Cool side for a hot summer

Elevate your next barbecue with this sweet and slightly spicy watermelon gazpacho.

By Lynn Michelle

Chef Lynn Michelle is a personal chef located on Hilton Head Island who serves the entire Lowcountry. Whether it’s preparing healthy, gourmet, family-style meals or expertly creating elaborate dinner parties, Chef Lynn and her team do it all — planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning up. Cheflynnmichelle.com

From smokehouse brisket in Texas, hot ‘n spicy chicken in Tennessee, to the signature pulled-pork sandwiches of the Carolinas, if there’s one thing the South takes seriously, it’s barbecue. But between iconic restaurants, annual contests and designer sauces, the competition to cook a great rack of ribs or chicken wings is so great that many believe that if they haven’t officially been named a “pitmaster,” they don’t belong behind the grill. And as a chef, I’m here to tell you that that couldn’t be less true. 

Cooking for a crowd can be stressful, but grilling offers a more interactive and casual approach to a summer dinner party. Plus, it’s a pretty quick way to get dinner on the table (as long as you do all the prep work in advance). 

Focused on developing big flavor rather than achieving perfection, barbecue is an art all its own. If you want chicken and ribs that fall off the bone, start marinating your meat in your sauce or seasoning mixture the night before your cookout (or at least three hours before you’re ready to eat). If you’re letting guests choose their own sauces later, skip the marinating step and pat your meat dry with a paper towel before it hits the grill to give it a nice char. 

Before you fire up the grill, consider what kind of fuel you’ll be using. Barbecue is an alchemy of wood, smoke, spices and meat, so the kind of fuel you use can dramatically affect the flavor. Your best bet is to use lump wood charcoal, made from high-quality hardwoods with none of the chemicals that help lesser charcoals burn. You can then add different hardwood chunks, depending on the flavor you are looking for: oak, apple and cherry are personal favorites (which you can find at your local garden center). Your grill should be hot, but not too hot. If you can’t stand next to it, you shouldn’t be cooking on it. While your exact cooking times depend on the type and thickness of the meat, leave space between each piece to make for easy turning and to allow oxygen to reach the charcoal below. 

But no matter how great the meat is, no barbecue cookout is complete without plenty of sides from which to choose. Balance the heavy, smoky flavors of your chicken, pork or beef with lighter sides, like colorful coleslaw, pasta salad or – a personal favorite and a crowd pleaser every time – my sweet and slightly spicy watermelon gazpacho. Here’s the recipe for your new go-to summertime side that will have your guests going back for seconds.

The East Coast ChefWatermelon gazpacho


  • 5 cups watermelon, cut and diced small
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup sweet onion, chopped small
  • 1 whole cucumber, washed and diced small
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped with stems removed
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 fresh jalapeno, finely diced (optional)
  • 25 multi-colored cherry tomatoes, sliced in 4 pieces
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Directions [1] Blend all items into a large bowl; season, and place into the refrigerator for 3 hours. [2] Serve with tortilla chips, scoops and graham crackers.

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