A good grill or barbecue should be more than just good times and meat. A balance of flavors is important at any meal. Some of your friends may even be vegetarians (not that there’s anything wrong with that). So, while you are slow cooking a prime piece of brisket (see my recipe for a great brisket rub here) or some baby back ribs, you can use your time to experiment with a few different options that will add some alternative flavors that will complement your BBQ.
It doesn’t have to be a salad!
While a good salad or two should be a given at a cookout, there’s no reason to limit yourself to simply chopping up some tomatoes and mixing it up with olive oil and lettuce. The grill is already hot—why not use this opportunity to offer your guests something different?
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Mushroom dishes are becoming increasingly popular. Even a modest local supermarket should stock more than just the standard button mushrooms. Simple and delicious, grilled portobellos sprayed with oil—or brushed with a salted and melted butter if you are feeling wild—and filled with grilled red peppers and mozzarella can provide a quick and super-satisfying welcome bite. Don’t forget some good-quality salt (kosher, rock, or sea) and freshly ground black pepper. Aside from that, you can add whatever you like, perhaps some crushed garlic, bacon bits, or whatever herbs and spices you have on hand.
Quesadillas are something that most people don’t associate with a BBQ but are equally quick and easy to cook on the grill. Throw some tortillas on your grill to impart a little heat and smoke and, by the time you put some pre-cooked chicken, chopped veggies, and a little hot sauce on them, they will only need a quick fold and a turn or two before serving. Preferably with a little ranch and a beer!
Keep your beers chilled as you work over a hot grill with the best beer mug for the freezer.
Here’s another quick and fun option. If you have prepared a range of chopped vegetables and meats, you can ask your guests what type of kabob they’d like. Better yet, involve everyone in the cooking process and encourage them to make their own. Cooking should be fun, and there are few more enjoyable ways to cook than in the outdoors amongst friends. Simply place the skewers on the grill, spray with a little canola oil, and turn every few minutes. The smells that filling your porch will prime everyone for the meat feast that is to come!
It’s always nice to have a fish option and, as the best, high-quality coals are already burning, what could be better than smoked salmon? Whether it’s slowly warmed and served with a honey, soy, or ginger sauce, or crumbled over a fresh salad, smoked salmon will bring out the best of an oaked chardonnay, a subtle pinot noir, or just a nice homebrew beer.
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This dish is almost a given as a BBQ appetizer. Toast slices of a baguette (cut them diagonally to impart a greater surface area) by placing them on the grill after spraying with a little oil. Add some cheese and tomatoes to the base layer, or some pico de gallo. (If no one has brought any, I’m sure you can recruit someone to chop up a few tomatoes, onions, bunches of cilantro, lime, and jalapenos. Mix the ingredients with salt and pepper.) A little heat will not be amiss, either. Add a dash of hot sauce to balance the acids from the tomatoes and the limes. If you don’t have any any bread, tomatoes, onion, or oil, you should maybe rethink your strategy for next time.
Oysters may sound like something best left to restaurants, but preparing them is as simple as boiling an egg. If you have a decent fish section in your local supermarket or, better yet, a fishmonger, there is a very good chance they will have oysters. Ask your fishmonger to shuck them for you and place them on the grill for a few minutes in their shells. A dash of lemon juice, hot sauce, or Worcester sauce is all you need for seasoning. These delicacies are already salted, so have a glass of Guinness or a crisp sauvignon blanc standing by to complete the appetizer.
Let the compliments roll in!
There really isn’t a limit to what you can serve at a BBQ as an appetizer. Chips and dips have their place, but a little thought and preparation can really set the tone for a great cookout! Whether you choose to make one of these recipes, or delicious calzones on the grill seared in a cast iron skillet, your friends and family will be impressed. All of these side dishes will go great with the best smoked chicken or fall-off-the bone prime rib.