30 Best Cookout Food Ideas

Cookouts are a great way to gather friends and family for a time of fun while experiencing some tasty food. To really make the event a success, it’s always a good idea to think outside the box (or the smoker or the grill . . .) when prepping your menu.

A little extra thought can boost your food selection from ordinary hamburgers and hot dogs to something that satisfies the tastebuds a little more. You’ll look like a grill master and everyone will be talking about the fantastic food you prepared. Pretty soon, everyone will want to join your next cookout. Here are 30 ideas for grill, smoker and campfire, plus side dishes, to get your culinary cookout juices flowing.

Ideas for the grill

  1. Cherry Bourbon Chicken Wings - If you are a fan of the meat/fruit combo (think ham and pineapple), these cherry chicken wings are a fantastic melding of tart cherry and brown sugar in the cookout-friendly format of chicken wings.  Delish!
  2. Vegan Portobello Mushroom Burgers - This recipe includes a fantastic miso marinade plus a bonus Asian guacamole topping that will make you a fan for life.
  3. Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwich - Throw a few of these delicious sandwiches on the grill for your favorite ham and cheese lovers and watch them disappear. The secret is to rub your center cut ham slices with steak seasoning before grilling and whipping up some of the smoked gouda dipping sauce. Grilled cheese, yes please! 
  4. Skewered Grilled Potatoes - Who can resist a skewer of red potato grilled to golden glory? The rosemary, garlic, and white wine marinade take these to the next level of goodness.
  5. Grilled Salmon - With over 4,000 five-star reviews, this recipe is one you will keep on file for a special cookout when salmon is the catch of the day. A simple marinade that includes brown sugar, soy sauce, and lemon pepper, it’s a simple and satisfying cookout choice.
  6. Grilled Mexican Sweet Corn - Grilled corn topped with a delicious creamy dressing - yes please! This grilled corn will make your first bite a life-changing experience. 
  7. Kiwi Chicken Kabobs - The combination of a simple garlic and lime marinade, followed by the chipotle and honey glaze, makes these a delicious and unique kabob option.
  8. Strawberry Balsamic Grilled Chicken - The balsamic marinade for the chicken mixed with the strawberry “slaw” topping make this a cookout winner whether eaten alone or put on top of a bed of greens.
  9. Cuban Grillers - If your cookout will be a tailgate-type gathering, these grillers are a great make-ahead sandwich. The combination of three meats on Ciabatta or Cuban bread will keep your crowd full and happy. 

Ideas for the smoker

  1. Whiskey Peach Smoked Pulled Chicken - Winning the award for make-your-mouth-water-just-from-the-picture of this dish for delicious peach and whiskey infused smoked pulled chicken.
  2. Smoked Meatloaf - Freshly grated cheddar and a mix of meats will take this recipe out of grandma's potluck file and squarely into your go-to cookout food file. 
  3. Smoke Cajun Shrimp - Served with a side of spicy ranch dipping sauce, these southern style shrimp are seasoned to perfection and a great addition to your next cookout.
  4. Smoked Brussel Sprouts – Reinvent the veggie people love to hate. The key is serving your sprouts tender on the inside, crispy on the outside, and sprinkled with some crisp bacon bits before serving - perfection! 
  5. Smoked Pizza - Work smarter not harder with this easy smoker option. Grab a store-bought unbaked pizza (ham and pineapple pizzas are delicious smoked!) and pop it in the smoker for a low-stress cookout option.
  6. Million Dollar Smoke Mac and Cheese - The suggested fruitwood chips used for smoking this homemade mac, plus a secret creamy middle layer, will keep guests coming back till it’s gone. 
  7. Teriyaki Smoked Steak Bites - The key to this dish is the delicious overnight marinade that makes these steak bites very tender, but beyond that, this recipe is very beginner-smoker friendly and makes a great appetizer for guests to grab while everyone arrives.

Ideas for an open campfire

  1. Sheepherder’s Pie - Thanks to my dad,I am a sucker for anything in a cast iron skillet and the unique take on these eggs snuggled in a bed of hashbrowns is a surefire crowd pleaser. 
  2. Vegan Spiced Chickpeas - My grandma always said the best recipes start with sauteed onions and this one is no different. The secret is the make-ahead “sub-ah b’har seven-spice mix” that’s added to the onions, then you finish with the stars of this show - chickpeas and fresh greens. Made over an open campfire, it’s rustic gourmet at its finest.
  3. Campfire Pies - If you have or are gifted pie irons (or gift them to yourself!) you will have campfire options for a lifetime. Whether it’s mini pizzas, grilled sandwiches, or this recipe for campfire apple pies, this cookout idea is destined to become a new tradition.
  4. Cheesy Campfire Potatoes - The combination of three simple cheeses (that you probably have on hand) plus the simple clean up make this cookout staple one you’ll come back to often.
  5. Foil Pack Chicken Nachos - The foil pack allows all the flavors of chicken, enchilada sauce, black beans, and two cheeses to mix wonderfully as the grill heats up the chips - which is next level greatness.
  6. S’mOreos - You love s'mores but could you love them s’more? Yes, yes you can! Add in a classic chocolate sandwich cookie and some peanut butter and well, you’re welcome.

Don’t forget the sides

  1. BLT Pasta Salad - If you love the idea of bacon, tomatoes and chives all living in a delicious pasta and with ranch dressing salad, then look no further. This recipe also ups the nutrition factor by being diet friendly and adding in some diced carrots that blend in perfectly.
  2. Tzatziki Potato Salad - Fans of Greek Tzatziki sauce will love this fresh potato salad which combines the summer flavors of lemon, dill, and cucumber with boiled red potatoes.
  3. Grilled Pineapple - This recipe has a marinade that includes honey, butter, and hot pepper sauce that will take your grilled pineapple in a whole new delicious taste direction.  But never fear, plenty of reviews say if hot pepper sauce scares you, you can tweak this easily and still have delicious results.
  4. Ranch Potato Salad - Cookout food meets comfort food with this salad. All the goodness of refreshing chilled ranch and red potatoes combined with bacon and shredded cheese makes this a side dish standout.
  5. Crispy Halloumi Fries with Roasted Tomato Dip - These kid-friendly cheese sticks are adult-level delicious. The addition of a homemade roasted tomato dip means that a plate of these will disappear quickly.
  6. No Bake Lemon Icebox Pie  - Is it even a cookout without a delicious pie sitting at the end of the dessert table?  This pie is the best of both worlds - fresh squeezed lemon juice makes it taste homemade, but with a store-bought crust and a tub of whip cream it’s still super simple and quick to make.
  7. White Sangria - Maybe a cocktail isn’t technically a side dish, but you probably won’t hear the adults complaining on a hot summer day! This pitcher-friendly recipe is great for making ahead and looks lovely in a clear pitcher with sliced nectarines, plums, and lemons floating inside.
  8. Paloma Cocktail - This summery drink is great with grilled food. The three simple ingredients: tequila, grapefruit juice and lime juice are a bright and refreshing combination.
Now that your mouth is watering, it’s time to craft your next cookout menu using a few of these ideas.  Send out an online sign up to have friends and family share what they’ll be bringing and you’re on your way to a delicious and memorable event!

Julie David is a freelance writer, educator, and worship pastor's wife from the Midwest who likes warm hugs.