Barbecue sides: Mix it up for a different taste this Fourth of July

By Josette Keelor

Tired of the same old potato salad, baked beans and green salad at barbecues?

This Fourth of July, get a taste for something different by mixing and matching ingredients.

Middletown chef Melinda Bremmer, who has taught cooking classes at Richard’s Fruit Market and until recently sold her food creations at the Middleburg Farmer’s Market and at festivals around the area, uses whatever she can find to add pizazz to the ordinary for a fun, simple and tasty meal.

Old faithful:

There’s nothing wrong with keeping to tradition, so if it wouldn’t be a summer party without pasta salad, macaroni salad or coleslaw, consider tweaking standard recipes with a few new ingredients.

“I do love the traditional watermelon, potato salad and corn on the cob,” Bremmer said. But one of her favorite recipes is a potato salad her grandmother brought to the area from Germany.

Because the Shenandoah Valley is home to a large population of German-Americans, Bremmer said her heirloom German potato salad should delight local taste buds. The salad can be served cold or at room temperature, and she said it was a big seller at her stand at the Middleburg Farmer’s Market.

Heirloom German potato salad

10 slices of bacon
1 large Vidalia onion, chopped
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
1/4 c. water
6 T. sugar
2 t. salt
6 c. diced cooked red, or new potatoes with skins
1/4 c. fresh parsley
Black pepper to taste

Optional: Add celery and green pepper, to cook with the onion.

Cook whole potatoes until done. Do not over-cook. Cut bacon into pieces and fry. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add vinegar, water, sugar, salt and pepper. Boil for one to two minutes. Cut up potatoes while warm and pour on dressing while warm. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Keeps well.


During the summer, Bremmer uses the “make it your own” approach as a weekly salad template. Her salads make meal preparation simple, and she doesn’t have to cook much on hot days.

“It’s kind of like create your own salad from what you have in your refrigerator,” she said. “And it works well for a barbecue.”

“I start with something like kidney beans, she said.

For another twist, she suggested adding grains into a cold salad or using pasta, cooked al dente, as a salad base.

“And I make a lot of those kind of from scratch,” she said.

Cook up two cups of a grain like rye berries, barley or brown rice, if making enough for a family, she said.

Then add olive oil and one of three acids — lime, lemon or vinegar. She suggested testing it first, though, to make sure it’s the right taste for your ingredients.

“A splash of apple cider vinegar brings out the flavor of food if it’s kind of boring to taste,” Bremmer added.

“Then I add whatever vegetables I have in my pantry.” She boils asparagus and green beans until crisp or adds cooked corn from the cob, steamed spinach and fresh avocado.

“The more color you eat in your food, the healthier it is,” Bremmer said.

Next, layer on cold, cooked salmon or tuna, or meat like pepperoni and salami. Or keep it vegetarian, she said.

And don’t forget the fresh herbs, “which make a huge difference, and I use a lot of fresh herbs,” she said. Parsley is a good addition, and she said dill works especially well with fish.

Then she adds cranberries or raisins “to give it a little sweetness.”

She remembered recently her mother, who was in food service most of her life, telling her a pinch of sugar brought out the flavor of a salad, “and it really does.”

Party in a bowl salad

2 cans dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 c. olive oil
2 T. lime juice
1-2 t. fresh lemon juice to taste
1/4 c. dried cranberries
Corn, cut off two ears, cold
1 avocado, chopped
1 small-medium sweet onion, chopped
1 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 c. parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients chill or serve immediately. Garnish with additional avocado if desired

Salsa and fruit

Because food at summer barbecues and picnics faces long hours in the heat, it’s important to keep an eye on the ingredients you’re working with.

Renee Boyer, state food safety extension specialist in Blacksburg and associate professor of food microbiology at Virginia Technical Institute, said most foods prepared at home for a barbecue will need to be kept on ice, refrigerated within two hours or thrown away after the party.

After two hours in the sun, any cut fruit not consumed needs to be thrown out unless kept on ice, she said. She noted that salsa would need to be refrigerated.

She said most people wouldn’t think of the necessity of refrigerating cut fruit.

“It’s because food-born pathogens, they could be on the exterior,” she said. When you slice into a fruit, the knife transfers anything on the outside of the fruit to the inside, she said. Also, bacteria grows faster on fruit once the inside juices have been released.

“And the same would be true for tomatoes,” she said.

Food preparation is also a big part of keeping barbecue dishes safe to eat, Boyer said.

“I think one of the most important things is the make sure that you use separate plates,” she said.

Raw and cooked meats must never touch, Boyer said, and any marinades used with raw meats need to be heated to boiling if they’re going to be used as part of the meal.

Bremmer switched to a career in food service after leaving a marketing firm she started in Washington, D.C. But she and her partner, Justin Bickle, recently closed their Frederick County-based bakery because they couldn’t keep up with demand.

“I love to cook and I love to talk about foods,” she said. For now, her passion will have to remain a hobby while she and Bickle pursue a third career in music, having joined two other local musicians to form the band Timeless.

“A lot of people go through life and they do the same thing,” she said.

“I reinvented myself,” she said. “We started the bakery, and now we’re doing music.”

Bremmer suggested the following marinade for your next barbecue:

Salmon marinade

3/4 c. soy sauce (Bremmer uses Kikkoman low sodium)
1 c. clover honey
1/3 c. fresh lemon juice, or juice of 1 lemon
2 T. chopped garlic
1-2 T. olive oil
Black pepper to taste

Marinade salmon or steelhead for one to eight hours — the longer the better the flavor. Cook on the grill, brushing with marinade until internal temperature of 160 degrees is reached. Do not overcook. Or place in baking dish and broil until internal temperature of 160 degrees is reached. Baste throughout cooking. Serve with remaining cooked marinade as a fish sauce.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com