Your best cookout menu

As we ease into summer and enjoy more time outside, the thought of cooking out is pretty appealing. That is, until you think about the work involved. While your guests are enjoying adult beverages on your back deck, you’re getting your steps in with multiple trips to the kitchen to prep food for the grill. We say not this year!

Here are a few recipes that allow you to up your game as host, while minimizing time spent in the kitchen the day of your cookout. With a bit of day-before planning you’ll be able to relax with your guests while serving up a great meal. Who says it takes hard work to be impressive?

Today’s menu:
Killer Burgers
Chicken Kabobs
Shrimp & Bacon Salad
“Classic” Potato Salad
Baked Potato Bar

Killer burgers: You just cannot have a cookout without hamburgers. With this all-American favorite, it’s the details that matter. Check out this recipe for a better burger, and don’t forget the buns.

3 pounds of ground chuck (if using hamburger, at least 80/20)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons of garlic powder
2 tablespoons of onion powder
2 teaspoons of paprika
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and shape into 10 to 12 patties (this will yield burgers of about ¼ pound or a bit larger). Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes prior to grilling to allow the flavors to meld and provide a firmer burger to go on the grill. 

Grill over medium heat until done. A great burger is someplace between medium-well and well, depending on taste. Overcooking can lead to a dry hamburger.

Better Buns

You don’t want to use just any old buns. Give some thought to the type of buns you’re using for an extra impact. Consider onion rolls or brioche buns. Whatever you choose, toast lightly under the broiler and add a light swipe of butter. Delicious!

Upgrade Your Toppings

The last step in your next-level burgers is reimagined toppings. You have to have ketchup, mustard, lettuce and tomatoes, of course. But there are other great options like grilled onions, diced red onion, bread and butter pickles, blue cheese, goat cheese, A1 sauce—the list goes on forever. The point is, by offering a wider range of toppings you’re creating a “make your own burger” bar that leaves the typical grilled burger in the dust.

Easy entertaining tip: Burgers can be prepped and refrigerated the night before.

Chicken kabobs: The key to this recipe is to bake it in the oven for a bit, prior to grilling. This helps ensure that when the chicken comes off the grill, it’s thoroughly done but not dry. 

4 pounds of chicken breast
2 pounds of redskin potatoes
2 large red onions
4 zucchini
4 yellow squash
½ cup of olive oil
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
Skewers (if bamboo, soak in water for 30 minutes prior)

Preheat the oven at 350 degrees. Cut the chicken into large cubes, cut the potatoes in half, cut the onions into large chunks and cut the zucchini and squash into slices about an inch thick. Alternate each item onto a skewer as you like. Place the skewers in a shallow baking dish. Mix remaining ingredients in a small bowl, and brush the mixture on the skewers. Bake for 30 minutes, turning once halfway through.

After 30 minutes transfer the skewers to the grill for 10 to 15 minutes, or until chicken is thoroughly cooked. To avoid burning, brush with the remaining mixture while on the grill.

Easy entertaining tip: Prep and bake the night before, and warm in a 200-degree oven for 20 minutes before moving to the grill.

Shrimp and bacon salad: Be careful. If you serve this first, your guests may not want anything else! Yep, it’s that good. (This salad serves 4 as an entree, or 8 as a side salad.)

2 pounds of large cooked shrimp (peeled and deveined)
2 tablespoons of paprika
2 tablespoons of garlic powder
2 teaspoons plus a pinch of cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons of kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
10 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked crisp
8 cups of romaine lettuce
1 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup of feta cheese (optional)
4 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 3 limes
1 teaspoon of sugar

Preheat broiler. Combine all seasonings in a small bowl and toss with shrimp. Broil shrimp in the oven for 8 minutes, flipping about halfway through.

Tear each strip of bacon into 4 or 5 large pieces. Toss with lettuce and tomato. Prepare dressing in a small bowl, combining the olive oil, lime juice, pinch of cayenne and sugar. 

Combine all items in a large bowl and serve.

Easy entertaining tip: Prep up to 6 hours before by placing items in 3 separate zip bags—one for lettuce, tomato and feta; one for shrimp; and one for bacon. Prepare dressing and store in a small plastic container. Combine all ingredients just before serving.

“Classic” potato salad (store bought, you made):  Potato salad is a staple for any cookout menu. But with so many other options it sometimes feels like a lot of work for the result. Here’s a great recipe hack to save time on this classic. 

6 pounds of store bought potato salad
3 tablespoons of yellow mustard
4 hard boiled eggs, diced
4 celery stalks, diced
1 small red onion, minced (optional)
1 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper
2 teaspoons of paprika

In a large mixing bowl, mix all ingredients except the paprika. Scoop into your serving bowl and sprinkle the paprika on top. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

Easy entertaining tip: Prep the night before.

Baked potato bar:  Always a hit and easy to make, a baked potato bar take comfort food to a new level. 

6 Idaho baking potatoes
Olive oil
Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub each potato with a clean cloth under warm running water. Dry with a paper towel, rub with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Wrap each potato separately in foil. Bake for about an hour, flipping about halfway through.

Bar Toppings

Choose an assortment of toppings such as shredded cheese, sour cream, chives, parsley, minced garlic or crumbled bacon.

Easy entertaining tip: If you place your potatoes in the oven about 30 minutes before dinner guests arrive they’ll be hot and ready just in time. 

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