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Barbecue Party Side Dishes

Danielle Scott via Flickr (Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0)

As we gradually and carefully expand our social circles during the pandemic, many of us are planning small dinner get-togethers with trusted, healthy friends. A barbecue party seems perfect as it will get us outdoors and allow for social distancing. Chef Jerry Pellegrino and I talked about barbecue techniques two weeks ago, so it makes sense to talk about some of the side dishes we can offer up.

Assuming we would want to use our grills, here are a few good ideas.

First, try corn on the cob cooked in foil. The trick is to slather the corn with butter, salt and pepper and any other seasoning you like; I love Old Bay, for example.


Wrap the cob in tin foil, and place it in one of the cooler parts of the grill. In about 15 minutes you corn will be perfectly cooked, and will probably sport some fetching scorch marks.


Grilling vegetables is easy and very tasty. Summer squash is wonderful, sliced lengthwise. Peppers and big chunks of onions improve with some grill time as well.

If you can find them, try grilling a batch of multi-colored carrots, dusted with herbs and sesame seeds, and served with a citrus vinaigrette. This is easy to whip up: just blend olive oil, orange juice, lemon juice and some honey and you're good to go. And believe me, this is one colorful side dish.

Kabobs of all kinds are easy and fun. Chunks of chicken or beef, shrimp or scallops are all well suited to skewering. Any vegetable that can be cut into chunks is equally eligible. Some of your harder vegetables like sweet potato or carrots may need to be blanched to soften them up before hitting the grill. I like a ratio of 3 veggies to one protein, but the choice is yours. All the usual seasonings work well here. Just remember to keep turning the skewers to get an even cooking.

All that hot barbecued food needs some contrast, and that's where a nice cool salad come in. First thing, keep your ingredients and finished salad in a cool place. Nobody really appreciates a room temperature salad on a steaming hot day.

Aside from every salad green under the sun, think of tomatoes, especially cherry tomatoes, cucumber, shredded carrots, celery, sweet cipollini onions, tangy red onions, watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, avocado, corn kernels, pasta, mozzarella, feta and crumbly blue cheese, mint, cilantro, parsley and basil are all excellent components.

Coleslaw is universally welcome, and recipes are numerous. But the basics are simple: use freshly shredded cabbage (white and red work perfectly) and carrots. After that it's a question of dressing. You can go super light and tangy with a vinegar/mustard dressing, or thicken it up with mayonnaise.

Personally I think a little home-made mayo with a touch of red wine vinegar is just about perfect. And don't forget the celery seeds for that final touch. And for a nice change of pace, slice up some nectarines to mix in the slaw.

And what barbecue would be complete without a basket of hot corn bread fresh from the oven. You can use pre-mixed boxed ingredients or make your own. 

You just need some medium to coarsely ground cornmeal, flour, eggs, milk and 

the other usual baking ingredients to whip up a batch. It couldn't be easier.

And for dessert, it's hard to beat that old Maryland standby, peaches and ice cream. For best results, peel the skins off the peaches (I like the boiling water trick) then re-chill them before slicing up. They will stay a lot firmer.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.