HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Barbecue... what are the best accompaniments / plating?

True barbecue can be downright sublime... but what do you eat with it? In my experience most eateries & people at home, tend to serve it with baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad & bbq sauces.... all items that tend to be sweet. On top of that... in the South they also serve very sweet ice tea.

Am I the only one that finds this combination of food odd? Does anybody else think that the sweet just keeps on building with no contrasts, no complimentary flavors... and an overall disharmonious crime against the sublime barbecued meat?

To be fair, I have encountered eateries that serve black eyed peas, collard greens, grilled vegetables & fresh watermelon. These I vastly prefer over the more commonly found sides.

My question is... does anybody else object to the more common pairings? Are there other side dishes that better compliment the various barbecues that I don't know about?

How about high end barbecue? Anybody know of nice restaurants that serve it... and what are their pairings?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. high end barbeque is only found in somebody's backyard and haricots verts are not to be served unless they've been cooked in bacon grease for an hour. my personal beverage of preference is chateau coors; appelation golden, co.

    1. I don't like most of the sides you mentioned. With the bbq we eat, we have a homemade bbq sauce which is not sweet, just warm and spicy. During the summer we often have grilled corn as a side. When we have beans, they're not sweet either, usually they're spicy with cumin, onions and chiles.

      In winter (we bbq all year round thanks to an electric smoker) we'll have roasted potatoes or polenta. Or roast vegetables. Or stir-fried greens.

      I don't know what restaurants serve with bbq, the only places I've been to around Boston have pretty bad bbq so we make our own.

      2 Replies
      1. re: cheryl_h

        It would be great if you could post your BBQ sauce on the home cooking board. I, for one, would love to have a good recipe for a non-sweet BBQ sauce.

        1. re: niki rothman

          Sure, I'll have to get it out but I'll post it on HC board.

      2. what about mac and cheese and mashed potatoes?

        1. you forgot the white bread :-)

          I don't think of potato salad as sweet, unless it is made with Miracle Whip. Not all cole slaw is sweet either. There are BBQ sauces to meet various tastes. For example, the coastal Carolina sauce is quite vingary. Plus there are different notions of how sauce is to be served with the meat. Some think the meat should stand on its own, even without sauce.

          Isn't high-end bbq something of an oximoron? Not that highend restaurants can't attempt to cash in on it's popularity.


          10 Replies
          1. re: paulj

            How is high end bbq an oximoron? If people pay big bucks for a Filet Mignon... which is an absolute waste of a good chef's talent... why couldn't BBQ be elevated, since its preparation is light years more sophisticated than any dumb steak?

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              I agree that good BBQ requires considerable skill, but its ingredients are decidedly 'low-end' - the least expensive, tough cuts (as opposed to the chops 'high' on the hog). The debate may have less to do with 'what is bbq', and with 'what is high end'. Is high end defined more by skill of the cook, or the cost of the ingredients. Can bbq be served as the 4th course of a 7 course meal on fancy china, or must it be served on butcher paper while seated at picnic table in a converted gas station?

              What is the right wine to serve with bbq?

              More relevant to the original question, are there 'high end' side dishes that would complement the meat.


              1. re: paulj

                The relative cost of various cuts of meat is entirely subjective. Up until some Frenchman created the Filet Mignon relatively recent... there was absolutely no demand for it. I like the Filet... its a nice cut of meat & I enjoy it... but it is way overrated & overpriced.

                I know you can come back with a supply & demand argument.... there is just not as many Filets you can cut out from a cow... as chuck steaks for example. But the oxtail is an equally rare meat & absolutely delectable for those in the know.

                The relative prices between a Filet & a an Oxtail are a complete reflection of the society's values & not any absolute grounded in some ultimate truth. As an example, the Oxtail... which in Mexico is a prized cut for high end Barbacoa & Mixiotes sells for about the same price as a Corazon de Filete aka Filet Mignon.

                In terms of what wine to pair with BBQ... I think Texas style pairs nicely with a Cabernet... Central Mexican Barbacoa pairs excellent with Rioja's & other fruity Reds. I bet Cochinita Pibil & Carolina style BBQ would pair very well with a robust, slightly sweet white like a Riesling.

                I know, I know... next someone is going to tell me that Rieslings & Riojas are not high end wines... blah, blah, blah. Again, just because some crazy English person 500 years ago decided that Bordeux are the most upscale wine (basically because that is what was readily available in England due to geopolitical relationships) doesn't mean that a Cabernet Sauvigon is automatically the most worthwhile wine.

