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Up your cookout game with these recipes

The staples—potato salad, corn on the cob, ribs—are forever and mandatory. But when you’re ready to mix it up and go next level, theGrio fam has got you. Here are some of our faves that elevate any cookout.

When it comes to cookouts, ya’ll know what we want on the table. Potato salad. Mac and cheese. The staples.

While those are must-haves, there’s nothing wrong with being creative and elevating your cookout game. TheGrio staff is here to help, offering up some of our favorites, from salads to grilled fruit to drinks. Auntie might make the best potato salad but you could be the talk of the cookout with one of these recipes.

Photo: Getty Images

Spaghetti Salad: Panama Jackson, columnist and ‘Dear Culture’ podcast host

Not Panama’s actual salad. But if you toss in more veggies, like cucumbers and red onion, then dress it up with parmesan cheese, you’d be close.
Photo: AdobeStock

Why it elevates (according to Panama): I thought my mother (or more like my family) created this recipe until I searched on Beyoncé’s internet and found out folks do this all over. Le sigh. But the cold and refreshing nature [of the noodles and veggies] mixed with that zesty Italian dressing are perfect for a hot day outside watching neighbors engage in shenanigans from my deck or while watching family members argue over spades or dominoes at an outdoor cookout. I don’t want to call it shenanigan food but it’s not-not shenanigan food, either—feel me? Point is, Spaghetti Salad is a great summer dish perfect for any outing that is also tremendously easy and quick to put together. I should know; I only do quick and easy dishes.

Ingredients:

1 pound dried spaghetti1 pint cherry tomatoes1 medium cucumber½ medium green bell pepper½ medium red bell pepper½ small red onion1 (2.25-ounce) can sliced black olives1 1/4 cups Italian vinaigrette salad dressing, such as Ken’s or Newman’s Own1 ½ ounces Parmesan cheese1 small bunch fresh parsleyKosher saltFreshly ground black pepper

Directions: On Beyonce’s internet, Panama found a recipe here you can use. But you likely get the picture. Boil the spaghetti, chop the veggies, mix it together and do what you do to make it your own.

Grilled Watermelon: Shakirah Gittens, Operations Assistant

When grilling watermelon make sure you get nice grill marks, like the ones here (WikiMedia Commons)

Why it elevates: It’s not every day that you grill anything, let alone fruits. Grilling watermelon and/or pineapple is classy, heartwarming, and makes your taste buds tingle in the best way. Who wouldn’t want that at their cookout?

Ingredients:

1½ c. raw corn kernels½ c. diced red onion½ c. diced red bell pepper1 garlic clove, mincedHeaping ¼ tsp. sea salt4 teaspoons Tabasco Green Sauce*6, 1.5-inch watermelon wedgesCooking spray, for the grill½ c. crumbled feta cheese1 small avocado, dicedMint and/or basil leavesLime wedges, optional

Directions: Shakirah found this treat at Loveandlemons.com. The key—don’t grill the watermelon too long and make sure to let it cool, which could be a challenge because as soon as it’s ready you’ll want to dive in.

Pasta Bolognese with Bacon: Touré, columnist

A good, hearty alternative to a classic recipe.
Photo: Courtesy of Touré

Touré’s big thing is pasta Bolognese with bacon. He starts with penne, ground brisket, bacon, and Carbone garlic sauce (yes, that’s from a jar), and adds onions, garlic, olive oil, butter, and salt and pepper. Directions are below, but as he says: “Never fails.” 

Ingredients:

1 (one) 16 ounce box of penne8 ounces of ground brisket (if not available use ground beef or pork)Half a medium yellow onion, chopped2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped½ stick of butter1 (one) 24 ounce jar of Carbone roasted garlic pasta sauce (or your favorite pasta sauce if it’s unavailable)8 ounces of baconMaille Dijon original mustard (Touré puts in a big spoon’s worth but you might want to start with a tablespoon and adjust to taste)A little olive oil

Directions: Bring a pot of water to boil and cook the penne until al dente. Season the brisket (or beef or pork) in a pan and cook until done, using your utensil to shred or break it into little pieces. Simultaneously, heat up the sauce, and add butter and seasoning. Drain the meat on a paper towel. In the same pan, cook the bacon. Once crispy, remove from the pan and chop the bacon into small pieces. Add the chopped onions and garlic into the bacon fat and lightly cook, about a minute. Add butter, cook until melted and then add in the cooked brisket, bacon, and sauce. Combine the penne and sauce together in one big bowl. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss well and serve.

