To me, nothing says summer quite like the heady smell of smoke, emanating from a grill at a backyard BBQ. Enveloped by that smell, I’m likely to have friends nearby, an ice-cold beer in hand, and a freshly charred meal on the way. This very smell, recurring each weekend from May through August, makes me hope that summer will never end.
But alas, when Labor Day inevitably rolls around, the twilight starts retracting earlier into the evening, and the weekly gatherings begin to slow, the bliss of summer also feels like it’s slipping out of reach. And that may well be the case. But there’s always time for a final outdoor get-together with friends, fire, and lots of food.
For this year’s BBQ swan song, I’ll turn to the newest cookbook by grill master, Texan, and cookbook author extraordinaire, Paula Disbrowe: Thank You for Smoking: Fun and Fearless Recipes Cooked with a Whiff of Wood Fire on Your Grill or Smoker.
In the book, Paula shows us how to add a hint of smoky flavor to all manner of foods, using your grill and a few clever tricks (read: no special equipment needed). You’ll find recipes for meats, fish, and vegetables, of course, but also for smoked seasonings and spices; for smoked beans, pulses, and grains; and even for smoked cocktails.
Here are two of Paula’s new recipes to add to your Labor Day menu, plus 26 more grilled meats, veggies, sides, and even desserts to round out your BBQ and celebrate the end of the season to the fullest.
1. Grilled herbed chicken breast with radicchio
Here, do-anything chicken breast takes on all the smoky goodness of the barbecue, and gets piled atop a zingy marinated radicchio salad. The dish is complete with more than a few shavings of Parmesan and salty oil-cured black olives.
2. Smoky shrimp with lemony orzo, green olives & feta
In this guaranteed summertime favorite, quick-cooking shrimp get tossed on the grill for just a few minutes before mingling with lemony orzo, bright-tasting green olives, and a generous crumble of feta.
3. Grilled Chicken Thighs With Lemongrass Glaze
Want juicy, aromatic chicken thighs with a punch of freshness at the end? This recipe’s just the ticket. A mixture of lemongrass, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, and chile acts as a marinade and a sticky glaze post-grill, and then the thighs are topped with a squeeze of lime juice and a sprig of cilantro for good measure.
4. Grilled Ribs With Salt & Pepper
Sometimes, simple really is best, and these ribs are a testament. They’re flavored with salt and pepper alone, but come off the grill tasting caramelly and complex.
5. Grilled Steak Salad With Fish Sauce Vinaigrette
This clever take on steak salad marinates the meat after it’s cooked, allowing it to caramelize fully on the grill and then absorb a ton of flavor from a fish sauce, lime juice, and brown sugar combo. It then gets piled on a tangle of crisp greens and bright herbs, making for a refreshing BBQ main.
6. CPK-Style BBQ Chicken Pizza
You may have grown up with this familiar, comforting pizza—and now it’s ready for its comeback. Tangy BBQ-sauced chicken is heaped over foolproof pizza dough, then tossed on the grill for an extra crispy-crunchy crust.
7. Grilled Salmon Tacos With Avocado Sauce
Tacos with all the fixings just scream summer, and these salmon-y beauts with chunky avocado sauce are no exception. They also come together in a flash—just 10 minutes to tender flakiness.
8. Beef & Kimchi Burgers
It’s not a BBQ without a burger, right? Right. But how to make them special? Try these beef patties mixed with a hefty portion of spicy, funky kimchi, which helps keep the burgers juicy. You can top them with whatever your heart desires, but avocado or a crunchy slaw wouldn’t be out of place.
9. Chicken and Steak Skewers with a Tahini-Yogurt Marinade
The earthy, nutty tahini–yogurt marinade that goes on these skewers is extremely versatile (and extremely delicious). According to recipe author, EmilyC, it “works well with all kinds of protein, from chicken and beef to salmon or lamb,” as well as tofu, seitan, or veggie skewers.
10. Simple Grilled Seitan
Speaking of seitan, this chewy, meaty vegan hero is just begging to be marinated and grilled. And so it is in this recipe, with gingery, limey, mustardy flair.
11. Essential Tofu Burgers
Crumbled pressed tofu is mixed with cooked greens, scallions, mixed nuts and seeds, and a host of seasonings before being formed into patties. They’re a bit delicate, so you’ll have to bake them up before they go on the grill (but trust us, it’s worth it!).