                Contemporary Enologists have built an entire value code based on the assumption that the Cabernet has the most meritious qualities... but it is grounded on pure subjective, human values & has nothing to do with absolute reality.

                And the thing about subjective human values is that they can be challenged & changed... it happens everyday.

                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                  Since you mention Barbacoa, I think many Mexican or Tex-Mex side dishes would go well with Southern BBQ. I'd rather have a stack of good flour tortillas with my meat than slices of Wonderbread. I also prefer 'brothy beans' over baked ones.


                  1. re: paulj

                    OK, but American & Mexican barbecues are quite distinct & the American version deserves some good pairings. They don't have to be particularly high end... I love Central Mexican Barbacoa with a side of Nopales salad... the flavors just have to be carefully paired... and that doesn't require expensive ingredients.

              2. re: Eat_Nopal

                Real, good, pulled pork bbq is too time consuming for most restaraunts to add to the menu. Plus there is that redneck thing. (not saying it is a bad thing)

                1. re: atomicdogs

                  There are many things served at restaurants that are very time consuming... Tenderloin in Filo dough & Chile Rellenos come to mind... if we pay good $$$$ at a nice restaurant shouldn't we expect the highly skilled staff to pull off things with great effort & not just mickey mouse dishes like Filet Mignon with Mashed Potatoes that a caveman could pull off? (No offense meant to cavemen).

                2. re: Eat_Nopal

                  Having worked in restaurants, I think it's an issue of economics. What are you going to do with a mess of left over BBQ? It's not going to taste anywhere near as good the next day, so if you try to sell it as "fresh", people will think it's crap and your reputation will suffer. Sure, you can mix some in with baked beans, but how many people order baked beans in a high end restaurant?

                  One place I worked served very good prime rib, which you could order on or off the bone. Most people chose the smaller, off the bone cuts, which meant at the end of the day, we had 50 or 60 meaty beef ribs, perfectly cooked, left over. The solution was to take these, marinate them in a tomato-ey BBQ sauce overnight, and grill them for a few minutes the next night. You could get five of these "Keg Bones", plus a salad bar and a baked potato for $5.95 Canadian back in 1979! They weren't true BBQ by any definition but man, were they good!

                  1. re: KevinB

                    What to do with the leftover BBQ mess? How about better planning? Restaurante Arroyo in Mexico City seats over 2,200 concurrent & barbecues 100s of whole lambs each weekend, not including the specialty cuts like lamb shanks & oxtails... and they don't seem to have issues with leftovers.

                    1. re: KevinB

                      Restaurants price according to food cost, perceived ambiance offered and, ultimately, what the market will bear. Period.

                      As far as waste in BBQ, you could not be more wrong. BBQ can be reused even if sauced, it keeps well since it is usually smoked and the sides can be made ahead and served through a few days without risk of reduced flavor or it going bad.

                3. Cornbread or a nice buttery roll to sop up everything left on my plate.

                  1. Kimchi. Thick slabs of beefsteak tomatoes. Old skool relish tray (celery sticks, radishes, tart pickles).

                    1. In eastern North Caorlina, they tend to serve 'cue with Brunswick stew, slaw (either white, mustard, or simply vinegar-based), BBQ potatoes (boiled potatoes seasoned with ketchup and spices), and hushpuppies (or very occasionally corn sticks). In western NC, you mostly just get red slaw and hushpuppies. In South Carolina, they tend to serve 'cue with slaw, hushpuppies, and hash over rice, which can vary greatly but traditionally consisted of the leftover parts of the pig (mostly organ meat) chopped or ground and cooked with various spices and other things. It's ususally piquant, a little spicy, sometimes a little sweet. All good stuff.

                      1. If you've never been to a Churrascaria and there is one near you, go an try it..every kind of meat you can imagine barbequed to perfection, with a full salad bar. Sides include traditional brazilian black beans, rice, and farofa (fried cassava flour, with egg yolks, I think).

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: kiwichef

                          That is not Barbecue that is grilling. And yes I do like Churrascarias.

                        2. I am a northerner (NJ/CT) but love heading south for Que. Although I do tend to use my Weber to grill ribs (let's not get into an argument over grilling versus BBQ) but my favorite sides are mac salad & potato salad(miracle whip? blah, give me good old fashioned Hellman's please) or possibly an ear of corn. Love some sweet iced tea.

