Sunshine, laughter, and delicious food – that’s the magic of a summer BBQ! Summer cookouts are a staple of the season and a great way to gather with friends and family to enjoy delicious food. But who says it has to be the same old hot dogs and burgers? This post is your guide to creating a unique and unforgettable backyard barbecue. We’ll explore a range of mouthwatering menus, each with its own unique flair. Whether you crave the comfort of Southern classics (inspired by my mom and grandmother’s recipes), a fiesta of vibrant Southwestern flavors, or a lighter and refreshing spread, there’s a perfect menu waiting to be your BBQ star.

Beyond Traditional Burgers and Dogs: A World of BBQ Flavors

Summer cookouts are the perfect time to explore the exciting world of BBQ flavors. This post offers a variety of easy BBQ ideas that go beyond the basics, showcasing both the versatility of your grill as well as dishes that are prepared without a gas or charcoal grill. From slow-cooked baby back ribs with a zesty barbecue sauce to spicy grilled shrimp tacos, you’ll find inspiration to create a menu that caters to a variety of preferences. So, get ready to impress your guests with easy recipes – grilled or not – that create lasting summer memories!

BBQ Menu #1: A Taste of the South

This menu channels the flavors of the South, inspired by my mom and grandmother’s recipes. The meal starts with the Kentucky classic Benedictine Cheese, followed by luscious Braised Baby Back Ribs that fall off the bone. Tangy cornbread and creamy coleslaw cut through the richness, and sweet peach blueberry pie is a nostalgic finish.

Platter filled with Benedictine Cheese Canapes and wine in the background

Benedictine Cheese Canapés

A 2-bite version of a traditional family recipe from Kentucky, these Benedictine Cheese Canapés are quick and easy to prepare, and vibrant on the plate, too


White platters filled with Braised Baby BBQ Sauce

Braised Baby Back Ribs with Zesty BBQ Sauce

These Braised Baby Back Ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender and the Zesty BBQ Sauce is amazingly delicious. A bit sharp, a bit sweet, a bit spicy – these ribs and sauce will make your taste buds sing!

Parmesan Buttermilk Cornbread is moist, tangy and super delicious! #cornbreadrecipe #easycornbreadrecipe #cheesycornbreadrecipe #quickbreadrecipe

Parmesan Cornbread Recipe with Buttermilk

This Southern-style Buttermilk Cornbread recipe from my grandmother (Nama) is an easy to make side dish that’s always a crowd pleaser. It’s a classic recipe that has been passed down for generations, and, like most traditional Southern cornbread recipes, doesn’t contain any added sugar.

close up overhead view of Lemon Coleslaw with Mayo dressing on the side

Lemon Mayonnaise Coleslaw Recipe

Easy to prepare Coleslaw with Lemon-Mayonnaise Dressing takes the basic coleslaw recipe and amps up the flavor with additions of jicama, lemon juice and celery seeds. Bright, tangy, and oh, so delicious! And, it can be made up to 24 hours in advance, too.

Oval white dish filled with Lemon-Dijon Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots

Lemon Green Beans with Dijon Mustard

Oven-roasted green beans are coated with a luscious blend of tangy olive oil, zesty lemon juice, and bold Dijon mustard. Crispy caramelized shallots are sprinkled on top, infusing each bite with a deeply rich sweetness and a bit of crunch.

Blueberry and Peach custard pie with fresh peaches and blueberries on the side

Peach Blueberry Pie

Blueberry Peach Custard Pie is the perfect dessert to end an ideal summer evening. Fresh sweet blueberries and juicy flavorful peaches are nestled in a creamy, buttery, yogurt-base custard filling. The result is a luscious pie with a blissful interplay of flavors – fresh, sweet, and tangy all at once. And, it’s easy to prepare with my step-by-step instructions!

BBQ Menu #2: Casual Backyard Bash

This make-ahead menu is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser! Dig into tender, moist BBQ Beef Sandwiches alongside a delicious recipe for creamy Potato Salad and a medley of mixed greens tossed with a sharp vinaigrette. Dark chocolate brownies and tangy lemon bars round out this casual BBQ feast.

Pimiento Cheese Spread in a white bowl with celery sticks and crackers

Pimento Cheese Spread

My mom’s mouth-watering Pimento Cheese Spread recipe is the ultimate in Southern comfort food. A zesty blend of two sharp cheddar cheeses, tangy pimentos, mayo and just the right amount of spice, this dip will elevate your taste buds to the next level. Whether you’re enjoying it with crackers or spreading it on a sandwich, this recipe is sure to impress your guests at your next party or gathering.