12. Black Bean & Corn Burgers
This is the most popular burger recipe on Food52 (seriously!) for good reason. Sweet corn kernels, creamy black beans, and a ton of smoky spices make up the totally vegan patty mixture, which gets grilled up and sandwiched in a soft bun.
13. Early Summer Panzanella
This rainbow of a salad is appealing enough as it is—but throw on a heap of grilled bread and several dollops of garlic scape pesto, and you’re definitely in business.
14. Grilled Peach and Apricot Salad
Behold, the bounty of summer stone fruit, charred and caramelized on the grill. Huge chunks of feta cheese and prosciutto sweeten the deal.
15. A Salad of Grilled Vegetables over Crisp Lettuce with Halloumi Croutons
A mélange of grilled vegetables with toasty, melty halloumi cheese nuggets? Yes, please—and we’ll take a second helping while you’re at it.
16. Grilled Vegetable Pasta Sauce
If you’re not quite feeling a salad this time around, we’re guessing a smoky, earthy pasta sauce based on Alice Waters’ ratatouille will be a fine replacement. Really, you can use any summer vegetable and make the sauce as chunky or smooth as you like.
17. Grilled Bread Salad With Broccoli Rabe & Summer Squash
Another grilled bread salad to add to your arsenal—this time with tender broccolini and summer squash that’s gone for a dip in a mayonnaise marinade. The whole thing’s scattered with rich, buttery pine nuts, too.
18. Grilled Baby Bok Choy With Miso Butter
We’d like to top everything with this miso butter. But it’s the perfect salty, umami-rich counterpoint to herbal and slightly bitter grilled bok choy.
19. Grilled Young Carrots with Pickled Mustard Seed Dressing and Arugula
Grilling carrots makes them tender and all the sweeter, which balances perfectly with a sharp Dijon mustard dressing and peppery arugula.
20. Bonus: Easiest-Ever Pasta Salad
We know this one’s technically not grilled, but it belongs at your BBQ anyway. Every ingredient brings a burst of flavor—anchovies, roasted peppers, walnuts, and olives—and together, these bold bites really sing.
21. Ottolenghi’s Burrata With Grilled Grapes & Basil
Leave it to Ottolenghi to give us the simplest, but most surprising side we’ve seen in a while—sweet and smoky grilled grapes alongside luxuriously creamy burrata cheese. A loaf of crusty bread will be glad to join the party.
22. Grilled Bread With Goat Cheese & Olives
Speaking of bread, it’s pretty dang delicious when grilled—and then smeared with goat cheese, topped with green olives, and scattered with crispy walnut bits. Pro tip: Once the bread is grilled, rub it with a piece of raw garlic while it’s still slightly hot to impart even more flavor.
23. Superiority Burger’s BBQ Baked Gigante Beans With Polenta & Coleslaw
Is there anything Superiority Burger can’t do? We think not—especially after trying these deliciously creamy, tangy BBQ gigante beans with baked polenta “fries” and coleslaw on the side. Did we mention the whole shebang’s vegan, too?
24. Grilled Foil-Pack Chicken Nachos
Yes, your dreams have come true—we’re here to tell you that you can make nachos on the grill. Just char some chicken, chop it up to scatter over foil packs of cheese-covered tortilla chips, seal ’em up, and go to town.
25. Grilled Chicken Caesar Lettuce Wraps
Grilled chicken’s here to save the day yet again. This time, it’s marinated in a Caesar-style dressing before going on the grates, and wrapped up in crisp, cool pieces of romaine.
26. Smoked Potato Salad
What’s even better than regular potato salad? Smoky, multi-dimensional, utterly delicious potato salad. Since there’s no mayo in sight, and instead a mix of zippy mustard and apple cider vinegar, this dish will keep well at the BBQ all day long.
27. Grilled Strawberries Romanoff
Did you think we’d forget about dessert? Not a chance. Sugared and grilled strawberries macerated in Grand Marnier want to be part of your Labor Day BBQ spread—and preferably over a double scoop of ice cream.
28. Grilled Banana with Chocolate and Crushed Peanut Brittle
Last but not least, Mark Bittman gives us a super-smart, mess-free grilled dessert—bananas topped with a crunchy walnut praline. The clever secret is that you grill the banana in its peel, allowing it to get warm, jammy, and a little smoky on the inside. Eat it from the peel with your desired toppings, or spoon it over ice cream. (We can never say no to ice cream.)
What will you be grilling up this Labor Day? Let us know in the comments!