When you're planning a cookout you might have a tendency to focus on the mains—whether you're grilling up burgers, brats, or anything else, side dishes can quickly become an afterthought. But if you're so busy with the entrees that all you serve them with are mayo-drenched coleslaw and potato salad from the deli counter, then you're missing out on what could be a highlight of your Labor Day. There are tons of sides you can cook up on the grill, from asparagus and mushrooms to potato salad and elotes. Or if you're short on grill space, how about smoky baked beans, watermelon salad, or panzanella with a Southeast Asian twist? Keep reading for 21 side dishes to round out your Labor Day feast.
On the Grill
Simple Grilled Asparagus
Grilling is one of our favorite methods for cooking asparagus—all you have to do is toss it with olive oil, salt, and pepper and cook on the hottest part of the fire until it's charred but still a little crisp in the center. A homemade aioli for dipping turns this simple side into something special.
Grilled Summer Squash With Chimichurri
Chimichurri—an Argentine condiment made with onion, garlic, and fresh herbs—is usually thought of as a sauce for grilled meats, but it pairs just as well with grilled summer squash. Feel free to make the recipe your own, swapping out the herbs or omitting the jalapeño if you prefer.
Simple Grilled-Potato Salad With Grilled-Lemon Vinaigrette
Potato salad is a cookout staple, but it usually doesn't look like this. We eschew the typical boiled spuds and mayonnaise-based dressing in favor of crispy grilled potatoes tossed in a grilled-lemon vinaigrette. Grilling the lemons brings out their natural sweetness, giving the dressing a surprising depth.
Grilled Mexican Street Corn (Elotes)
There are plenty of ways to flavor grilled corn, but if you're only going to use one recipe then this has to be it. Elotes is a classic Mexican street food made by slathering grilled corn with a creamy sauce made with mayo, sour cream, Cotija, chili powder, garlic, cilantro, and lime. I promise that you'll never look at corn the same way again.
Grilled Cabbage With Spicy Thai Dressing
As an alternative to coleslaw, try grilled cabbage instead. The vegetable takes on a nutty, sweet flavor when you char it over an open flame. Here we serve it with a spicy Thai-style dressing made with lime juice, fish sauce, brown sugar, and garlic, but also check out our recipes with ginger and miso, yogurt and mint, and blue cheese dressings.
Grilled Mixed Mushrooms With Sesame Dressing
Even though they are full of water, mushrooms still have a tendency to dry out on the grill. To keep them moist, we baste them with a mixture of butter and soy sauce while they cook. Using a variety of mushrooms makes the dish more interesting, but remember that different types will cook at different speeds.
Grilled Radicchio With Cherry Gastrique
Bitter radicchio works wonderfully on the grill—the intense heat brings out some of its sweetness, while deepening its bitter taste. To tame that bitterness we serve it with a sweet-and-sour cherry gastrique, which also adds some vibrancy to the dish (the radicchio loses its color as it grills).
Grilled Leeks With Romesco Sauce
Every year people in Catalonia celebrate Calçotada, grilling up spring onions called calçots and eating them with romesco sauce (if you like romesco, you should also give xató a try). While we don't have calçots in North America, leeks are a tasty substitute. Cooking the leeks all the way through on the grill takes way too long, so we par-boil them first.
Balsamic Vegetable Skewers
These easy vegetable skewers are made with zucchini, yellow squash, red onion, bell peppers, and grape tomatoes and they're flavored with a balsamic vinaigrette. We use some of the vinaigrette as a marinade, but most of the flavor comes from spooning the rest onto the skewers after cooking.
Eggplant Spirals With Greek Yogurt, Tomatoes, and Cucumber
This refreshing side dish is made by grilling eggplant slices until charred and soft and rolling them up with Greek yogurt, feta, tomato, cucumber, and fresh herbs. Try to slice the eggplant about 1/4 inch thick, which should be thin enough to roll but thick enough to stay intact on the grill.
Grilled Corn, Tomato, Feta, and Herb Salad
Warm corn salads are a staple of my diet during the summer, and this is probably number one in my rotation. There's not much to it besides finding the best corn and tomatoes—beyond that all you need is feta, good olive oil, lemon juice, and a variety of fresh herbs.
Off the Grill
Austrian-Style Potato Salad (Erdäpfelsalat)
Australian-style potato salad has a more savory flavor and looser texture than its American counterpart thanks to chicken stock, which joins the mustard, vinegar, olive oil, red onion, sugar, and chives in the dressing. It might look too soupy at first, but the starch from the potatoes will thicken it up as it sits. If you're looking for a similar, non-mayo based potato salad, but one that has a bit more of an assertive flavor profile, you can't go wrong with this fingerling potato salad, which gets a smoky hit from chorizo and a nice, acidic roundness from sherry vinegar.
Smoky Barbecue Beans
Our spicy, smoky baked beans are packed with flavor thanks to paprika, cumin, black pepper, dried red chilies, and whatever smoked meat you have on hand. We don't like our beans too sweet, so these have just enough brown sugar for balance. They'll turn out great slowly simmered, but you can make them much faster with a pressure cooker.
Classic Caprese Salad
Labor Day means that we're at the the tail end of tomato season, and few dishes celebrate the last tomatoes of the year better than caprese. This summery salad only calls for a few ingredients—olive oil, basil, mozzarella, and salt—so it's worth seeking out the best quality products possible.
Tomato, Apricot, and Feta Salad With Mint
Loosely inspired by caprese, this salad keeps the tomatoes, cheese, and herbs but replaces the mozzarella with feta and the basil with mint. We also bring ripe apricots to the table, which have a sweetness that complements the salty, briny feta.
Watermelon, Feta, and Mint Salad
We can't talk about feta, mint, and fruit without talking about this classic salad. As with caprese, the salad's simplicity means you need to find the best ingredients. Look for small watermelons that feel heavy for their size (the farmers market is your best option) and use creamy, slightly funky sheep's-milk feta instead of the more common cow's-milk variety.
The Ultimate Greek Salad
Just like a caprese, a Greek salad is a study in not messing with simplicity. Fresh, ripe tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, red onions, a big pinch of Greek oregano, red wine vinegar, pitted olives, and good olive oil are all you need. Of course, we lightly pickle the red onions, just to round off their sharp bite, but that's about as fussy as this recipe gets.
Raw Corn Salad With Shiso and Basil
Corn doesn't need to be grilled or sautéed for a salad—raw summer corn is plenty sweet and has a wonderful crunch. Here we pair it with a variety of ingredients: radishes, feta, tomatoes, cucumber, and shallots. What really makes the salad is the addition of grassy, peppery shiso leaf.
Succotash (Corn, Bean, and Vegetable Stew)
More people should eat succotash more of the time, because the combination of sweet corn and savory, earthy beans is invariably delicious. But succotash should be on your Labor Day menu, or any cookout menu, because it can accommodate a range of tastes, and can be made with whatever you have on hand.
Banh Mi Panzanella
You could do worse than to serve a traditional panzanella at your cookout, but I'm partial to this Vietnamese-inspired version. To recreate the flavors of a banh mi we mix the bread with marinated tofu, fresh and pickled vegetables, and two different sauces: hoisin-honey sauce and chili mayo.
Blistered-Tomato Pasta Salad With Basil
We have a variety of pasta salad recipes in our archives, but this one is both the easiest and the most summery. We treat it like a warm pasta dish, cooking the tomatoes with garlic until they burst and form a sauce. The noodles will firm up as they cool, so boil them a few minutes past al dente.