Slow Cooker Pulled Beef for Sandwiches

Imagine this: fluffy hamburger buns overflowing with tender, smoky BBQ beef that practically melts in your mouth. Craving satisfied? This dream becomes a reality with our incredibly easy Slow Cooker Pulled Beef Recipe featuring a unique, sweet-and-tangy BBQ sauce. Let your slow cooker do all the work while you enjoy the mouthwatering aroma filling your kitchen.

white plate with Dorothy's PotatoPotato Salad shown next to BBQ Beef sandwich

Dorothy’s Potato Salad with Egg

A long time family favorite, this Potato Salad is tangy, eggy and crunchy while a bit creamy. Anyone can make potato salad, but few can master the recipe like Dorothy Hartwell did in this Homemade Potato Salad. Bursting with fresh, vibrant ingredients, this recipe combines the humble potato with the crispy cucumbers, peppery radishes, subtle green onions, and rich hard-boiled eggs. But what truly sets this salad apart is the secret sauce, calling for tangy yellow mustard.

Plate holding a simple mixed green salad with a carafe of Dijon Vinaigrette alongside, along with small salt and pepper shakers

Mixed Greens with Tomato, Cucumber and Dijon Vinaigrette

For this bright and light salad, a medley of mixed greens is tossed with halved grape tomatoes, sliced cucumber, onion and a bold, sharp vinaigrette. Make the dressing a few days ahead and refrigerate, then bring to room temperature and toss shortly before serving!

Homemade Lemon Bars stacked on a serving tray in the background, with flowers and a small plate with two lemon bars in the front

The Best Lemon Bars

Sunshine on a plate! Straight from my grandmother Nama’s kitchen, these Homemade Lemon Bars are a treasured family recipe. Bursting with citrusy flavor from both fresh lemon juice and zest, the addition of a unique ingredient makes them lighter than other, more dense lemon bars.

Close up of 2 Chewy Chocolate Brownies on a white platter

Chewy Chocolate Brownies

These Chewy Chocolate Brownies are about to become your new obsession. Rumored to be a favorite recipe of the legendary Katharine Hepburn, imagine deeply rich chocolate flavor, a fudgy texture that’s incredibly chewy, and a perfect balance of sweetness – all in one irresistible bite. Plus, this recipe relies on available/pantry ingredients and comes together so easily that you might just find yourself baking them every month, like me!

BBQ Menu #3 – Lighter Fare

This lighter backyard grill menu is a great option for a hot summer day when we all want to eat lighter. Featuring flavorful Sloppy Janes (Joe’s healthier sister made with ground turkey) and a refreshing grilled corn salad with zucchini, a light spinach salad with lemon dressing keeps things balanced. It’s finished with a light, cool Frozen Strawberry Pie.

Glass bowl filled with Feta Mousse on black tray with grilled bread

Feta Cheese Spread

Savor the tangy and creamy flavors of Feta Cheese Spread (or Mousse) – a quick and easy appetizer made with just four ingredients. Garlic powder, oregano, and cayenne pepper add an extra kick of flavor to this light and airy spread, perfect for serving with grilled bread.

two turkey sloppy joes on a white platter with toppings and a beer in the background

Sloppy Joes with Ground Turkey – a.k.a. Sloppy Janes

This recipe for Sloppy Janes delivers everything you love about the original dish – that satisfying combination of sweet and tangy sauce clinging to tender ground meat – in a healthier package. Prepared with an easy homemade sauce, it’s packed with rich flavor and comes together quickly for busy weeknights or make-ahead meal prep.

blue bowl holding grilled corn and zucchini salad with tomatoes

Grilled Corn Salad Recipe with Zucchini and Tomato

Grilled Corn, Zucchini and Tomato Salad is a quick and easy, fresh side dish that’s perfect for summer! Grilling the corn and the zucchini brings out their natural sweetness and adds a bit of smoky flavor.

Flavorful Baby Spinach Salad with Lemon Dijon Dressing

Prepared with eggs and fresh herbs, this Baby Spinach Salad is a light, easy to prepare starter or side dish. A tangy Lemon Dijon Dressing keeps it bright and fresh.

slice of Frozen Strawberry Pie on a white plate with rest of pie in the background

Strawberry Cream Pie Recipe

Frozen Strawberry Cream Pie is fluffy, refreshing, and chock-a-block full of sweet, fresh strawberry flavor. Plus it can be made and frozen up to 2 months ahead, making it perfect for entertaining!

BBQ Menu #4 – Southwestern Fiesta Feast

Spice up your BBQ with this Southwestern-inspired menu. Grilled shrimp tacos with a smoky flavor are perfectly paired with fresh tomato-mango salsa, a vibrant corn salad, and Caesar salad. Don’t forget to end with a decadent Kahlua chocolate mousse!

