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Grilled Broccoli Crunch Salad

by Brad Prose

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Every cookout needs this creamy Grilled Broccoli Crunch Salad at the table loaded with gouda, bacon, cashews, and more. Simple to make ahead, doesn’t wilt quickly, and is surprisingly addicting. Everything is folded with a creamy, zesty dressing made of buttermilk and sour cream to brighten the flavors. This is a salad you must make!

Crunchy and creamy grilled broccoli salad

We’ve all had those trays of raw broccoli with a pool of ranch for dipping. It’s never excited me, but the flavors certainly make sense. There’s something satisfying about the crunch of raw broccoli covered in a creamy dressing, but I’ve always wanted more.

Learning to grill broccoli has been a game-changer. The heat from the grill softens the stems just enough while caramelizing the outside with a nice char. Grilled broccoli tastes just a bit sweeter while still maintaining that crunch, a perfect base for this broccoli and bacon salad.

Why You’ll Love this Crunchy Broccoli Salad

  • Grilled broccoli tastes better. If you enjoy broccoli, grilling it briefly enhances the natural flavors while maintaining its crispiness. Plus, it just takes a couple of minutes.
  • Smoky and savory. Smoked gouda and bacon really take this salad up a notch. Combined with the charred broccoli, these broccoli salad flavors pair perfectly with anything grilled but can hold its own. I’ve been known to simply make a bowl straight out of the fridge.
  • Stays fresh and crisp. This is a salad that doesn’t wilt, so you can make this ahead if you’d like. Allowing the flavors to meld overnight enhances the taste the next day, so go ahead and prep.
  • Versatile. I’m sure you’ll also love the specific combinations of bacon, cashews, golden raisins, and gouda, but feel free to swap out the ingredients to your preference.
  • Quick and easy. Grill up the broccoli alongside your steaks or burgers and toss it together with the rest when they’ve cooled off. It’s ready to eat right away!
This broccoli and bacon salad is the best side for barbecue

What goes in a Grilled Broccoli Salad?

This creamy broccoli salad is made with grilled broccoli, golden raisins, shallots, smoked Gouda cheese, and roasted cashews. Below are a few notes to give additional insights:

Main Ingredients

  • Broccoli – Obviously in this salad, but we’re grilling it today. You’ll need about 2 large heads of broccoli, which is roughly 5 cups of florets. It doesn’t need to be exact, you can always fill the rest of the mixing bowl with more Gouda cheese or bacon (kind of kidding). Don’t purchase pre-chopped florets, those are very difficult to grill and are not as fresh.
  • Thick-Cut Bacon – Get any flavor you’d like, but thick bacon is a must for this salad. You can that extra crunch, and no one wants thin, soggy bacon. The key is to cook until very crispy, even if you like it bendy for breakfast. You’ll need 6 slices, the rest is for snacking.
  • Golden Raisins – This is a very specific choice, and one of the most important add-ins. The sweet and subtle smoky flavors tie in the smoked Gouda, bacon, and dressing perfectly in a way that just makes sense when you bite into one. You can use regular raisins, but trust me it’s worth its weight in gold.
  • Cashews – These nuts have a crunchy and creamy profile with the perfect texture for this salad. Not too crunchy, not too strong with flavor, it’s just Goldilocks. Roasted and salted style is important, as we’re counting on these for seasoning the salad.
  • Smoked Gouda – Cheese cubes in a salad? Oh yeah, I’ve done it before with my Southwest Macaroni Salad. Adding this smoky cheese really kicks it up a notch. Don’t feel bad, there’s no mayo in the dressing this time. Bacon and cheese make up for the fat, and it’s so worth it.
  • Shallots – One of the best aromatics, a combination of garlic and onion in one. Dice them up fine so they season the entire salad without overwhelming any single bite.

