If you know me well, you know that for most of my childhood, through my college years, and well into my mid-twenties, I was a vegetarian (a move spurred by a particularly intense day at my hometown's local petting zoo). I reconnected with meat (an awkward phrase, I acknowledge, but it makes sense here), in my late twenties, when I began to get serious about food writing, and wanted to be open to trying everything. Today, while i do love a rare steak, can go to town on a juicy burger, and dream of juicy pork dumplings, my day-to-day tastes still tend toward meat-free. Most nights, our meals are comprised of a few different kinds of cooked vegetables, a hearty salad, and a vegetarian protein sources, like beans, tofu, tempeh or eggs.
This sensibility is not only reflected in my home cooking--it also follows me to fancy restaurants (I'll almost always choose the handmade vegetarian pasta over the steak), hotel buffets (I'll fill my plate with composed salads and grilled vegetables, which are usually pretty healthy, and, most importantly, hard to screw up), and, yes, barbecues, even those where meat is king.
I cannot tell you how many barbecues I've been to where, even as a meat eater, I have been annoyed on behalf of my vegetarian (or vegan or kosher) friends, about the lack of really good options for those eschewing meat. Potato salad and some chips does not a meal make. Lettuce and tomato with mustard in a bun is not a proper sandwich. Moreover, it is so, so easy to do better than this.
Here's how i like to barbecue. And yes, sure, you can absolutely add meat to this menu if you really want to. But you definitely won't need it.
1. Start with 2 or 3 really good composed salads. And go a little unusual. Basic potato salad is always good, but why not try a flavorful roasted sweet potato salad? It's lighter, more complex, and much more interesting.
Tear up some stale bread and toss with juicy tomatoes and salty cheese for a hearty panzanella, or pick out the ripest avocados you can find and make guacamole salad, which combines all the ingredients of really good guac. Serve it with tortilla chips.
2. This is a barbecue, so you're going to need to fire up that grill! Sure, you can break out the usual store-bought veggie burgers, or, better yet, make your own!
Generally though, I think it's more interesting to use the grill for less-expected items, like pizzas and flatbreads. Cook the stretched dough on the grill on one side until crisp, then flip, add your toppings, and cover until the cheese is melted and the bottom is crisp.
3. While it's always nice to have wine, beer, and non-alcoholic beverages available, I like to make a signature cocktail. Margaritas, spiked punch, and sangria are all great, but my current favorite is this refreshing lemon-watermelon cooler, featuring fresh watermelon, mint, and Mike's Hard Lemonade.
Just combine 1 part Mike's Hard Lemonade with 2 parts cubed seedless watermelon, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and ice in a blender and pour into glasses, garnished with a watermelon wedge if you want to get all fancy. Instant refreshment.
4. And finally, grill your dessert! You already have it fired up, why not use it for dessert? There's nothing better than this uber-easy, quick and impressive grilled strawberry shortcake. Start with storebought cake, assembe the skewers head of time, make fresh whipped cream before your guests arrive and keep it chilled in the fridge. Then when it's dessert time, just toss your cake and strawberry skewers on the grill, and serve with the whipped cream and some fresh mint.
How do you do backyard barbecues? Let me know in the comments!
Disclosure: I'm a Mike’s VIP sponsored blog partner, but all opinions are my own.
I was compensated by Mike's Hard Lemonade for this post, but the opinions and recipe are my own. Please consume alcohol safely and legally.