                          1. To me, having lived for a while on Everett and Jones barbecue in Berkeley, there's only one side and one way to "plate" it:
                            Throw chicken or links on paper plate, throw two slices of Wonder bread next to it, adorn with small paper cup of undistinguished potato salad. If you look white enough, they may give you "wheat" Wonder bread instead of white.
                            It doesn't need anything else because the meat and the sauce are the point of the meal.

                            1. Fried okra, corn bread, collards, corn on cob, fried, hush puppies, freshly churned ice cream, fall fruit crisp, baked apples. I like scalloped or au gratin potatoes and quartered artichoke hearts covered with bearnaise then jack cheese broiled over the top served with smoked chicken. You could make some wheatberry salad, fruit salad, tex-mex salad with blackbeans, cilantro and roasted corn, spinach salad (if you can find the spinach)... really any salad.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Wanda Fuca

                                Some of these sound intriguing... what is wheatberry salad? Which go the best... compliment the Barbacue... synergize etc.,?

                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                  Wheatberry salad can be a lot of things. BUT the common denominator is that whole wheatberries are cooked and then sauced, seasoned and vegged. It is usually served cold (if a salad). I usually toss in whatever raw veggies I have like carrots, tomato, peppers, celery.... and sometimes add nuts or fruit like a crisp apple. I like cilantro and hot peppers diced in and I usually mix up a vinegarette and let it sit overnight. For BBQ and say of the tex/mex variety, I would definitely go with cilantro and the peppers, red pepper, onion... that sort of thing. I would stick to the vinegar based dressing. When you cream it up you lose the wheatberry taste. Oh yeah, I might make the vinegarette a little on the sweet side than if you were dressing a lettuce based salad. It seems to work better with the wheat.

                              2. BBQ, German potato salad with vinegar, cornbread or sourdough and served on butcher paper. Iced tea or beer to drink, and maybe a fruit crisp as a desert.

                                BBQ sauce is alway served on the side.

                                1. I cooked a brisket for dinner last night (started the night before in a Cookshack Smokette electric smoker - 16 1/2 hours total cooking time!) and served it with a simple tossed green salad (rice vinegar vinaigrette) and wedges of pepper squash that I'd roasted in the oven. Simple and delicious!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: FlavoursGal

                                    How did the flavors mesh? Was that a harmonious combination?

                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                      The flavours were great together. The brisket was cooked in a slightly spicy dry rub, but it was the flavours of the meat that shone through when cooked. I served a not-too-sweet bottled barbecue sauce on the side, for my guests to use if desired.

                                      The salad was simply romaine lettuce, red pepper chunks, tomato, onion, and topped with goat cheese. The vinaigrette was made with rice vinegar, Dijon, minced garlic and a splash of orange juice, s & p.

                                      I think it was a very harmonious combination - flavour-wise, texture-wise, and colour-wise.

                                  2. The true beauty of BBQ is that is truly AMERICAN and as diverse as our great country. It is a social food which takes hours to prepare which allows for conversation over a few libations and contemplation as the air fills with the unique and wonderful smoke filled aroma. The dinner should always be communal: platters vs. plates, at courses at once, no rules about what to drink, and few if any dushes to wash when it is done.

                                    Yes, we can thank the rest of the globe for the contributions to our various cuisine, but is there anything more rewarding than BBQ (not burgers and dogs mind you) shared with family and friends (especially during January in Vermont !!). God gave us fire for a reason !

                                    1. A classic BBQ joint I know just serves two slices of Wonder Bread and beer is served in quart jars. Works for me.

                                      1. cornbread (& cornpone), angel biscuits, glazed sweet potatoes, chess pie, garlic sauteed greens, pork sauteed greens, baked onions, beer, baked potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, 3 bean salad, corn salad, corn souflee, honey pecans, cheddar grits, green salads, supermarket white bread, texas toast, red beans & rice, black eyed peas, jo-jos, potato salad (not sweet, blech), red slaw, carolina slaw, creamy coleslaw, sweet n sour coleslaw (try fruit juices & vinegar), coconut cake, yeller cake, angel food cake, chitlins, bayou rice, dirty rice, mac & cheese, onion rings, beer, hushpuppies, corn on the cob (sometimes with butter & limes & hot sauce), broiled tomatoes with salt & pepper, beer, grilled oysters, fried tomatoes, stuffed peppers, sweet onion caviar, melons, berries & cream, strawberry shortcake, turnip mash with butter, skillet fry, baked beans, cowboy beans, deviled eggs, egg salad, savory pudding, fried apples, spoon bread, creamed vegetables in season, pickles & relish, pickled beets, pickled eggs, ice tea with bourbon & mint, juleps, green beans with almonds & mustard, crisps, betties, watermelon ice, ice cream, apple pie, sweet potato pie, fried pie, toothpicks & beer. oh, and don't ever serve a cheese plate at a BBQ.

