The bark on a slab of brisket, the sauce holding that pulled pork sandwich together, the tenderness of those ribs — much of the talk about barbecued food is obviously on the meat and rightly so. But the meat isn't the only component of a great barbecue meal. The sides are an essential part of barbecue, too, for a few reasons. Whether you're going for a fast pulled pork sandwich or a full multi-meat meal, make sure you choose a good variety of side dishes.
Palate Cleansing Between Bites
The sides provide a sort of palate-cleansing opportunity in between bites of the barbecued meat. If you eat nothing else but meat, the taste of the meat and tang of any sauces will wear away a bit; the taste won't be as vivid toward the end of the meal simply because your tastebuds will be used to it. If you have sides, however, the taste of the collard greens or mac and cheese can jolt your tastebuds out of their complacency. Not only do you have the fantastic taste of the side, but when you take the next bite of meat, that taste will seem more prominent.
A More Balanced Meal
When you get barbecued meat, you have the meat plus maybe sauce and bread. In some styles of barbecue, you'll automatically get a tiny side of something like onions and pickles. This is really a meat-heavy meal, and the other foods involved don't do much other than making what you're eating look a little more diverse. But when you get larger sides, like a cup of beans or greens, you start to make the meal more balanced in terms of nutrition. Those sides offer fiber, vitamins, and minerals that aren't in the meat. Overall, you have a nutritionally well-rounded meal that fits better into your overall daily diet. And you don't have to limit yourself to just beans and greens. Coleslaw is common in many styles of barbecue, and mac and cheese can provide some calcium.
Finally, when you choose sides, you're taking part in regional pride and tribute. Barbecue styles have associated sides, some of which are widespread, and some of which are really specific to an area. If you get Santa Maria-style food, you want a side of pinquito beans. If you get North Carolina–style food, you want that special vinegar-based coleslaw. South Carolina–style gets you hash and rice; in Kentucky, you can get eggs. Each region has its treasured sides, and when you eat those sides, you get the full experience of that school of barbecue.
Next time you're at a BBQ restaurant, like Grumpy's Bar B Que Roadhouse, see what sides they offer.