Creamy Dressing

  • Buttermilk – Reminiscent of yogurt, this tangy milk adds a nice acidic flavor to the dressing. It’s not as thick as mayo or heavy cream, so it needs a second main ingredient to fortify it.
  • Sour Cream – Thick, rich, and tangy like the buttermilk. This ingredient is key to thicken the dressing, having a flavor similar to Greek Yogurt but a bit more mild. Combining this with buttermilk creates a nice dressing that’s not too thick, just coating the broccoli and ingredients enough.
  • Dijon Mustard – A small amount adds a nice roasty, spicy note to the dressing. You could use spicy brown mustard, or simply just add more if you want a stronger flavor.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar – This thins out the dressing a tad while adding its bright vinegar tang. Think of this as a liquid salt, enhancing the flavors it touches in the salad.
  • White Sugar – Don’t worry, there’s just a pinch. Well, a teaspoon to be exact, but this does help balance the overall dressing. Trust me.

Looking for more Side Dishes?

Ingredients to make the grilled broccoli crunch salad

How to Grill the Broccoli

Grilled broccoli is essential for this recipe, which transforms the flavor of the entire salad. Thankfully the process is pretty simple, only taking about 6-8 minutes total on the grill. Throw the broccoli down when you’re cooking your next steak!

Step 1: Prep the Broccoli

Make sure you trim some of the stems, otherwise it can be a little too fibrous for this salad. If you want to grill the broccoli stem (amazing flavor) then make sure to peel the outside.

Take the entire head of broccoli and carefully slice it in half, length-wide. Then, cutting through the stalk, cut each half into quarters. Drizzle olive oil, or use spray oil, to lightly coat all of the broccoli. Add fresh ground pepper and kosher salt and toss to make sure each quarter is completely coated.

Step 2: Grill the Broccoli

Place each piece of broccoli cut-side down on a grill set to medium-high heat. Allow it to cook for about 2-3 minutes before flipping to the second cut side. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, checking to make sure there are grill marks and a little char.

If the broccoli hasn’t charred enough, flip it one last time and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. The timing will depend on the size of the broccoli quarters, so use your judgment. The color will brighten and the florets should start to have some char.

Grilling the broccoli for the crunch salad

How to Make the Salad

Now you’ve got the grilled broccoli, so we’re almost ready to assemble. Hopefully, you know how to cook bacon, but if not that’s OK. I have my foolproof method:

Cook the Bacon – Place bacon on a wire rack with a baking sheet in the oven at 400°F for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through. Check the bacon to make sure it’s crispy – it needs to shatter and break apart for this salad. Remove the bacon and place the slices on a paper towel to blot the excess fat.

Mix the Dressing – Mix all of the dressing ingredients together which include buttermilk, sour cream, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, white sugar, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust if needed.

Stir everything together – This is the easiest part. Start adding the ingredients into the dressing one by one, folding everything together with a wooden spoon or spatula. Taste and season as needed. If the sauce is too thick, add a splash of buttermilk.

This creamy dressing is the key for this broccoli salad with bacon

Variations With This Salad

  • Cheese – Smoked Gouda was picked for a reason, and I really feel it makes the best broccoli salad. However, it’s an expensive cheese that’s not always available. Regular Gouda would be my second choice, but a smoked or sharp cheddar would be next in line. 
  • Nuts or seeds – Many times you’ll see broccoli salad with bacon, nuts, and seeds altogether. This recipe sticks with simply cashews, but feel free to mix up your preferred flavors. Roasted sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds would work very well. Walnuts and grilled broccoli work well, as the walnuts are still softer but maintain the crunch. Pecans are also an excellent combination, pairing very well with the smoked Gouda and bacon.
  • Protein – I’m not recommending swapping out the bacon, don’t worry. However, adding grilled chicken or boiled eggs is a great addition here. The chicken can be grilled at the same time as the broccoli, turning this grilled broccoli crunch salad into a complete meal. 
  • Dried or Fresh Fruit – Golden raisins are my recommendation, but this broccoli salad tastes delicious with chopped apples or pears as well. Dried cranberry, dates, or dried apricots also work really well with the other ingredients, almost like a charcuterie spread.
  • Dressing – Sour cream and buttermilk could easily be swapped with a number of ingredients such as mayo, yogurt, Greek yogurt, or even tahini. Make sure if you’re swapping out ingredients that the dressing isn’t too thick, or it will not evenly coat the grilled broccoli.
  • Herbs – Add in any fresh herbs such as dill, parsley, cilantro, or fresh chives. This base recipe doesn’t include it, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t taste delicious.
Mixing up this bacon and broccoli salad

