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65 best summer side dishes to complete your cookout

From baked beans to creamy potato salad, these warm-weather recipes are a must-make.
Katie Lee's Peach-Bourbon Bacon Baked Beans
Katie Lee's Peach-Bourbon Bacon Baked BeansNathan Congleton / TODAY
/ Source: TODAY

Summer days are long and you’re spending more time outside enjoying the cool breeze of the early evenings. The only thing missing from an al fresco feast is a few of our best summer side dishes. Our recipes utilize bright summer produce such as fresh corn on the cob, juicy tomatoes and zucchini, as well as berries and stone fruit. Whether you’re looking for a savory salad like this grilled Mexican street corn number or you’re on the hunt for a hearty side dish like these smoky Kansas City pit beans for your backyard barbecue, these recipes will leave you feeling satisfied all season long.

We started out with our favorite fried foods, like summery fried green tomatoes, for the days when you’re looking for something hearty and filling, but we made sure to include plenty of salad recipes, like a refreshing Cajun shrimp salad, for those days when it’s so hot you can’t fathom turning on the stove. You’ll also find your fair share of corn on the cob recipes, like this easy elote dish, to enjoy with Southern-style mac and cheese and bourbon-soaked baked beans at a cookout.

Maybe the best part of these summer side dishes is that many of them can be served at room temperature, which is ideal for outdoor parties and traveling, whether you’re headed to a local beach or you’re going on a long road trip — sweet jalapeño-cheddar cornbread can be enjoyed anywhere, after all. If you’re looking for summertime side dish inspiration, you’ve come to the right place.

Fried recipes

Fried Green Tomatoes

It’s hard not to love fresh slices of ripe, juicy tomatoes in a salad, but if you’re looking to change things up, you have to try this recipe for fried green tomatoes. Thick slices of tomato are battered in a mixture of cornmeal, flour, paprika, garlic powder and cayenne and fried until crispy. It’s an essential take on a classic southern summer side dish.

Hushpuppies, those bastions of fried goodness, are always delicious, but when you add diced green chiles to the equation, they’re even more flavorful. Chiles, along with a few dashes of hot sauce, give the hushpuppies a hint of heat.

Dylan's Zucchini Fritters

Zucchinis abound during the summer. Wondering what to do with it all? Try cooking up these simple zucchini fritters, which get a salty edge from Pecorino Romano cheese. Serve them hot with a side of marinara or applesauce for a zingy dip. 

Baked bean recipes

Baked beans are a staple at every cookout, but why settle for an average version of the summer staple? That’s just what you’ll get when you make these over-the-top peach-bourbon bacon baked beans. The sweetness from the peach preserves creates a lovely balance with the fattiness and smoky flavor of the bacon.

If you take your beans seriously, you have to try this recipe for smoky Kansas City pit beans. They’re cooked with barbecued meat in a smoker and seasoned with hot sauce, yellow mustard and barbecue sauce. Bring these beans to the cookout as a side dish, or make them the star of the show.

Everything But The Kitchen Sink Baked Beans

Want your baked beans to turn out as flavorful as possible? Don’t go light on the seasonings. That’s the ethos behind this recipe, which calls for bacon, hot sauce and Cajun seasoning, along with a long list of other ingredients. Perhaps the most surprising ingredient is the cola — you won’t want to skip it. It provides a touch of sweetness and a depth of flavor you can’t get from brown sugar alone.

Making baked beans doesn’t have to require an hour of prep time and a long list of ingredients. This classic recipe from Sandra Lee is quick and easy to make, but it’s not lacking in flavor. With just six ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen, you can make top-notch baked beans in less than an hour.

Sausage lends these baked beans a smokiness and a heartiness your average recipe is lacking. Al Roker suggests using kielbasa, which provides some smokiness in the final product. Don’t forget the yellow mustard or the cinnamon if you want to get the full effect of this recipe.

Macaroni and cheese recipes

Stouffer's-Style Macaroni and Cheese

Stouffer’s frozen mac and cheese is a favorite for many, but you may not want to show up to the cookout asking for a microwave to defrost the frozen version. This Stouffer’s-inspired mac and cheese recipe features the soft noodles and creamy cheese sauce you love but it tastes like homemade.

Mac and cheese is at its best when it’s baked until it gets those browned, crispy edges. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a corner piece. Make sure not to skimp on the cream cheese for the richest, creamiest side dish.

Side dishes don’t get easier than this make-ahead mac and cheese. It comes together quickly (you don’t even have to make a roux), and you can keep it in the fridge until it’s ready to go in the oven. It’s a great option for when you don’t want to think about cooking on the day of your event.

Making mac and cheese from scratch can get messy, but you can cut down on the clean-up work by making this one-pot, no-boil macaroni and cheese recipe. By not boiling the pasta ahead of time, this recipe comes together especially quickly. Adding parsley or chives on top of the baked mac and cheese gives the finished dish some color and a touch of freshness.

