EVERYONE knows how to make potato salad and coleslaw, right?

...Right?

Surprising how many folks still resort to the supermarket deli section for their cookout sides. Trust me: you can do better.

Here's how.

My Irish grandma was a good "plain cook." Meat and potatoes. Sandwiches and potatoes. Potatoes and potatoes. You get the picture.

So it's no wonder she knew how to make potato salad – at the drop of a hat. Or the drop-in of a family member, more like it. When we visited Grandma, the coffee was always perking, and we could rely on the table being fully laden with goodies.

Sandwiches were a given; turkey, or ham and cheese. But every now and then, to the consternation of us kids, Grandma would make crab cakes.

CRAB cakes – ewwww....... We'd arrive to find fat, golden, potato-shaped cakes, loaded with fresh crab, heaped on a plate in the center of the table. On each side, a large bowl: one with potato salad, one with coleslaw.

No way would I touch crab cakes as a kid – one of those prejudices I regret, wishing today for a do-over.

But potato salad? Coleslaw? YES, please!

Grandma would make me a special sandwich, over my mom's protests that I should eat what was set in front of me. And I'd enjoy that sandwich with coleslaw, potato salad, potato chips, and a bottle of pop from the wooden case in the cellar. Heaven.

Grandma is gone, along with her crab-cake recipe. But thankfully, her potato salad and coleslaw live on. If you're willing to forgo the deli line, and are looking for recipes for these signature cookout sides – you've found them.

 

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For me, coleslaw begins not with a cabbage, but with a bag of "coleslaw" – chopped purple and green cabbage, and carrots.

For those of you who enjoy chopping your own coleslaw veggies, more power to you. Call me lazy, but when I can grab a ready-to-go bag for $1.59, I'm there.

Along with 1 pound of bagged coleslaw or chopped cabbage, you'll need the following:

1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon celery salt
2 ½ tablespoons white vinegar

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Whisk the dressing ingredients together until smooth. By the way, this makes a delightful "coleslaw dressing" for any type of salad.

Refrigerate the dressing until just an hour or so before you're ready to serve the coleslaw.

When you're readying the burgers and dogs for the grill, place the cabbage in a large bowl. Add the dressing, stirring and tossing to coat. Set aside for an hour or so.

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Serve to great acclaim.

Yup, that's it. Easy, right?

Yes, you in the back there – you have a question?

"I'm going over to someone's house for a cookout. Can't I make it all ahead of time?"

You can, indeed; just be aware that after a couple of hours, the slaw will shrink way down, and eventually start to become watery. I've done the tests; this coleslaw's at its best within 2 to 3 hours of the dressing being combined with the cabbage. So plan accordingly. Or just accept that the 6 cups or so of slaw you started out with are now down to about 4 cups.

This recipe serves about 6 people. Cooking for a crowd? The recipe's easily doubled.

OK, that was the "hard" recipe. The potato salad is even easier!

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Potatoes. Mayo. Italian salad dressing.

How much of each?

Depends on how many people you're serving. I find about half a pound of potatoes for each person is sufficient.

For purposes of this blog post, I started with 3 pounds of potatoes – which yielded about 7 1/2 cups of potato salad.

Since I don't peel the potatoes (the skins are full of fiber), I like to use a red variety; they make a pretty salad.

Whatever you use, make sure it's a boiling (not baking) variety: e.g., red, white, Yukon Gold, chef's, etc. Not Russet.

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Cut the potatoes into cubes; about 3/4" is the size I like.

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Put the potatoes in a large kettle, and add water until they're covered by about 3/4". Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt per cup of water; this will bring out the potatoes' flavor.

So which is it, 1/4 teaspoon or 1/2 teaspoon? I like my potatoes salty, so I use 1/2 teaspoon; but let your own taste buds be your guide.

Watching your sodium? Omit the salt.

Get a timer ready. Bring the potatoes to a full boil. Not a simmer (upper left), or a hard simmer (upper right), but a full, rolling boil.

When the potatoes start to boil, set your timer for 7 minutes. After 7 minutes, remove a potato cube from the water, run it under cold water, and take a bite.

Is it too hard? Continue to boil. Just right? Quickly pour the potatoes into a colander to drain.

It's important that you cook these potatoes to the right degree of "done-ness." Not long enough, they'll be crunchy; too long, they'll be mushy, and turn into mashed potatoes when you add the dressing and mayo.

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Place the hot, drained potatoes into a large bowl. Drizzle generously with Italian salad dressing, tossing to coat.

How much salad dressing? Gosh, maybe 3 tablespoons or so? Trust me, Grandma didn't measure – she just shook the bottle over the hot potatoes and stopped when she'd added enough.

Gently stir and toss the potatoes to distribute the salad dressing.

When the potatoes are completely cool (or lukewarm, at least), add mayonnaise. For 3 pounds of potatoes, I use a heaping half cup (about 5 ounces) of mayo.

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Since stirring the potatoes always results in a layer of mayo and potato starch around the inside rim of the bowl, I like to transfer them to another bowl before serving. Not that I'm Martha Stewart or anything, but hey, why not? It's easy enough. I also like to add a shake of paprika – because that's what Grandma did.

This is my mom's old green Pyrex bowl. I'll bet a lot of you reading this remember this bowl set from your childhood: green, red, and blue nesting mixing bowls.

I smile every time I use one of these bowls. They're old friends of mine.

Refrigerate the potato salad until ready to serve.

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Ta-da! Throw the burgers on the grill; make sure you've got your Beautiful Burger Buns ready.

And get ready to dish up your HOMEMADE potato salad and coleslaw.

Happy Memorial Day!

Note: These recipes aren't on our site, thus no links here. Honestly, they're so simple you almost don't need a written recipe.

However, since the coleslaw dressing has five ingredients (and my memory balks at more than three), I've copied the ingredients onto a slip of paper and taped it inside my pantry door, for handy reference. If you're in the "memory-challenged" stage of life, I suggest you do the same!

 

 

PJ Hamel
The Author

About PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!