Maybe you’ve always wanted to recreate the regional style of your favorite barbecue joint. Maybe you just want to offer something more interesting than hot dogs and potato chips at your next cookout. In any case, these perennial BBQ favorites can all be made at home, and they can all take your next picnic to the next level.
You know it as well as we do; magic happens when meat meets heat. Whether you’re slow cooking a whole hog Carolina-style or serving up some savory Texas barbecued brisket, it’s all about the meat.
Pork ribs are a staple of barbecues all over the country, although they may be prepared and served differently depending on the region. For many, the big question is, ‘dry’ ribs or ‘wet’ ribs? In Memphis, ribs are usually coated in a dry rub of salt, pepper, paprika, garlic and other spices before being slowly smoked. In many other parts of the country, ribs are more often slathered in sauce before barbecuing to help keep them moist, and then again right before serving.
Pulled pork is about as barbecue as it gets. You could take a cue from the folks in Eastern North Carolina and smoke a whole hog for about half a day before chopping the whole thing up. Or you could be a bit more selective and make pulled pork from just the pork shoulder (i.e. the dark meat) and then slather it in rich, tomato-y barbecue sauce. Add a bun to make it a pulled pork sandwich, or include it as one element of your BBQ platter. There are no wrong answers when it comes to pulled pork.
While Southern barbecue is focused on pork, Texas barbecue is all about the beef. In particular, beef brisket has become an iconic staple of Austin and Central Texas barbecue. It’s typically smoked ever-so-slowly, sometimes for 12 hours or more, and with minimal seasoning other than salt and black pepper, or perhaps a light “mop sauce” that’s slathered on while the brisket is smoked.
Certain barbecue purists might turn up their noses at barbecued chicken. Whether or not it’s “authentic,” is hard to say, but it’s certainly tasty. Just remember that true barbecued chicken is slowly smoked over indirect heat; grilled chicken is grilled directly over the flames.
North meets South! Chicken wings are a delicacy that originated up in Buffalo, New York, but they lend themselves incredibly well to Southern barbecue styles. Instead of deep-frying them and dunking them in Buffalo wing sauce, try coating them in a Memphis dry rub and then letting them sit in a smoker for a while. Ditch the bleu cheese dressing in favor of a sweet, sticky barbecue sauce, and you’re all set!
Smoking a whole turkey over indirect heat has become a popular Thanksgiving alternative in recent years, and it can be a fun twist on summer barbecue as well. Some Texas barbecue restaurants have also taken to smoking deli-style turkey breast whole, and then slicing it up for sandwiches.
Smoked sausage is common in the anything-goes meat free-for-all that is Kansas City barbecue (KC was once a meat packing capital, hence their eclectic barbecue style). Texas barbecue often includes sausage as well, particularly a smoked sausage made of spicy beef and pork, sometimes called hot links.
Movie stars are only as good as their supporting actors, and barbecue is only as good as the sides you serve with it. These classic BBQ side dishes accentuate the flavors of the meat, and add an element of authenticity to your whole spread.
Macaroni & Cheese
Let’s get a couple of things straight: mac and cheese is a side dish, not a whole meal. And it doesn’t come from a blue box. It’s a magical, gooey, cheesy creation that’s made from scratch (not as hard as it sounds) and baked to perfection until it’s golden on top, and then served alongside your favorite barbecue meat.
A staple side dish all across the Southern part of the Barbecue Belt, collard greens are salty, savory, and delicious. They add authenticity to any barbecue spread, plus you get the satisfaction of eating at least one green vegetable with your meal!
Of course, French fries go with just about anything. But they’ve become the traditional barbecue side dish in Kansas City. Most of the top Kansas City BBQ joints serve up zesty, spicy barbecue, with a side of fries in a little paper pouch. Add a few pickles, and you’ve got yourself a meal.
A southern staple, cornbread is the perfect side dish for mopping up that extra barbecue sauce. Bake it in a cast iron pan to get the signature golden, crispy bottom crust, and don’t forget to serve it with lots of butter and a bit of honey.
Cole slaw goes with just about any barbecue meat you can imagine. A lot of Memphis barbecue joints use it as a topping on their pulled pork sandwiches. And if you’re in North Carolina and order a traditional barbecue tray, chances are one of your sides will be a heaping scoop of either ‘red slaw’ or ‘white slaw.’
Corn on the Cob
If there’s anything more American than barbecue, it has to be corn on the cob. It’s the perfect accompaniment to your slow-cooked ribs or BBQ chicken. The best way to cook it, hands down, is on the grill, preferably with the husk still on.
Beans are, without a doubt, one of the true classics when it comes to barbecue side dishes. That being said, there are a few ways to prepare them (and dumping them out of a can is not one of them). You might see “BBQ beans” slathered in sweet, sticky barbecue sauce in many parts of the country, but a lot of Southwestern barbecue comes with spicy, cowboy-style pintos.
Folks in Texas don’t add a lot of fancy sides to their barbecue. Chances are, you’ll get your brisket wrapped in paper with a couple thick slices of Texas toast and a handful of pickle chips and sliced white onions. It’s simplicity at its finest.
With origins that trace back to the Civil War, hush puppies are deep-fried balls of spicy cornbread that are a staple of Southern Soul Food, commonly served alongside fried chicken and catfish. But they’ve made their way into many barbecue restaurants as well, and make a perfect side for barbecued chicken or ribs.
Hope you saved room for dessert! If not, you might just want to give yourself a little time to digest, and then dive into one of these classic barbecue desserts.
Red Velvet Cake
The origins of red velvet cake are hazy, but it’s often considered to be a Southern recipe, and it has certainly caught on at Soul Food restaurants and BBQ joints throughout the Deep South. It’s a sweet, decedent end to any barbecue.
Nothing says “summer” quite like the taste of peaches, and peach cobbler is probably the quintessential Southern summer dessert. The sweet, fruity treat became popular in Georgia in the 1950s, and pairs well with smoky barbecue.
It’s one of America’s best kept secrets that some of the best pies around are served by Southern BBQ joints. The best pies to end your summer barbecue are light, sweet, fruity and served cold, like lemon meringue, key lime, coconut cream and banana cream pies.
Variations on bread pudding hail from places as diverse as Mexico, England and the Philippines. It’s become a popular desert in parts of the American South, where it caught on initially as a way to use up stale bread. Modern recipes are especially popular in Kentucky and Tennessee, where a sweet sauce spiked with bourbon is a key element.