Mac and cheese can be so much more than just a pasta dish. This recipe calls for fresh sweet corn and bacon, which gives the dish a summery feel to it. Pair with barbecued meats and grilled vegetables to complete your cookout. 

Craig's Mom's Mac and Cheese

The most important ingredient in this mac and cheese isn’t the cheese or the milk. It’s actually the eggs. They help bind everything together, and they make the sauce even richer and creamier.

Corn Recipes

Mexican-Style Street Corn Macaroni Salad

Mexican street corn is a classic handheld bite, so why not turn it into the pasta salad of the summer? Consider adding black beans or shredded chicken to the salad to transform it into a main dish.

This version of elote, or Mexican street corn, is sure to be a hit at any cookout. Fresh corn on the cob is grilled and brushed with a combination of sour cream, mayonnaise, cilantro, garlic and lime. Everything just sticks to the cob, making it a delicious handheld treat. Serve as an appetizer or save it as a side dish.

Cheesy Jersey Corn with Tomato Confit

Cheese and corn is probably the most-underrated combination of all time, but it really shines when it’s paired with juicy heirloom tomatoes. To build this summer side, layer farmer cheese, ricotta, mozzarella and fresh corn kernels in a cast-iron pan and bake until bubbling. 

Grilled corn can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it, but if you’re looking for an easy summer side dish, this recipe won’t disappoint. Garlic, basil and Parmesan cheese is all you need to really make the sweetness of fresh summer corn shine. 

Grilled Mexican Street Corn Salad

Love Mexican sweet corn but don’t want to contend with messy corn on the cob? With this grilled street corn salad, you get all the flavors you love in an easy-to-eat package. Cilantro, onion and lime give the corn its bright intensity, and Tajin finishes it off with zing. 

It’s never been easier to eat elote than it is with this off-the-cob recipe from our very own Carson Daly. Be sure to include a generous sprinkle of cotija along with the obligatory crema, lime and cumin. It’s fresh, summery and comes together in a matter of minutes.

Come late summer, corn on the cob is at its peak, which means that it’s destined for this recipe.  You’ll prepare corn three different ways — grilled corn, butter (using leftover cornbread) and freshly popped popcorn — and plate it all together, allowing the different textures to mingle together in one sweet, buttery summer side dish. 

Grilled Corn Salad with Basil

Corn and basil belong together, which is why this side salad is guaranteed to be such a hit. Make sure you use freshly shucked corn — you’ll want big chunks of corn, not tiny kernels — and add some chopped scallions for a punch. Make a quick dressing using olive oil, cider vinegar, mustard and lime juice to finish it off.

Cornbread recipes

Skillet Cornbread

Cornbread is at its best when it’s cooked in a cast-iron skillet so that its edges crisp and brown. This simple recipe is a classic and is one that you’ll revisit  again and again. Cut a slice in half to use for a barbecue sandwich.

Zucchini Cornbread

Zucchini is one of the most versatile vegetables, but it shines when it’s at its peak in summer. In this recipe, the zucchini isn’t utilized for its light, vegetal flavor but rather its texture — you’ll notice how much moisture it imparts in the bread, making every crumb deliciously tender.

Sweet Jalapeño-Cheddar Cornbread

An average skillet cornbread gets a sweet and spicy upgrade with this jalapeño-spiked recipe. Sharp cheddar mingles with sweet honey to highlight the spiciness of the peppers without overwhelming you with heat. The best part? It takes less than an hour to put it all together.

Chile-Maple Skillet Cornbread

When sweet and spicy flavors come together, something great happens. That’s exactly what’s going on in this chile-maple skillet cornbread recipe. Green chile provides a subtle but pronounced heat, while garam masala adds a touch of earthiness. Of course, the best part is the maple-garlic chile butter, which you’re going to want to spread on literally everything.

Buttermilk and Sour Cream Cornbread

The buttermilk and sour cream in this cornbread create in a deliciously tangy flavor that nicely contrasts the flavor of smoky barbecue or a spicy, steaming hot bowl of chili. It may just replace your grandma’s cornbread recipe.

Salad recipes

Green Goddess Salad

Gather all the green veggies you have sitting in your fridge, and make this hydrating salad. Walnuts give the salad texture and an extra nutritional boost, while a touch of nutritional yeast in the dressing offers an umami-rich, cheese-like flavor.

Cajun Shrimp Chopped Salad

This chopped salad pairs seared Cajun shrimp with diced tomatoes, creamy avocado, cucumber and red onion. It’s likely to become one of your family’s new favorite healthy summer dinners.

This salad is a perfect side dish when you want something light to accompany your entrée. Shelled southern peas and fresh green beans provide the freshness you want in a side salad, and the corn offers just a hint of sweetness. The buttermilk dressing — made with buttermilk, sour cream, sherry vinegar, honey and fresh thyme — is so creamy and decadent that you’ll want to pour it on everything.

