One of the best things about BBQs is that they really are an ‘anything goes’ sort of dining experience. If you’ve ever attended a backyard cook-out where people were invited to bring a dish along, you’ll know exactly what we mean: a little bit of creative thinking around barbecue salads and sides can result in a wonderfully diverse buffet of tasty treats for everyone to graze on.
You’ll always need a few key essentials for any barbecue to be a success: nice hot coals, good company, decent weather, and above all a hearty appetite. But, once you’ve got those basic non-food boxes ticked, the actual menu choice is pretty much wide open. Indeed, with so few rules and restrictions on what makes for a great BBQ spread, they’re a golden opportunity to really embrace your culinary creativity.
While the on-grill action tends to hog the limelight when cooking outdoors, it’s rarely what makes an al fresco dinner truly memorable on its own. In fact, much of the heavy lifting in terms of colour, flavour and texture can be done through a dazzling spread of tempting sides and salads.
Moreover, with those balmy summer days always seeming to be in short supply, they deserve to be celebrated - this is hardly the time to go middle-of-the-road! We love the fact that preparing a great BBQ salad is a chance to get creative, and bring a bit of foodie flair to the party.
In that spirit, we’ve listed some simple recipes for a few of our favourite options below. Try a couple out at your next garden BBQ, or use them as inspiration for creating your own superstar side dishes. We often find that mixing fresh fruits into salads for a BBQ can work especially well; there’s just something about that combination of sweet and smoky flavours that hits perfectly when you’re cooking over charcoal.
BBQ Salad Ideas
Grilled vegetable salad with hazelnuts and pearl couscous
This bright, substantial and flavourful medley sits squarely in the middle ground between a vibrant salad and a more robust side dish. You can prepare it in advance, or grill it right alongside your other barbecued ingredients for a bit of added theatre.
Feel free to swap out any of our vegetable choices for others you might prefer - some of our favourite variants include rainbow chard, beetroot, asparagus and artichokes. You can dress this however you like; we enjoy it with a sesame dressing made from soy yoghurt, tahini and garlic, but balsamic glaze is a quick and delicious option too.
- 250g pearl couscous
- 2 red onions
- Handful of cherry tomatoes
- 1 red pepper
- 100g sugar snap peas
- 150g tenderstem broccoli
- 10 or so radishes
- 2 carrots
- 1 courgette
- 100g hazelnuts, whole or lightly crushed
- Juice of half a lemon
- Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook the couscous according to pack instructions, then set aside. Drizzle with a little lemon juice and a few torn up leaves of the parsley (save the rest for now).
- Wash your veg, then chop the larger types into slim batons or slices. Aim for between ½-1cm thickness depending on the hardness of the veg type, keeping the slices fairly consistent in size. You’re aiming for thick enough pieces that they’ll still have some bite to them when grilled. Halve the tomatoes and radishes, peel and quarter the onions.
- Toss all the veg in a little olive oil and seasoning, then wait for your grill (or lightly oiled griddle pan) to reach a medium heat. Lay the veg directly on the grill, or use a roasting tray if you prefer. Keep checking on them, and let them reach a stage where they’re just starting to char and blister in places. Again, it’s important to make sure they retain a good bit of bite, so don’t overdo them.
- When ready, mix the warm veg in a large bowl with the hazelnuts, cooked couscous and the rest of the chopped or torn parsley. Add a drizzle of whatever dressing you prefer, and serve when you like - this is great warm or cold.
Freekeh and pomegranate salad with pistachio and mint
Freekeh (pronounced ‘free-kuh’) is an old traditional Levantine and North African cereal grain made from green durum wheat, and it has a lovely earthy robustness to it. If you have any trouble finding it locally, you can always use pearl barley, quinoa or bulgur wheat to a very similar effect. Whichever you opt for, this is a great salad for BBQ lovers who want to bulk up the plate with some additional fibre and protein.
The ideal sweetening sauce here is pomegranate molasses, which you can find quite easily in most Middle Eastern grocers or online. You can also make your own, by simmering 350ml of pomegranate juice with some lemon juice and sugar until you’ve reduced it to a light syrup. (Alternatively, you can use a couple of tablespoons of clear honey, but we’d recommend you go for the molasses if you possibly can - it’s a bit of a star in this salad!)