Tips for the Best Grilled Broccoli Crunch Salad

This creamy broccoli salad is super simple to make, but there are a few things to consider to ensure it’s the best and stays that way:

How do you cut broccoli florets for broccoli crunch salad? The instructions tell you to cut the entire head of broccoli into quarters for grilling. After the broccoli cools, cut them into small enough pieces that someone would be able to eat it with a single bite. Don’t be afraid to slice up and serve some of the stem pieces as well, as long as they are tender enough from grilling.

Can I serve this broccoli salad right away? Yes, but the flavors do develop and enhance with a quick chill in the fridge. Give it at least an hour, and trust me it’ll be even better.

Does the bacon stay crispy? No, it’s not going to stay completely crunchy after marinating with the dressing. Using thick-cut bacon will still give those meaty bites. Cooking it until the bacon is crispy prevents the bacon from being chewy, it still crunches in the salad. To maximize the crispiness, add the bacon right before you serve, or reserve some as a topping.

How long does grilled broccoli crunch salad last? The broccoli maintains a crisp crunch for up to 3-4 days stored in the fridge. After that, the broccoli will start to get less crisp, and the cashews will soften as well.

Can you make this broccoli salad in advance? Yes, as it will keep for up to 3-4 days. I would recommend keeping the cashews and bacon separately, and adding them in before you are ready to serve.

Needs More Ideas on What to Serve This With?

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Crunchy and creamy grilled broccoli salad

Grilled Broccoli Crunch Salad

Every cookout needs this creamy Grilled Broccoli Crunch Salad at the table loaded with gouda, bacon, cashews, and more. Simple to make ahead, doesn’t wilt quickly, and is surprisingly addicting. Everything is folded with a creamy, zesty dressing made of buttermilk and sour cream to brighten the flavors.

  • Total Time: 25
  • Yield: Serves about 6-8 1x

Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 large heads of broccoli 
  • 6 slices of thick-cut bacon
  • 1 diced shallot, about ¼ cup
  • 1/2 cup smoked Gouda, sliced into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup crushed cashews, roasted and salted
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Prep the broccoli. Cut the head of broccoli in half, lengthwise. Slice each half into quarters. Spray or drizzle the broccoli quarters with cooking or olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  2. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat for direct grilling. Clean the grates.
  3. Grill the broccoli cut-side down for about 2-3 minutes until some char develops. Flip to the other cut side, and continue cooking. Check to see if the broccoli is done enough, the colors should brighten and the stem will have softened slightly. Remove from the grill and allow them to cool.
  4. Cook the bacon in the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F and place the bacon on a wire rack with a baking sheet, or a foil-lined baking sheet. Cook for 20 minutes and flip halfway through. The oven helps it get to the level of crispy you’ll need for the salad. Allow it to cool on paper towels to blot away excess grease.
  5. Mix the dressing, which is the buttermilk, sour cream, apple cider vineger, Dijon mustard, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Trim the broccoli into bitesize pieces and add them to the dressing along with the shallots, cashews, golden raisins, and smoked Gouda. Fold everything together until the dressing has completely coated the salad. Taste and adjust with additional salt and pepper as needed. Cool in the fridge, covered, for at least an hour before serving.

Notes

  • If making this ahead of time, do not add the cashews and bacon into the salad until just before serving.
  • This salad will stay fresh up to 3-4 days covered in the fridge.
  • Author: Brad Prose
  • Prep Time: 5
  • Cook Time: 20
  • Category: Side Dish
  • Method: Grilling
  • Cuisine: Salad

Keywords: Salad, grilled broccoli, broccoli crunch salad, creamy dressing, bacon, smoked Gouda, golden raisins,

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