Cadillac Margarita: Gina Strachan, talent booker

Why it elevates: Doesn’t Grand Marnier make everything better? It blends sugar, bitter orange and cognac to make a liqueur with an inviting brandy-like flavor. Damn good, and when you add it to a margarita it goes from a Edsel to a Caddy. You’ll hear, “what she got?” all cookout long.

Ingredients:

1.5 ounces of premium tequila—Gina doesn’t recommend using your best sipping tequila for mixed drinks, but would still use an Anejo, her personal favorite. Whatever tequila you use, just be sure it’s 100% blue agave and not a blend.1 ounce of Grand Marnier—there is no substitute for a Cadillac Margarita.1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice—Gina usually gets cold-pressed lime juice from the refrigerated section at the grocery store. It’s typically with the pre-chopped fruit and is worth the splurge.3/4 ounce Simple Syrup – you can make it at home, or buy it from the store.

Directions: Here’s the easy part. Take a lime wedge and run it around the rim of your glass, then dip it in sea salt (not a must, but so good). Pour ice in a cocktail shaker, together with all ingredients, then strain into your glass and enjoy!

Jerk Jackfruit on Tostones: Gerren Keith Gaynor, managing editor, Politics

Fresh yellow jackfruit.
Photo: AdobeStock

What elevates it: This recipe is heaven-sent for vegans and vegan-adjacent food lovers who still want the BBQ experience, but want to make it plant-based! The jerk jackfruit is a vegan spin on pulled pork and is a refreshing dish thanks to ingredients like fresh mango, avocado, and cilantro. The jerk sauce and jalapeño also bring a Caribbean flare with a little spice. Whoever said you can’t enjoy the BBQ summer season as a vegan surely has not tried this dish. You’re welcome in advance.

Ingredients:

2 green plantains½ cup of vegetable oil1 (one) 20 ounce can of jackfruit2 Tbsp avocado oil¼ cup jerk sauce1/3 cup avocado

For Mango Salsa:

1 mango, ½ cup1/3 cup jicama¼ cup red onion1 jalapeno chile, ½ cup2 Tbsp cilantro2 Tbsp lime juice

For Mirin mayo:

5 Tbsp Veganaise1 Tbsp mirin½ tsp rice wine vinegar

DIRECTIONS: Gerren found this recipe at Whisk.com. Make the salsa and put it in the refrigerator. Prepare the jackfruit, and while it’s cooking, prepare the plantains. Then prepare the mayo, assemble, and eat. Delicious!

Blueberry Buckle: Genetta Adams, opinions editor

Photo: AdobeStock

Why it elevates: The blueberries and sweet, crunchy topping make this a hit for a cookout dessert. If you have any left (chances are, you won’t) the leftovers will be great in the morning with coffee.

Ingredients:

¾ c. white sugar¼ c. shortening1 egg½ c. milk2 c. all-purpose flour2 teaspoons baking powder½ teaspoon salt2 c. fresh blueberries½ c. white sugar⅓ c. all-purpose flour½ teaspoon ground cinnamon¼ c. butter, softened

Directions: This recipe from AllRecipes is as easy as 1-2-3. Prepare the batter, add it to a greased pan, top it off with the streusel, and in 25-30 minutes, you’ll have a cake that could disappear fast. Make sure you get a piece before anyone else.

Silent-but-Deadly Sangria: Maiysha Kai, lifestyle editor

Photo: AdobeStock

Why it elevates: This refreshing, fruit-filled summer drink has a definite kick, but drink responsibly, or it may make your cookout a knockout—literally. This recipe capitalizes on the stone fruits of the season, but other fruits (including pears, mangoes, blueberries, raspberries, pomegranate, grapes, cherries, and even pineapple) can be subbed in or added.

Ingredients:

1 (750-ml.) to 1.5 liter bottle of red wine; pinot noir or cabernet (or chardonnay or pinot gris/grigio, if making white sangria)1 c. orange juice1 c. pineapple juice1.5 to 2 c. brandy or cognac1/4 c. raw sugar or agave (or to taste)1 orange, sliced1 apple, cubed1 c. peaches or nectarines, sliced1 c. plum, sliced1 c. sliced strawberries

Directions: The key to any great sangria is maceration; in this case, soaking the fruit in brandy or cognac for at least 12 hours before adding the other ingredients. That’s the secret sauce—and the potential knockout component if and when the fruit is eaten, so please make your guests aware, and collect car keys, if needed. Then, add the wine, sugar, and juice, and allow to chill another 4 hours. Enjoy responsibly!

Photo: Courtesy of Ray Marcano

Ray Marcano is a longtime, award-winning journalist who has written and edited for some of the country’s most prominent media brands. He’s the former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, a two-time Pulitzer juror and a Fulbright Fellow.

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