Barbecue is only at its very best when the smoky meat sidles up to a few perfectly made side dishes.
Hide-bound tradition has it that barbecue goes hand in glove with cole slaw, baked beans and potato salad. “They’re the holy trinity of side dishes,” says Caleb Fischer, executive chef of Bow & Arrow in Auburn. Ala. And while for many, not menuing the stalwart stars would be unimaginable, Fischer looks to sidestep some of the old ways.
“Dave (Bancroft, Bow & Arrow partner) and I agreed to stay away from baked beans,” he says. “We wanted a more savory approach to sides, things that simmer a long time to develop flavor.”
Camp beans, potlikker greens and butterbeans illustrate the approach, while such add-ons as house-pickled vegetables and marinated onions bring welcome astringency to counter barbecue’s meaty richness.
Joe Pruner, executive chef of Woodlake Tavern in Sacramento, Calif., gives due props to standard sides from the “barbecue belt,” but feels stronger affinity with California’s bounty.
“We’re lucky to be in an area flush with small produce farms. We rotate sides off the menu pretty quickly so they show seasonality,” he says. Modernized mac and cheese, smoked onion rings and beef-tallow fries are permanent, joined by simple, veg-forward dishes such as asparagus and Brussels sprouts. “We have leeway to offer sides that are comfortable and familiar, but that are made with the same care as you would bring to fine dining. Our guests appreciate that.”
Ted Terio, sales consultant for Reinhart Foodservice, firmly believes that barbecue sides are just as important as mains. “I understand both ends of the spectrum. Some people still love the classic sides, but there is a whole group that’s interested in newer items with stronger flavor profiling,” says Terio.
His advice? “When you think through the sides, make sure they complement the meat, have savory notes and some acidity to break down the fattiness of the meat.
“Contrasting textures is important, too, a little crunch. And mostly, you want to put lot of love into the sides,” he adds.