Planning a summer cookout for the culture? These Black cookout recipes using inspired ingredients from the diaspora should be on your menu! Updated for 2023.
When the weather is warm, you don't need to tell me twice to hit up a good outdoor gathering. That could be a day party or a picnic but today we are speaking specifically about the great Black American cookout.
There's been a lot of chatter around the internet about who is invited to the proverbial cookout but I tend to mind the business that pays me, so I'll let y'all hold that conversation while I cover the menu, aka, what to make for a Black cookout.
Get into the full spread below, followed by tips for hosting or attending a Black cookout, in case it's your first time.
What's the difference between a cookout and a barbecue?
I'm from Texas and we use the words cookout and barbecue to describe the same kind of outdoor summer function because having barbecue is a given regardless. Depending on where you're from, though, there can be a big difference: the meat.
Barbecues must have grilled and smoked meats (BBQ). Chicken and beef but sometimes pork and fish, too, are the stars of any proper southern barbecue. A cookout can have barbecue but doesn't have to. You might instead find hot dogs and hamburger patties.
Again, where I grew up, barbecue was always present so I'm giving you the full treatment here but just keep that distinction in mind lest you invite someone to a barbecue and don't serve barbecue. They might very well be upset!
1. Smoky Baby Back Ribs
You can't go wrong starting a list of main dishes for the summer cookout with grilled ribs. My suya baby back ribs are smoky, nutty, a little spicy, and perfectly juicy. The flavor comes from homemade Nigerian yaji spice rub. I developed this recipe on a gas grill so you can be certain you'll get a super tender outcome even if you don't have charcoal and wood!
2. Grilled Chicken
Chicken is one those Black American cuisine staples that makes an appearance at most gatherings and the cookout is no exception. Try my quick marinating grilled honey jalapeño lime chicken this summer and you just might be asked to make it every year.
3. Grilled Fish
The best grilled fish I've ever had has been in African and Caribbean countries and the tradition of grilling seafood is not lost in Black American culture either. My grilled garlic curry salmon filets are an easy and flavorful add to the cookout spread and inclusive of any guests that might not eat meat or poultry.
4. Lemon Pepper Shrimp
Compared to a barbecue, cookouts can be spur of the moment so foods are sometimes simpler to make but no less flavorful. My lemon pepper shrimp skewers are all of that. This is not a traditional cookout dish, per se but lemon pepper flavor has the Black community in a chokehold so nobody will complain about this dish. Even better, it cooks up in next to no time on the grill or in the oven!
5. Baked Mac & Cheese
Black folks' barbecue traditions are centered around meats but the side dishes are also of high importance. Mac and cheese is always a must and it must always be baked. No debates will be entertained here. My browned butter mac & cheese is always a hit and I also recommend my single-serve baked mac muffins for unmatched convenience at your summer gatherings.
6. Southern Potato Salad
The phrase Who made the potato salad? has become an iconic part of Black American culture and people have been dragged all across Beyonce's internet for adding raisins and other unwelcome ingredients. Potato salad is at the top of the list of cold dishes for southern cookouts. My southern style balsamic potato salad is no fuss and gets the Black family stamp of approval every year.
7. Fried Plantains
As all parts of the African disapora become more reconnected, summer side dishes at Black gatherings have diversified to include staples from different pockets of our global community. And as a third culture kid, I'm here for it. Serve fried plantain, which is known as dodo in Nigerian cuisine, in your spread and watch it disappear.
8. Deviled Egg Dip
Deviled eggs are a beloved southern appetizer (or side dish depending on who you ask) that I personally look forward to. But the presentation is a little fussy and they don't always travel well so my deviled egg dip is the best way I've found to enjoy the classic taste and texture in a convenient way. And it's always devoured with a quickness.
9. Easy Green Salad
Yes, I'm that person who always adds a salad to the mix for good measure. My family clowns me initially but because I make amazing salads, they always add a serving to their plates. My go-to celebration salad is a staple at baby showers, birthday parties, and yes, Black family cookouts. With just five store-bought ingredients, it's the simplicity for me.
More Favorite Salad Recipes
Apple Cider Vinaigrette Dressing
What can I bring to a cookout at the last minute? Watermelon is always a solid bet but make sure you pick a good one. And if you have a little more time to spare, make my margarita infused watermelon for an easy (and low-key sneaky) treat that the adults of legal drinking age will love.
11. Red Velvet Cake
Red velvet cake is one of my favorite Juneteenth cookout recipes but deserves a spot on the serving table all summer long, to be honest. Make this layered red velvet cake with homemade cream cheese frosting and don't forget to top it with chocolate covered strawberries for that extra touch.
12. Peach Cobbler
Peach cobbler is always a welcome dessert to bring to a Black cookout if you know how to make it. Refer to my Great Great Aunt Georgia's peach cobbler recipe for the proper technique and get ready to rake in all the compliments. As a warning, if you make this peach cobbler, you will likely be asked to make it again...and again.
13. Pound Cake
I have fond memories of my grandmother's pound cakes at our barbecues and family reunions and have several pound cake recipes on the site dedicated to her. Any of them will help you make memories at your gatherings, too, but this sweet tea pound cake is the perfect place to start!
14. Red Drinks
Red drinks have special significance at Black people's barbecues, especially around Juneteenth. Hibiscus tea is a commonly served red drink that ties back to West Africa and my zobo (hibiscus) lemonade provides flavorful, ancestral refreshment everyone will love. And for boozy red drinks for a summer cookout, make my bourbon cherry limeade.
While you're here, check out my hibiscus honey mocktail recipe, too!
15. White Hennessy Cocktail
There always seems to be a henny drink on the menu when Black folks get together so my White Hennessy pineapple daiquiri will get the function lit AND give your flashy cousin an excuse to bring a bottle and talk about his trip to Belize. A win win. Bust out the Black-owned spirits, as well, to mix up my pineapple whiskey sipper made with Uncle Nearest Whiskey!
16. Juneteenth Pie
Nothing is more appropriate for planning a 2023 summer cookout than Nicole A. Taylor's Black Pepper Berry Slab Pie. You can make it with simple ingredients and everyone will enjoy.
Black Cookouts Q&A
In addition to Black cookout recipes, here are some general things to note to ensure the best experience, especially if you're attending from outside the community or family.
- What time does it start? Not on time. For this reason and others, our cookouts and barbecues will last well into the evening. You can come late but if you're too late, you'll miss so-and-so's banana pudding and might not have a spot at the spades table. Govern yourself accordingly.
- What to expect at a Black barbecue?
- Per this post, good food is a given. You can expect a variety of dishes contributed by trusted guests (meaning people who are known to throw down in the kitchen).
- Games like dominoes, spades, uno, and, for the millennials, taboo
- Good music including a sometimes generational battle for control of the playlist. Dances like the electric slide, bunny hop, wobble, and other regional/local steps are bound to break out, depending on your location.
- Good vibes are non negotiable. Cookouts are like sacred spaces for joy and relaxation in our community and, while a little gossip here and there is par for course with extended family, the overall intent should be positive. Which is exactly why we ask Who all gone be there? before committing to attend.
- Is everybody related? Probably not. Black family functions are good for drop-ins from distant family friends and ambiguous neighbors but the more the merrier as long as everybody is respectful. When in doubt, we're cousins.
I hope this menu of Black cookout recipes and tips helps you plan, host, or attend at your best this summer. And sharing is caring so be sure to pin this African American cookout menu and follow me over on Pinterest. Thanks for reading!
I'm winning the cookout with your margarita infused watermelon! It's such a genius recipe and everyone is going to love it.