Dare I say it? A backyard barbecue is great, but without equally great sides, even the best burger lacks luster. And if I’m going to be brutally honest, I have to admit to feeling a twinge of competitive pressure when I’m invited to a grilling shindig like my friend Holly’s legendary summer potlucks.
She’s got a backyard smoker and makes what she calls “Texas Crack,” aka bacon-wrapped jalapenos, along with a mountain of assorted meats, and leaves the rest of the cooking to us. With that kind of bounty, I feel the need to bring my A-game side dish. No bag-of-chips or liter-of-soda for me. I need to see people loading up their plate and saying “ooh!” And if it happens that I can count a few plates with more sides than meat? Well, that’s just barbecue sauce on the ribs, ladies.
Lucky you, you’re about to learn my three favorite take-along side dishes -- easy to make, easy to transport, and guaranteed to be a huge hit.
Everybody loves deviled eggs, but transporting them is an exercise in total frustration. Here’s a great hack from Southern Living: Halve the hard-boiled eggs and make your favorite filling -- I like to include paprika, capers or pickle relish, and the tiniest bit of chipotle powder, and top them with bacon bits. Store both in big old Ziploc bags 'til you arrive at the potluck. Then whip out your serving plate, arrange the egg whites nicely, cut out a corner of the bag with the filling, and pipe it in like a pro. This amazing idea fills me with regret for all the times I used my cupcake caddy for deviled eggs!
Baked Beans That Really "Pop" (Soda, That Is)
Leave it to Chow to find a way to really make baked beans pop. Their recipe is complicated, but it boils down to this: Open a huge (36-ounce) can of baked beans and pour them into a saucepan, then add a can of soda. You can use any kind you want that's not diet (it gets bitter when cooked), but I would use root beer or Dr. Pepper for their distinctive flavors. Simmer, stirring often, until the mixture has thickened -- about 20 minutes. Seems like a small thing to do, but this will have them running back for more. Whether you reveal your trick is entirely up to you.
The way my Brooklyn-born ex did it, this salad was a gorgeous wreath of layered slices of mozzarella cheese, slices of tomatoes, and leaves of basil, drizzled with olive oil. Nice, but who has the time or the room in the trunk? Instead, get the little mozzarella balls from the deli counter at the supermarket (or use a melon baller to make your own) and cherry tomatoes, then toss them in pesto sauce in a big bowl. Fuhgeddaboudit!
What’s your easier version of a go-to side dish for summer barbecue potlucks?
Photo via Liz (Perspicatious.org)/Flickr