- 200g freekeh (or pearl barley, bulgur wheat, quinoa or similar)
- 1L water
- 4 spring onions, chopped
- Seeds of 1 pomegranate
- Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- Handful of fresh mint, chopped
- 100g pistachios, lightly crushed
- 2tbsp pomegranate molasses (or clear honey if you’re struggling to find it!)
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook the freekeh or other grains according to pack instructions, then drain and set aside to cool in a large bowl.
- Mix in the chopped spring onion, pomegranate seeds and the roughly chopped herbs, then add seasoning to taste.
- Mix up your pomegranate molasses (or clear honey) with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Add it to the salad in the bowl, and toss everything together lightly.
- When you’re ready to serve, sprinkle the roughly chopped or crushed pistachios over the top just before you bring it to the table.
This is a light, crunchy and pleasingly chunky take on the traditional BBQ staple of coleslaw, but without the clagginess of mayo-based versions you might buy in a plastic tub. The flavours that really sing here are peppery, hot and sour - it’s mouth-watering, especially as an accompaniment to any richer foods, and incredibly easy to prepare.
- Juice of 1-2 lemons
- 10 cherry tomatoes, halved and deseeded with juice reserved
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ small red onion or 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- 2 spring onions, chopped into thin rounds
- Handful of radishes, cut into eighths
- ¼ small white cabbage, finely shredded
- ⅛ red cabbage, finely shredded
- 1-2 chillies, finely chopped
- ⅓ cucumber, deseeded and sliced into thin (½cm) batons
- 2 handfuls of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- 2 handfuls fresh mint, roughly chopped
- Generous pinch of dried chilli flakes
- Salt and black pepper
- 3 tbsp Greek yoghurt
- 1 tbsp harissa
- 1 tbsp pistachios, lightly crushed
- Juice the lemons into a small bowl. Mix in the cherry tomato juice and minced garlic, and leave to one side.
- Put all your finely chopped vegetables, excluding the chilli flakes and herbs, into a large bowl and refrigerate. You want to avoid dressing or seasoning them until you’re ready to serve, as it’ll lack crunch if you add them too early.
- When you are ready to bring it to the table, then you can throw in the chilli flakes and herbs. Toss everything lightly in the lemon juice and tomato juice mixture, adding this gradually to reach your desired level of sourness. Then season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Scatter on the crushed pistachios just before serving, and bring to the table with the yoghurt and tahini in finger bowls for guests to add as they wish.
Tarragon, grilled fennel and apple salad
There’s a lovely back-and-forth going on here between the smoky, almost absinthe-like notes of the grilled fennel, and the punchy sharpness of the crisp, fresh apples. Prominent use of herbs makes this a beautifully aromatic complement to a wide range of classic BBQ mains, and offers a really nice contrast to any oily or fatty richness found elsewhere on the plate.
Again, this is one you can do right on the barbecue if you fancy - or make in advance if grill real estate is limited!
- 1 fennel bulb, fronds reserved if possible
- 1 large or 2 medium apples, ideally something with a slightly tart or sharp sweetness to it (Braeburn, Pink Lady or Gala all work well)
- Handful of fresh tarragon leaves, roughly torn and crumpled
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 tsp mustard seeds, lightly toasted in a dry pan
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat your grill to medium settings, and slice the fennel up into bite-sized segments, around 2cm wide.
- In a large bowl, mix the lemon juice, honey and toasted mustard seeds then slowly add 1-2tbsp olive oil. Whisk gently to combine, and season to taste. This will be your dressing for later.
- Lightly toss the fennel in a little olive oil and salt, and grill until just tender and starting to char in places, turning midway through. You’ll probably want around 5 minutes on each side, perhaps slightly less.
- While the fennel is grilling, chop your apples into thin (½cm) slices, and arrange on a platter with the tarragon leaves and the fronds from your fennel bulb.
- When it’s ready, scatter the grilled fennel over the apples and leaves, then drizzle with the dressing of lemon juice, honey and mustard seeds. Ideally serve immediately, while the fennel is still warm.
Want more great ideas for the perfect BBQ salad? Check out a selection of our favourite recipes for Vegan Pasta Salads with an International Twist!