My friend Sharon loves bringing people together at her picture postcard-perfect, pastoral Vermont home. She marks milestones — her sons’ engagements, birthdays, the arrival of two new international exchange students she hosts each spring — with cookouts. Everyone contributes the sides, and Sharon provides the main course: sausages, which guests impale with a tree branch (plenty of free branches in Vermont!) and cook over her family’s infamously smoky homemade fire pit, big enough to seat twenty guests around its perimeter. For those who take a pass on the sausage, there are veggie and beef burgers. Last spring, Sharon told me, was the first time requests for veggie burgers surpassed beef.

As the weather warms up and we approach cookout season, it’s time for me to obsess over what to contribute to Sharon’s next cookout. Last year, I made a Caesar salad, an easy, low-lift. This year, I plan to up my game and bring a meaty main, plus a side. My goal? To convince people to lay off the sausage, a processed meat that has been categorized as a Class 1 carcinogen.

woman skiing down snowy mountain

Sharon, my favorite cookout host, skiing in colder seasons.

Both Sharon and her husband Steve are extreme athletes (think Heli-skiing and wing foiling), and every person sitting around that fire pit excels in outdoor sports — downhill and x-country skiing, kayaking, paddle-boarding, surfing, you get the idea. I do none of that. While I live to eat (and cook), they tend more towards eat-to-play harder-and-go faster. Which means achieving my goal (no proselytizing!) shouldn’t be tough. I’ll do it with protein-packed, nutrient-rich foods. Plant-based and delicious. I’ll let you know how it goes.

7 Cookout Dishes to Wow Guests Who Eat Meat, and Those Who Don’t

plant based hot dogsItalian Sausage: If you haven’t made friends with seitan, here’s your chance. What exactly is seitan? A meaty, non-meat — wheat gluten, the protein that’s stripped off of wheat. (It’s what makes some breads dense and chewy). Which is why it’s low-cal, protein-rich, and not gluten-free. Canned white beans make these sausages moist, and fennel, paprika, oregano and thyme provide the flavor. They’re also dense, perfect for a grill, and up to being impaled by a tree branch.

Veggie Bratwurst: These gluten-free bratwurst are crowd-pleasers. White beans, walnuts, and chia seeds provide an abundance of protein, fiber, iron, and heart-healthy omega-3 fat. (Certain to be a hit with Sharon and Steve’s athletic friends). Tomato paste and smoked paprika add deep umami flavor. (Note: Not sure these are sturdy enough to withstand branch impalement; I’d throw them on the grill).

Black Bean Veggie Burger: These burgers have an ingredient too many veggie burgers lack: veggies. Black beans, carrots, smoked paprika and cashews (or sunflower seeds if you want to go nut-free) make them a winner. The secret to making a firm black bean burger that doesn’t fall apart? Keep them in the refrigerator until the coals are hot and it’s time to grill.


Boston Baked Beans:creamy plan t based potato salad Everyone loves these baked beans. Liquid smoke, ketchup, ginger, and cloves. Oh my! Simply writing the ingredient list motivated me to make them tonight.

Potato Salad: Once you eat this potato salad, you’ll never go back to bland, mayo-heavy, artery-clogging, store-bought again (not that I judge). Rich tahini and non-dairy coconut yogurt add creaminess, while celery seeds, dill and chives make this a summery, herbaceous side. (Note: There’s a short video that shows you how to do it, and suggests the best potatoes to use).

Creamy Caesar Salad: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: This is the best salad dressing ever invented. Use hearty greens like kale (massage it first) and/or romaine, add blanched broccolini, or whichever veggies you have around, perhaps some croutons, and I promise there will be zero leftovers to take home. (And in the rare event there are, hearty greens mean it won’t be flaccid and gloppy the next day).

Pesto Orzo Salad: Make this creative, out-of-the-ordinary pesto with pumpkin seeds, basil and spinach, then mix it with chewy orzo, a few cups of sweet cherry tomatoes, spicy arugula and vitamin-packed spinach, toss in a can of fiber-rich, high-protein chickpeas for good measure, and you’ve got yourself a “please, may I have more?” hit.