Not Your Mother’s Cookout: A Summer Side Dish Recipe Round-Up

In case anyone was still wondering after the sweltering weekend we just experienced in Iowa City….summer has arrived in the Midwest! I’m a transplant from the Pacific Northwest (read: this humidity kills me every time!), so I’m constantly looking for ways to cope with the heat and humidity. With food. I grew up with jello salads, potato salads, and even “Mandarin Orange Salad.” This last one is an unlikely pairing of Cool Whip, cottage cheese, orange jello powder, and as the name implies, canned mandarin oranges. 

Here is the part of the blog where I get too big for my small-town britches. I have learned that there is a whole world of food combinations to bring to a cookout or put on your summer table.

I’m sharing my top seven summer sides that I’m digging this summer. Some can pass as main dishes. Some your kids will love and some they will hate, but we moms don’t care. We have the ultimate leverage in the sticky summer months: Eat your dinner and you may get to go for ice cream.

The best thing about these fancy-schmantsy recipes is that they all contain affordable ingredients. I’ve only included vegetables and fruits that are widely available at the grocery or farm stand of your choice if you don’t have a garden. And the dressed-up baked beans use canned beans as the foundation (you can take a girl out of the small town…).

The next time you’re invited to a cookout or need to brighten up your weeknight rotation, think outside the (Jell-O) box and wow your family and taste buds with one of these sides.

cookout side dish recipes

Sweet and Spicy Cucumber Slices

Sweet and Spicy Cucumber Slices are from Our Best Bites, one of my favorite food blogs. These are on my regular rotation from spring to fall and they only get tastier the longer they sit in the fridge! Use the red pepper flakes as called for in the recipe and they are perfect for taste buds from kids to old folks.

Mojito Fruit Salad

Mojito Fruit Salad and I met last summer and haven’t looked back since. Pairing mint with watermelon is just such an unexpected way to reinvent this summer staple. The recipe calls for raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries mixed in with the watermelon. I use whatever combination of blue and other red berries I have on hand or that is on sale at the grocery store that week. The extra mint that you don’t use in the salad is perfect to throw in a gallon of sun tea. Or a real mojito.

Rachael Ray’s Baked Beans

Rachael Ray’s Baked Beans are a great way to jazz up a can of baked beans to pair with ribs or BBQ chicken. Everyone loves baked beans, but the canned version is just, meh. The most difficult part of this recipe is opening the can of beans. The result is a thick, smoky-sweet dish that looks like you spent a lot of time over the stove. You’re gonna want to bookmark this one.

Corn, Bacon, and Parmesan Pasta Salad

I met sweet corn and my husband later in life and I feel the same way about both…If only we’d met sooner! Corn, Bacon, and Parmesan Pasta Salad is one of my favorite ways to incorporate Iowa sweet corn into every single meal possible while it’s in season.  This salad can be morphed into a vegetarian dish by omitting the bacon and sauteeing the corn kernels in olive oil before adding the pasta. Save your daily carb allotment for this one and you’ll never make ordinary pasta salad again.

Tomato and Basil Salad

Tomato and Basil Salad is one of those recipes that you think, ‘really? this is a recipe?’ Every summer side repertoire has to include a recipe where the star of all summer fruits can shine. Michelle Tam from Nom Nom Paleo has nailed this one!

Grilled Vegetable Salad

Have you ever put on a boring old t-shirt, paired it with a fun statement necklace, and felt like a new woman? That’s how your vegetables will feel after you serve them on a platter and call ‘em Grilled Vegetable Salad. Whole Sisters is one of my favorite healthy food blogs for the whole family. This recipe is a good reminder that you can change up how you present ordinary vegetables when it’s grilling season. I like to do things like this to random veggies in the fridge just to keep my in-laws on their toes when they sit down to eat with us. Grilled Romaine, y’all.

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad is creamy. Tangy. Mac-salad-y. If you’ve ever been to Hawaii and enjoyed (devoured?) traditional plate lunch, you’ve wondered ‘how do they make their mac salad?!’ The folks at Cook’s Country/America’s Test Kitchen did the research and figured out how long to cook the macaroni and just the right amount of mayo to replicate this island favorite. That will now be your backyard favorite. You’re welcome.

What are your go-to, out of the (Jell-O) box summer favorites? Share them in the comments!


Sherri is a transplant from Oregon who came to be a Hawkeye in 2006 and stayed for the sweet corn...and for the Iowa boy she met along the way! She and her husband (Kyle) have a 9 year-old daughter, Aissa. Sherri earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education and Student Affairs at The University of Iowa and works for Ruffalo Noel Levitz as an Enrollment Marketing Consultant for colleges and universities. When she's not working, you can find her with her family, enjoying Iowa City and cheering on the Hawkeyes.


  1. Yum! Those cucumber slices! We have to make them for the reunion! I also love a new salad with honeydew melon, blackberries and mint with a honey/lime juice drizzle. So perfectly fresh and tart. The watermelon/Basil/balsamic salad I love also has feta for a tiny bit of salt.

    I always love corn on the cob so the street corn salad is so good! Not at all healthy though 😂


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.