Picnic season is upon us…..the temperature and humidity are both climbing, the sun goes down later and it’s the season of long weekends, vacations, graduation parties, and other outdoor festivities. That means it’s picnic food time!
This is the time of year – you know, between Memorial Day and Labor Day – that you can be out cutting your grass and jealousy slowly (or maybe not so slowly) creeps over you as you smell what ever deliciousness is on your neighbor’s grill. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) – this is peak hot dog season. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day American’s consume approximately 7 billion (with a B) hot dogs – 150 million on Independence Day alone (that’s over 10,000 miles of hot dogs)!
What do we typically serve with our grilled hamburgers and hot dogs? Some of the most popular options for picnic sides are fruit salad, cole slaw, macaroni salad, corn on the cob and, the star of today’s show, potato salad.
Although there are probably millions of recipes out there for potato salad, I will tell you quite confidently that my mamma’s potato salad is THE BEST! It’s creamy and flavorful and both soft and crunchy – it has the perfect balance of flavors and textures……WHEN SHE MAKES IT. That’s the sticking point – it’s only perfect when she makes it. She has generously shared her recipe with me and I’ve made it and it has been good – even great – but not like hers!
Why am I telling you this? Because we recently had a family dinner and, unfortunately, Mimi had to work so she couldn’t be there. She graciously sent all the fixings, washed and prepped, for a delicious tossed salad (which in our family is not your traditional lettuce, tomatoes, croutons – it’s more a work of culinary art). I had asked her to make the salad for dinner before I got the request that we have hamburgers and hot dogs. Had I known that would be the menu, I would definitely have asked her to make potato salad!
But, these hardships in life [read this as it was intended – dripping with sarcasm and gratitude for my situation] teach us to adapt. I knew I couldn’t serve Mimi’s Potato Salad to this particular crowd because they’ve all had it before and they’d know it was a sad imposter of the fabulous original. So I decided to go an entirely different way (I know, surprising that I would do that).
I pulled out a potato salad recipe that I had developed for a class. Here’s what I did:
The night before I assembled the potato salad, I:
- smoked the potatoes
- crisped and the bacon
- hard-boiled the eggs
- mixed the dressing
Before I continue, I should tell you a bit about a stove-top smoker, which is what I used to smoke the potatoes. If you don’t have one of these in your culinary arsenal, you should! It’s a great tool for adding flavor without adding fat and is also a wonderful way of giving winter foods the taste of summer without grilling or smoking outside in the snow (which, of course, I have been known to do).
The stove-top smoker can be used on an electric or gas stove top, a grill or a camp fire/fire pit. When you purchase it – and I just happen to know where you can buy a stove-top smoker – the smoker is bright and shiny and pristine; however, the longer you use it, the more it will start to look like mine. The smoker consists of four parts:
- Base (into which you add approximately 1 Tbsp of smoking chips, which come in a wide variety of flavors)
- Drip Tray (keeps your wood chips dry while smoking)
- Rack (keeps your food elevated so that it is surrounded by smoke)
- Lid (keeps the smoke trapped inside the smoker for maximum flavor)
Generally speaking, you will add raw foods to the smoker and during the process of smoking they will become cooked. What foods can you smoke? The sky is the limit! I’ve smoked chicken, seafood, veggies, cheese for pizza (you have to put it into a ramekin or you’ll have a mess), chickpeas for hummus, etc. etc. etc.
Back to the potato salad. I assembled it the day of the picnic; however you could assemble it the day before to give all the flavors a chance to marry with a great result. Had i planned better, that is just what I would have done. But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men….
So back to the assembly. Because I had prepped some of the ingredients the night before, assembly was a breeze. I got out my cutting board, my favorite ceramic knife, and set to work.
First, I cubed the smoked potatoes, which had been refrigerated over night.
I chopped the hard-boiled eggs, which had also been refrigerated overnight.
I crumbled the crisped bacon, which again was refrigerated overnight.
I minced the celery – including the leaves, which add great flavor and color.
And I minced the sweet onion.
I measured my shredded WHITE cheddar (I could go on a rant here about orange cheddar, but I won’t. Suffice it to say it is my last resort).
I diagonally sliced the scallions – both the white part and much of the green. I stop where the green begins to get dry.
And I whisked the dressing, which had been mellowing out in the fridge too.
Finally, I put all the ingredients (except for a few of the sliced scallions) in a LARGE bowl and gently tossed it until it was well mixed. I tasted it for seasoning and adjusted as necessary.
To finish, I scooped it into the serving bowl and scattered the top with the reserved sliced scallions and slid it, covered, into the fridge until my guests arrived!
It AIN”T my mamma’s potato salad, but if you want a fresh spin on potato salad with unique flavors and textures, this should definitely make it to your picnic-side-dishes list!
Before all you fellow grammar-nerds ask or complain – yes, it damn near killed me to use the word ‘ain’t’!)
Loaded Wood-Smoked Potato Salad
Keywords: Smoke salad summer
- 1 1/2 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, smoked and cut into large dice (see note below)
- 1 1/2 lb sweet potatoes, smoked and cut into large dice (see note below)
- 4 large eggs, hard-boiled
- 8 slices bacon, crisped and crumbled
- 4 stalks celery, finely diced
- 1 small sweet onion, finely diced
- 6 oz shredded white cheddar cheese
- 6 scallions (white and green parts), diagonally sliced
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
- 2 Tbsp yellow mustard
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp ground smoked black pepper
- 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp minced garlic
Note: To smoke potatoes
Place approximately ½ to 1 Tbsp. smoking chips in the bottom of the smoker tray.
Insert the drip tray.
Cover the rack with aluminum foil and spray the foil with cooking spray.
Place rack in smoker.
Place the potatoes in a single layer on the rack.
Cover the smoker with the seamless lid.
Place over medium to medium-high heat until potatoes are fork tender – approximately 20 minutes (white potatoes typically need a few more moments than sweet potatoes).
Assembling the potato salad
Cut smoked potatoes and sweet potatoes into 1″ dice and place in a large bowl.
Peel and dice hard-boiled eggs and add to the potatoes.
Add the crumbled bacon, diced celery, diced onions, shredded cheese and all but a few of the sliced scallions and gently stir to combine.
In a separate bowl whisk together all dressing ingredients until well combined.
Pour the dressing over the potato mixture and gently stir to combine.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Just before serving, taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
Top with reserved sliced scallions, serve and enjoy!