Meat may be the star attraction, but what barbecue is complete without complementary side dishes? They pair exceptionally well with grilled foods, and sometimes they can even steal the show. Sides are also practical because it's a way to be sure there's something for everyone on your picnic table.
All the recipes on this list serve up a new take on traditional barbecue fare. They appeal to adults and kids alike, keep well as leftovers and most can easily withstand being left out in the sun for a while -- but chances are they'll be gobbled up too quickly for that to be a problem.
Read the next page to learn about a side dish that's almost as hot as its namesake.
When you're outside enjoying a barbecue, you're probably holding your plate or balancing it in your lap. That's when finger foods come in handy. Deviled eggs are a favorite side dish because they're portable and easy to eat. They're also easy to make, and this Cajun variation on a classic recipe will have your friends and family gobbling them down by the dozen.
Keep in mind, however, that egg-based dishes can spoil, so they shouldn't sit out for very long, especially on hot summer days. When they are out, make sure you keep them on ice. The same goes for dishes containing mayonnaise, dairy or seafood.
As an alternative to french fries made with white potatoes, try making everyone's favorite potato dish with sweet potatoes instead. Sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index than white potatoes, and baking them doesn't increase the caloric density or calories per bite of the vegetable (the same can't be said of frying). This spicy apricot dipping sauce is a fun alternative to ketchup and is sure to be a hit at your next barbecue.
You can fire up the grill for more than just meat; it's a great way to cook vegetables, too. Impress your guests with these kabobs, which feature colorful veggies in the perfect portion sizes. This recipe calls for a chili rub that really brings out the flavors of bell peppers, red onions and corn.
When preparing the vegetables, cut them in even pieces, making sure they're thick enough to stay on the skewer. Use thin metal -- not wood -- skewers so they won't burn and tear the vegetables like larger metal skewers can. Be sure to turn them regularly to ensure that the veggies cook evenly.
Beans are a barbecue staple, perhaps because they go with so many types of grilled fixings. They're also packed with nutrients we all need for optimal health: fiber, protein, magnesium, thiamin and much more. This version of bean salad calls for barbecue sauce, which is a great way to pair your meat with your sides. You can also make a non-alcoholic version of this dish by substituting the beer it calls for with a non-alcoholic brew or even soda. Serve it with a slotted spoon to avoid having a pool of dressing on your plate.
Macaroni and cheese is one of the quintessential barbecue foods. A true Southern table wouldn't be without it, and it's another dish the entire family will flock to. Chiles and spices give this version a zesty kick that will pair nicely with the flavors in the meat you're grilling. As an added bonus, this recipe is easy to make -- just let your slow cooker do all the work!
This pasta and bean salad boasts a colorful miscellany of ingredients and tastes as appetizing as it looks. Mixed vegetables contrast with earthy black beans, green spinach and spicy cilantro. Jalapeño peppers and chili powder give it a spicy flair. This salad is also full of nutrients like iron and vitamin C, so it's good for you, too. Just be careful when working with jalapeños, as they can easily sting and irritate the skin. Wear rubber gloves while chopping them, and be sure to avoid touching your eyes and wash your hands thoroughly after cutting.
A barbecue can feel incomplete without coleslaw. While there are many regional varieties of this favorite side dish, most have two things in common: cabbage and vinegar. This recipe from BBQ Pitmaster Moe Cason is perfect for barbecue spreads served outdoors, as it doesn't have any mayonnaise or cream-based ingredients that go bad quickly. From steak to veggie burgers, it complements just about any grilled food.
When you're having a traditional barbecue, your table isn't complete without this unique Southern bread: hush puppies. These crispy battered cornmeal balls are desired by kids of all ages and are another easy-to-eat dish that's perfect for a large gathering. In fact, you may want to make a double batch because these puppies will be gone in no time. Although you can eat them as they are, try serving up an array of dipping sauces like spicy ketchup, honey mustard, remoulade or aioli to spice things up.
Get ready for garbanzo pasta salad. This side dish is a great alternative for those who are lactose intolerant and can't enjoy macaroni and cheese. Garbanzo beans have a high protein content and are packed with fiber. While you can cook up some dried garbanzo beans for this recipe, the canned version is quicker and simpler to use. Just make sure you rinse and drain them to get rid of excess sodium before adding them to your salad.
In some areas of the country, you can't have a barbecue if cornbread isn't on the menu. We're not joking -- it's such an integral part of the meal and experience that if you don't include it, many people will consider your barbecue a mere cookout. That's how passionate people can be about this dish. While standard cornbread is perfectly fine, this recipe uses maple syrup instead of sugar for a sweetener. Don't worry; no one's going to complain or attempt to downgrade your event. Instead, they'll ask for seconds.
Come with HowStuffWorks on a mouthwatering-journey through the history, politics and techniques of barbecue.
- Winter Grilling 101
- 5 Cuts of Meat that Taste Better Grilled
- Grilling History 101: Who Made it Famous and Why?
- How to Clean Your Grill
- How to Grill Food
- What's the difference between wet and dry barbecue?
- How does barbecue sauce differ from region to region?
- 10 Must-have Marinades, Brines and Barbecue Rubs
- Cooks Illustrated. "Great Grilled Vegetables." May & June 2001. (Dec. 18, 2011) http://www.cooksillustrated.com/images/document/howto/MJ01_ISGrillvegetables.pdf
- Country Living. "Cast Iron Skillet Cooking." (Dec. 18, 2011) http://www.countryliving.com/cooking/about-food/skillet-recipes-0310
- Covington, Linnea. "BBQ Style Smackdown: Which Region's 'Cue Is the Best?" Zagat. July 27, 2011. (Dec. 18, 2011) http://www.zagat.com/buzz/bbq-style-smackdown-which-regions-cue-is-the-best
- Epicurious.. "Hushpuppy; hush puppy." 2011 (Dec. 14, 2011)http://www.epicurious.com/tools/fooddictionary/entry/?id=3001
- Hernandez, Daniela. "Sweet potatoes vs. white potatoes: Are both bad for the waistline?" Los Angeles Times. July 1, 2011. (Dec. 14, 2011) http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jul/01/news/la-heb-sweet-potatoes-weight-gain-201100701
- Nims, Cynthia. "Melty mac and cheese grows up, goes gourmet." MSNBC. Oct. 24, 2006. (Dec. 18, 2011)http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/15292665/ns/today-entertainment/t/melty-mac-cheese-grows-goes-gourmet/#.Tu5ErJhhdD4
- Science Daily. "Pure Maple Syrup Contains Medicinally Beneficial Compounds, Pharmacy Researcher Finds." March 21, 2010. (Dec. 17, 2011)http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100321182924.htm
- Southern Living "Kabobs--No Meat Required." (Dec. 14, 2011) http://www.southernliving.com/food/holidays-occasions/grill-your-way-00400000005553/
- Southern Living. "Taste of the South: Hush Puppies." (Dec. 18, 2011)http://www.southernliving.com/food/kitchen-assistant/hush-puppies-recipe-00417000072449/
- World's Healthiest Foods. "Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)." (Dec. 18, 2011)http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?dbid=58&tname=foodspice