Summer Salad

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Summer Salad

Elizabeth Heiskell

Our take on the classic Panzanella features herby ciabatta, heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, red bell pepper and lots of fresh herbs. Don’t forget the mint, basil and cilantro — they provide a fresh, floral note that brings the dish together.

Cucumber gets the star treatment in this bright, fresh summer salad. The strong flavors of onions and herbs provide support to the light, crunchy cucumbers. Add some oil and vinegar, along with some spices, to up the flavor ante, and you have the perfect side salad for BBQ meats, tofu or mushrooms.

Peach and Blackberry Bread Salad

In this recipe, crusty bread provides a hearty base for this light, summery salad. Cube the loaf and bake, so that you have crispy, crunchy croutons that can hold their own against the juicy peaches, blackberries and dressing. When the fruit juices start to mingle with the vinaigrette, you’ll see why this is one of our all-time favorite fruit salads.

Chilled Chickpea Salad

If you have a can of chickpeas and a few vegetables on hand, you can throw this salad together in a pinch. Instead of vinegar, this recipe utilizes lime juice, which gives the salad a zippy, summery flavor you’ll want to enjoy all season long. Eat it alone, on top of pasta or bread or as a side dish for a heavier entrée.

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, which makes  this creative recipe from Giada De Laurentiis the unofficial recipe of the summer. It calls for gorgonzola, blueberries, grapes and pistachios for a patriotic punch. Add some grilled chicken breast on top for a complete meal.

Joy Bauer's Detox Salad

When you’re craving something that tastes healthy and fresh, this colorful salad from Joy Bauer is likely to hit the spot. Cabbage and broccoli florets result in a green, crunchy salad that’s almost as filling as it is delicious. Eat it as a side to your mac and cheese for a well-balanced meal.

Vegetable side dishes

Roasted Vegetable and White Bean Salad

Samin Nosrat stuns with this recipe for a bean-forward salad. The beauty of this recipe is that you can use whatever vegetables are in season — for summer, ditch the root vegetables in favorite of summer squash and cherry tomatoes. The red wine vinaigrette adds a punch of tanginess to the roasted veggies.

Whether you’re actually headed to a picnic or you just want to enjoy a nourishing, veggie-packed dish on your work break, these marinated vegetables are a complete game-changer. Don’t limit yourself to just a few veggies — anything you have in the fridge will taste good after it’s been soaking in a spicy cider vinegar marinade.

Grilled Vegetable Paella

Paella, which is traditionally served with meat or seafood, can shine as a vegetarian dish and this recipe is proof. A combination of in-season produce such as artichokes, zucchini, green beans, sweet corn and cherry tomatoes add a colorful touch to the seasoned rice, which gets slightly crispy when it’s cooked.

Who said you had to make your side dishes complicated? Sometimes, all you need to do is grill some leftover veggies to enjoy with your main course. By marinating them in olive oil and red wine vinegar, you’ll get a  side dish that boasts layers of flavor.

Al's Grilled Vegetable Skewers

Every cookout needs a dependable vegetable dish and these vegetable skewers are sure to meet the moment. Soak your skewers in water to prevent them from burning and then thread them with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, squash and zucchini. Cook them on the grill along with whatever else you’re serving for the easiest ever side.

Ratatouille, which calls for layers of tomato, eggplant, peppers and zucchini, is a summer staple  that’s bound to impress. So long as you use high-quality, in-season produce, you shouldn’t need more than olive oil, garlic and fresh parsley for flavor.

At its worst, zucchini can be bland and mushy. At its best, though, it’s one of our favorite vegetables. This recipe for better-for-you zucchini fries highlights everything we love about this summer vegetable: its texture, its softness and its subtle green flavors. The crispy Pecorino crust will leave you powerless against grabbing seconds.

Roasted Tomatoes with Strawberries

Strawberries may not immediately come to mind as an ideal pairing for tomatoes, but when you try them together, you’ll see why this juicy salad is such a hit. Red pepper flakes add some necessary heat to the otherwise mild dish, so don’t skip it. One thing is for sure: This is an undeniably beautiful side dish.

Classic Ratatouille

This ratatouille recipe highlights fresh summer produce that’s at its best during the hottest months of the year. Pro tip: cut the vegetables into roughly the same size to ensure that everything cooks evenly. This simple but elegant dish may become one of your family’s favorite sides.

Have some zucchini on hand but don’t know what to do with it? There’s no need to overcomplicate things when you can easily make this basic but beautiful recipe from Al Roker in a matter of minutes. All you need is some salt, garlic and red pepper flakes to make the flavors in this often-overlooked vegetable come alive.

