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Grill season side dishes

Photos and Story by Angie Sutton


It’s official. Summer barbecue season has begun! We went for a family walk this past weekend and the air was filled with the aroma of a variety of meat cuts cooking atop hot charcoal briquettes. Neighbors waved from their patios or decks as we walked by. Kids were playing in the yard. It seems as if we’ve emerged from winter hibernation in our homes to enjoying one of life’s simple pleasures—backyard barbecue!

I recall being about 10 years old and watching my dad pile up the little charcoal bricks just so inside of an old tin coffee can. The can’s top and bottom were removed and he’d made little vent holes in the sides for air to circulate and encourage the initial flame. After the engineering of the pyramid, he would soak them down good with lighter fluid. There is a required amount of time for the fluid to soak in before lighting the match he told me, explaining what would happen if you rushed it. Finally it was time to fire it up. Little did I know that we still had quite a bit of time to wait before those mouthwatering hot dogs were ready to devour. Patience was not my virtue.

I can appreciate when my husband rolls our pellet-powered smoker and grill out and flips the switch. He’s in charge of all things grill related. Particularly because I found I’m not tall enough to open the lid completely. Whether he’s cooking something slow and low like succulent smoked pork ribs or a quick-to-the-table dish like hamburgers, I’ve got the perfect sides to go with it! The best part is most side dishes can be made in advance so I can sit and enjoy my iced tea.

I like to take advantage of the fresh crop in the herb garden I have growing just outside my back door. Many recipes call for a bit of fresh dill or a handful of cilantro. My favorite is sweet basil. My sister brought me a wonderful bottle of aged balsamic vinegar from her recent visit to California. So I’ve been obsessed with adding a bit of that in many recipes as well.

The key to a winning side dish in our home is versatility. When we don’t have fresh tomatoes, onions, potatoes or cucumbers available in the garden, we must adjust to what is freshly in stock at the local grocery. The kids are sometimes picky about over-seasoned side dishes so I often divide a recipe and make a separate bowl with amped up flavor for the adults.

Dessert is appreciated by the brood, so a simple rustic crostata with fresh colorful fruit is the answer. On my website, www.mothersapronstrings.com I’ll be testing some new ideas for on-the-grill desserts. Don’t overlook the simplicity of slicing a juicy watermelon for dessert so you too can enjoy family time (instead of slaving in the kitchen!)

So fire up the grill, gather the family, relax and enjoy outdoor cooking season.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad

I prefer to seed my cucumbers before using in this recipe. I’ve substituted Turbinado sugar for granulated to add a golden color. Fresh basil is a good substitute for dill weed.

1/4 c. cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh dill weed
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 cucumbers, peeled, cubed
1/2 medium white onion, sliced
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
2 c. mozzarella cheese, cubed small

In a medium-sized bowl, stir together cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, granulated sugar, salt, fresh dill, black pepper and olive oil. Combine cucumbers, onion, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella in a large bowl. Pour liquid mixture over the salad, and toss lightly. Chill for at least an hour.

The Best Coleslaw Ever

This coleslaw is an alternate to the traditional creamy version. It’s a simple mix of ingredients. You can use bagged shredded coleslaw, but I recommend using a food processor to chop it smaller.

1/2 c. mayonnaise
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. milk
1/4 c. buttermilk
2 1/2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 Tbsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. celery seed
1/2 tsp. salt<
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
8 c. finely chopped cabbage (about 1 head)
1/4 c. shredded carrots
2 Tbsp. onion, minced

Cabbage and carrots should be finely chopped (think a grain of rice). Combine mayonnaise, granulated sugar, milk, buttermilk, lemon juice, vinegar, celery seed, salt and black pepper in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Stir in the cabbage, carrots and onion; mix well. Cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving, or overnight.

Bacon and Potato Salad

I love my mom’s traditional potato salad with boiled eggs but we like to mix it up. The loaded-baked-potato flavor makes it the perfect side for grilled steak.

6 to 8 medium potatoes (about 3 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 lb. bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 to 3 green onions, chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. diced pimiento, drained
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1/2 c. sour cream

Cook potatoes in boiling water over medium heat 15 minutes or until tender. Drain and let cool slightly. In a large bowl, add potatoes, bacon, green onions, celery, pimiento, salt and pepper. Toss to coat. In a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise and sour cream until blended. Pour over potato mixture, tossing gently to coat. Cover and chill at least 1 hour.

Old Settlers Baked Beans

This is a popular recipe that can stand alone as a main dish. When I make it as a side dish, I reduce the ground beef to half or skip it if pairing with hamburgers.

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. bacon, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. packed light brown sugar
1/4 c. ketchup
1/4 c. barbecue sauce
1 Tbsp. prepared yellow mustard
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1 (16 oz.) can pork and beans, undrained
1 (16 oz.) can light red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (16 oz.) can great northern beans, rinsed and drained

In a large skillet, brown ground beef, bacon and onion until meat is done and onion is translucent and tender. Drain. Combine remainder of ingredients, except beans, in a bowl. Add to meat mixture and mix well. Stir in beans. Dump in a greased 2.5 quart baking dish. Cover and bake at 350 F for 1 hour. You may also slow cook this dish on low for 3 hours.

Grill Organization

Whether you’re a year-round griller (a guilty pleasure in our house) or only fire up the barbecue during the warmer months, it’s important to maintain an organized system for all of your necessary grilling utensils.

If you have a propane grill, you likely have storage underneath the grill. But if you’re like us, and many others, that space next to the propane tank goes unused and frankly gets a little gross. For charcoal grillers, you need to find other space for your needed utensils. Until recently, our grilling supplies were stuffed in kitchen drawers and cabinets, always in the way.

We’ve discovered a new barbecue organization method that is easy to use, easy to access and gets the barbecue utensil clutter out of our kitchen: a 5-gallon bucket and tool pouch. Stick the big items like spatula, tongs, foil and mitts in the middle of the bucket. Use the pouch on the outside for organizing skewers, thermometers and a spray bottle.

The bucket is easy to store in the garage or shed, and a breeze to transport all of your necessary tools together, including tailgating during fall football season.

Basic Essentials:

Wide spatula (with can opener)

Spatula tongs (for flipping less-than-sturdy food)

Long tongs

Heavy-duty aluminum foil

Instant read meat thermometer

Flashlight or grill light

Sturdy wire brush (don’t skimp on quality!)

Basting brush

Mitts or gloves

Sharp knife dedicated to grilling foods

Your favorite barbecue sauce and seasoning


Wire grilling basket (great for fish, seafood, and even burgers)

Spray bottle with apple juice and Worcestershire sauce

Rib rack

Ceramic pizza stone


Cedar planks for grilling fish


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