peppers, and Pickled Onion
This meaty, savory pasta salad starts with cubes of Spanish chorizo, cooked in a skillet until crisp. Add garlic, then toss the mixture with pasta along with roasted piquillo peppers, quick-pickled yellow onion, lemon zest, and fresh herbs. The onions add pops of tartness without leaving an unpleasant acidic aftertaste.
Banh Mi Panzanella
A classic Tuscan panzanella (bread and tomato salad) is a solid choice for a side dish. For something really unusual, though, try a Vietnamese-inspired variation, which tosses stale or oven-dried baguette cubes with typical fresh banh mi sandwich fillings, like cucumber, cilantro, and pickled daikon. Crispy tofu adds protein and heft to the salad, and it's finished with a sweet honey-hoisin sauce and a chili-spiked mayo.
Quick and Easy Shrimp, Corn, and Tomatillo Salad
Combining sweet corn with crunchy raw tomatillos and other veggies can make a summer salad that's plenty refreshing. This recipe goes a step further by incorporating perfectly poached shrimp. To get shrimp that are plump, juicy, and snappy, brine them with salt and baking soda before poaching, and start them in cold water instead of hot.
Tomato, Apricot, and Feta Salad With Mint
We tend to take a hard line with our Caprese salad: no "creative" mix-ins, no elaborate garnishes, and certainly no balsamic vinegar. But we're all for making salads that are similar, using slightly different ingredients. Loosely inspired by the Caprese, and just as satisfying in the summertime, this one pairs ripe tomatoes (use only the best in-season specimens you can get) with fresh apricots, mint, and feta.