Provençal Vegetable Casserole (Tian)

Can’t decide what vegetable to prepare as a side dish for dinner? This vegetable casserole calls for a bevy of in-season produce so you don’t have to choose. Season the vegetables with cayenne, thyme, rosemary and basil for even more flavor, all while allowing the natural flavors of the veggies to shine. 

Tomatoes and green beans are the perfect pair in this recipe for loubieh, a flavorful Arab dish that’s ideal for the summer months. Get the tomato sauce as rich and savory as possible by caramelizing it before adding in the green beans. Soon enough, you’ll be making this dish on the regular. 


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Elizabeth Heiskell

This ratatouille is quick and easy, but that doesn’t mean you’re missing out on flavor. Even if you don’t normally like eggplant, try it in this recipe — it gets a soft and velvety texture after it’s cooked in the spiced tomato-based sauce.

Coleslaw recipes

Classic Coleslaw

Coleslaw is an essential summertime dish, which is why you need to bookmark this classic recipe. The dressing requires only four ingredients — mayonnaise, cider vinegar, sugar and salt— so there’s a chance you already have everything you need to make it.

If you want to serve a coleslaw that stands out from the crowd, you need to try this recipe from Joy Bauer. She uses apple cider vinegar to ensure every bite is zingy and bright. She also adds dried cranberries and chopped scallions to the mix, giving an edge to the standard cabbage-and-carrot situation.

5-Ingredient Cole Slaw

When you don’t have much in the house but need to put together a side dish at the last minute, this easy coleslaw recipe will get the job done. Chopped tomatoes add a twist to this classic side dish by adding a touch of sweetness and juiciness to complement the creamy dressing.

Try Guy Fieri’s version of the classic side dish at home. You’ll use both sour cream and mayonnaise to bind everything together, but the fresh veggies counteract that heaviness, creating a dish that will stand out at your next cookout.

Joy Bauer's Purple Super-Slaw

Why limit yourself to the typical green coleslaw you always see when you could just as easily try this beautifully bright, colorful purple slaw? Purple cabbage has a sturdier, crunchier texture than its green counterpart, making it preferable when you want a salad that’s going to hold up in a creamy dressing. This is a great side dish to take to a cookout because it won’t wilt easily.

We’re here to say that coleslaw definitely counts as a salad, which is why we go back to it time and time again as a summer side dish. This one is made with a classic combination of green and purple cabbage, onions and carrots, but toasted almonds up the crunch factor even more.

Pasta salad recipes

Greek Orzo Salad

Your standard pasta salad gets an upgrade with this Mediterranean-inspired orzo salad featuring cucumbers, tomatoes and Kalamata olives. Take our word for it and make an extra-large batch so you can enjoy it the next day. 

This pasta doubles as a side dish, but because it’s packed with veggies and Italian cured meats, you can easily make it into an easy, delicious lunch. The briny, salty dressing is so flavorful that you’re going to want to double the recipe so you can put it on all your vegetables.

Green goddess dressing shines in this backyard-friendly pasta salad. Basil is the essential ingredient here, as it yields a floral, savory flavor that makes this cold pasta dish shine. Corn, snap peas and arugula all add to the herbaceous quality in this dish. 

Caprese Pasta Salad with Crispy Prosciutto

Caprese is already a superior side dish, but when you add pasta and prosciutto, it takes your side salad to a whole new level. Add in some chopped spinach to get more greens into your meal, along with some fresh basil. Finish it all off with a generous drizzle of rich balsamic vinegar.

Potato salad recipes

Southern-Style Potato Salad

This Southern-style salad calls for Yukon gold potatoes because they don’t fall apart when you boil them. If you want a hint of smokiness in the dish, grill the potatoes a few minutes before assembling your salad.

Chef D's Potato Salad

Tender russet potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, celery and chopped white onion form the base of this unforgettable potato salad, while paprika and scallions do some heavy lifting on the flavor front. If you’ve always used savory relish in your potato salad, give sweet relish a try. It adds a depth of flavor to the dish that you wouldn’t get without it.

Baked Potato Salad

Have some leftover baked potatoes in the fridge? Give them a new life by transforming them into this simple potato salad. The recipe only calls for eight ingredients including seasonings, so it doesn’t take much to prepare this cost-effective side dish. 

If you already have the grill fired up, use it to cook the spuds for your potato salad. The slightly charred potatoes will make for a smokier potato salad. Once you make the dressing, it all comes together in a matter of minutes.

Halved fingerling potatoes make for quick-cooking potato salad, and the mayo-free dressing ensures you can leave it out for a few hours at the cookout without having to worry about it spoiling.

Potato salad is at its best when it’s loaded with bacon, which is exactly why we love this recipe. Chopped scallions provide just enough freshness to counteract the saltiness of the bacon and richness of the potatoes. Use grainy Dijon mustard, which adds texture and petite pops of spice.