For many, it's the delicious bounty of summer BBQ side dishes—not what's in the smoker—that makes a paper plate feel like fine china. So, in our first side dish smackdown, we set out to find the best reader recipes for slaw, baked beans, and more.
How We Chose the Winners
It's a good potato salad, but is it a $1,000 potato salad? That's what we asked as we tasted our way through stacks of mouthwatering side dish entries in our reader-recipe contest, which launched online in December 2011 and offered meaty cash prizes to winners in six categories (including an open-ended surprise option). Fortunately, when we stumbled across recipes such as Priscilla Yee's Spinach-Artichoke Dip Potato Salad, we knew we had an answer. And to those who didn't win: There's an entire summer ahead for experimenting—and we can't wait to dig in again next year.
Winner: Best Baked Beans
Recipe: Grandma Gwen's Beans - Liz Matthews, Fullerton, California
"My grandmother would make this dish for special family gatherings—it's a favorite. Sharing her recipe helps her legacy live on."
Winner: Best Pasta Salad
Recipe: Tangy Tzatziki Pasta Salad - Dawn Moore, Warren, Pennsylvania
"I merged my love of Greek ingredients with my favorite barbecue side dish: pasta salad. It's wonderful with grilled chicken."
Winner: Best Coleslaw
Recipe: Chipotle-Cilantro Slaw - Nadine Mesch, Mount Healthy, Ohio
"My family always enjoys a little heat with their meal, and this slaw delivers on that! It's great with grilled meats or on a sandwich."
Winner: Best Potato Salad
Recipe: Spinach-Artichoke Dip Potato Salad - Priscilla Yee, Concord, California
"Our favorite party dip inspired this dish, and it's the perfect base for potato salad. Potato chips add an irresistible crunch."
Winner: Best Mac & Cheese
Recipe: Chipotle-Bacon Mac and Cheese - Marshall Lee Camp, Sandy Springs, Georgia
"Happy childhood memories of my mother making mac and cheese from scratch inspired this dish. I cook comfort food all year."
Winner: Best Surprise
Recipe: Sweet, Salty, and Spicy Watermelon Refresher - Carolyn Kumpe, El Dorado, California
"Watermelon just goes with barbecue. It cleanses our palates from heavy meats and rehydrates us on those smoldering summer days."