White bowl filled with Taco Salad Dip

Layered Taco Salad Dip Recipe

A variation of the well-known Seven Layer Dip, this Taco Salad Dip has no refried beans or meat and is a snap to put together. A mixture of cream cheese and sour cream seasoned with taco seasoning is the base for layers of traditional taco ingredients – salsa, onions, cheese, olives, avocado, tomato and lettuce. So easy, so colorful and flavorful!

Plate with two Grilled Shrimp Tacos with Tomato-Mango Salsa

Grilled Shrimp Tacos with Mango Tomato Salsa

In this Grilled Shrimp Tacos recipe, shelled shrimp is marinated in a piquant, spicy Chipotle-Lime sauce, grilled and then served with a delectable and colorful Tomato-Mango Salsa.

Copper skillet filled with Corn and Prosciutto Salad

Corn and Crispy Bacon Salad

Corn and Prosciutto or Bacon Salad is light, bright and super quick and easy to prepare!

glass mason jar filled with Homemade Caesar Dressing, with a spoon inside of the jar

Caesar Salad

Crispy romaine lettuce, croutons, and grated or shaved Parmesan cheese are tossed with a Homemade Caesar Dressing that’s thick, creamy and full of tangy, salty flavors. Our version of this classic dressing has been successfully prepared many times, by many people, making it both time and taste tested.

3 different shaped glassware holding Easy Chocolate Mousse

Kahlua Chocolate Mousse

This Easy Chocolate Mousse with Mexican Kahlúa can be prepared in 10 minutes with no whipping or folding of egg whites or cream. With an ultra-silky texture and an intense chocolatey flavor, it’s the perfect make-ahead dessert for any occasion.

BBQ Menu #5 – Summertime Elegance

Elevate your BBQ with this menu showcasing elegant simplicity. Grilled salmon steaks are the star, complemented by an orzo pasta salad and a refreshing spinach salad with curry dressing. Top it all off with delightful peach ice cream for a perfect summer ending.

a glass holding cheese straws atop a white platter, with a few cheese straws in front and dipping sauce on the side

Crispy Cheddar Cheese Straws

These savory treats combine the rich flavors of Cheddar cheese, chili powder, and cumin with a delicate, flaky dough, resulting in a crispy mouthwatering delight that is both elegant and alluring in its simplicity. For a unique twist, serve spicy pepper jelly alongside as a dipping sauce!

plate holding one Roasted Salmon Steak, with broccoli on the side

Salmon Steaks with Lemon Butter Sauce

Indulge in the delightful simplicity of our Salmon Steaks with Lemon Butter Sauce – a dish that effortlessly combines speed and elegance, while showcasing the rich, natural flavor of salmon. Inspired by a recipe my mom crafted during a memorable family camping trip in Alaska, this culinary gem requires just seven ingredients and a mere five minutes of preparation. Can be grilled or roasted.

White bowl filled with Greek Orzo Salad with Lemon-Basil Tahini Dressing. Dressing is on the side

Orzo Pasta Greek Salad with Lemon-Basil Dressing

This refreshing salad features tender orzo pasta, a rainbow of fresh vegetables, and a zesty dressing made with tahini, lemon juice and fragrant basil. Not only is it a delicious and satisfying dish, it’s also loaded with nutritious ingredients to help you feel your best. Whether you’re looking for a quick and easy lunch or a flavorful side to serve with your favorite main course, this orzo pasta Greek salad is the perfect choice.

wooden bowl holding a serving of spinach salad with raisins and peanuts and dressing on the side

Easy Spinach Salad Recipe With Zesty Curry Dressing

Are you on the lookout for a simple yet sensational salad recipe? Look no further, because we have the perfect dish for you! This quick and easy spinach salad recipe features a zesty curry dressing that will elevate your salad game to new heights.

glass sherbet bowl filled with scoops of Peach Ice Cream

Peach Ice Cream

Creamy, fruity and fresh, Peach Ice Cream is the perfect cool treat on a warm summer day.

Note: This post was originally shared in May 2016 with only 2 menus, then significantly updated in June 2024, expanding it to 5 menus with more information.

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collage of various dishes included in the 5 menus in this. post

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About the author

Hi, I'm Lee.

I am inspired by my mother, Sally’s, love of cooking and entertaining to gather friends and family together over great meals and conversation. In fact, I held my first dinner party at the age of 16. Throughout the years, I’ve provided recipes, menu advice and cooking tips to friends seeking uncomplicated and delicious ideas for home entertaining.

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