Kick Up Your Cookout: These secret ingredients will impress during your first cookout with friends

Sometime during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, with the weather as nice as it’s been, I know you’re going to be eager to fire up the grill for the first cookout of the season. And if you’re like me, it will be the first cookout you’ve had with friends or extended family members in more than a year. 

That makes it a special occasion, so it’s going to need something special to take it to the next level. If you’re looking for the key to unlock a next-level spread, here it is:

“Jalapeño relish,” said by brother-in-law James Linstrom, whom I go to with any and all culinary questions. “It’ll make any brat or burger really sing.”

The recipe is simple: Melt some butter in a saucepan, and add minced, roasted garlic. When it’s fragrant, add onions and sauté until they’re soft and brown. Then mix in pickled jalapeños and a basic relish of your choice. Finish the relish with coarse salt and paprika. 

This blend goes on everything. Any Oscar Mayer hot dog and ballpark bun will taste like a million bucks with this relish on top, but for the trial-run purposes of this article, James opted for local meats: patties and cherry brats from Waseda Farms. You can top the burgers and brats with any condiment you like because the jalapeño relish welcomes all flavors. For the brats, James opted for yellow mustard, and for the burgers, sweet barbecue sauce.

Also try these tips to further enhance your cookout fare: 

Melt some sharp cheddar on a baking pan in the oven, and allow it to dry to create a crunchy cheese crisp to add to the burgers – on top of the melted cheese, of course. 

Try pretzel buns for the brats, but don’t open them before you pop them on the grill to toast them because you want to crisp up the bun’s outside, not its inside. If you split it first, it’ll become brittle and crumble, James said.

Say you’re invited to a Memorial Day cookout and need to take the picnic-staple potato salad. Fear not! Make the potato salad you already know how to make from your mom, and add these ingredients to take that recipe from standard to knockout: Cajun seasoning, dill and a splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice. 

“The dill is really transformative,” James said. “You just can’t go wrong.”

If you’ll be imbibing, the choice is simple: Drink local. There are a half dozen breweries up here making incredible beer, so you can’t go wrong there either. We went with Closer Everywhere: a double-dry-hopped, juicy IPA from Hacienda that was crisp and sweet and paired perfectly with grilled food.