                                        9 Replies
                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                          What a list! What would you suggest as an ideal tasting menu?

                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                            it totally depends on what you're making as your main, centerpiece BBQd meat: what your regional influence is-- i am assuming you picked one of the "big 4": carolina, memphis, kansas city, & texas styles of american BBQ are all different & break down into further regional styles. like Gashrink says in the post below, some styles have side partnerings that are rigorously enforced by their devoted chowish Qmongers! LOL-- some of the tried & true sides are awesome & all, and traditional for good reason, but it is fun to serve regional sides with regional Q as well, and country cooking doesn't need to be lowbrow by any means: so back atcha Eat Nopal:
                                            are you making a texan brisket, smoky memphis ribs, carolina hot-sour pulled pork shoulder, or KC sweet/sour? :)

                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                              How about a multi course progression featuring all four? How would you plate?

                                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                YIKES-- it takes years to master one type of Q, i have never seen anyone try to do all 4 big styles simultaneously! you'll be making sauces & rubs for a week, let alone the rest of the food, plus everyone's appetite will have to be huge-- this is very ambitious, but i can see you are determined: try hushpuppies/ carolina bbq potatoes, corn, & coleslaw with carolina style; beans & egg salad/deviled eggs or a creamy coleslaw with your texas brisket; sweet potatoes, cooked greens, honey pecans, & spoonbread with KC beef or ribs, & grilled oysters, green beans, mac & chz & pickles with memphis style ribs-- bbq is traditionally served family (platter) style, or you could plate everything, & if you do a progression you should have a melon ice, green salad, or tiny slice of sweet potato, chess or vinegar pie between courses. the meal will take a long time! if you wanted to concentrate on just one style you could pick more sides, but you'll want to have at least one or two traditional ones, i think. remember that bbq is an american art like jazz & has wonderful traditions, but also is constantly evolving-- i like to serve a side with BBQ that is maybe a bit unexpected, like Wanda's suggestions. when you eat BBQ in a restaraunt the sides are typically "kept" big batch sides, when you eat Q at someone's home there tend to be more fresh veggies and salads & desserts brought by other guests. have fun

                                                1. re: soupkitten

                                                  Thanks... cooking Mexican is my specialty, I am used to makin 5 or so sauces per meal.

                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                    Alright, I am getting inspired here. I am thinking of doing a compare & contrast of American & Mexican barbecue dishes.

                                                    For example, the Yucatan & Carolinas have several things in common:

                                                    > Both feature Pigs as the top BBQ ingredient
                                                    > Both cuisines have a bit of a Dutch influence

                                                    So I am thinking:

                                                    > Carolina Pulled Pork served over Wonder Bread points... on the left.
                                                    > Cochinita Pibil served over a Panucho on the right
                                                    > In the center, a tower of Dutch Coleslaw, Red Onions pickled in Sour Orange Juice & paper thin slices of Habanero peppers.

                                                    Mango-Pineapple Reduction drizzled around the plate + 2 paint strokes (Western carolina Q sauce & Eastern Carolina Q sauce)

                                                    Anybody think this sounds good?


                                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                      well i think it's a cool idea, wouldn't have thought of the Dutch connection, so i'd say break some new ground and go for it-- let us know how everthing goes!

                                            2. re: soupkitten

                                              What a perfect post. I think with exception of no Texas caviar or Shoofly Pie you covered every delectable, traditional side dish for BBQ. I have not had a chess pie since I was a child and the pies were stored in the safe at grannie's.

                                            3. stew(or hash), coleslaw, corn on the cob, beans, white bread or hamberger buns, ice tea or beer. possibly hushpuppies.
                                              Nothing else!!!
                                              (I'm talking about pulled or chopped bork barbeque as served in the south east [the SEC or ACC states])

                                              1. Why aren't barbecue sides all finger foods? I hate switching from messy dripping hands to fork to eat the sides and going back. Or do you eat all the barbecue (I'm thinking ribs and chicken), clean your hands and then eat the sides? Logistical issues. Corn on the cob, biscuits, cornbread, baked mac and cheese in muffin tins, deviled eggs,...

                                                1. Home made french fries, well done, well seasoned and crispy is a great accompaniment to BBQ ribs.
                                                  I also like slaw, not too sweet.
                                                  Beans, made with meat.