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18 Best BBQ Sides in 9 Categories

Nothing says classic American summer like a BBQ. The smell of the grill, the juicy, flavorful meat, the gathering of friends and family – it’s got it all. But how can you choose the best barbecue sides to suit every occasion. Find it out in this article.

Sides are just as important as the main dish when it comes to a barbecue. Whether you’re serving ribs or chicken, or your guests are vegetarian or keto, well-chosen sides are essential.

We break down the best barbecue sides for a range of categories, from classic rib sides to sides for Korean BBQ dishes. We have something to suit every taste and occasion – read on to find our top picks.

Ribs Sides for BBQ

Ribs Sides for BBQ

Ribs are a barbecue staple for a reason. They’re flavorful, rich, and smoky, and when done right, the meat falls right off the bone. With such a show-stopping main, you want a side dish that adds contrast, something that creates a counterpoint to the fatty, delicious meat.

Coleslaw

Coleslaw

When ribs are the star of the show, you need sides that provide a contrast to the smoky, savory, and sticky meat. A refreshing, crunchy coleslaw is the ideal side dish; the crunchy vegetables, the tangy dressing, and the cool creaminess – perfection.

A classic coleslaw has a base of shredded cabbage and carrots with a creamy dressing, but you can make your own additions and customize the coleslaw however you prefer to make it suit your preferences.

Here are some of our favorite coleslaw variations:

  • Keep it light: Add a vinaigrette dressing instead of a creamy dressing to create a light contrast to the meat
  • Try different vegetables: While cabbage and carrots are the classic ingredients, there’s no reason why you can’t be creative. Try adding finely sliced kale or bell pepper, or thinly sliced apple for a pop of sweetness
  • Add toppings: For an interesting texture try adding some toppings to your coleslaw. Toasted nuts and seeds, crumbled blue cheese or feta, and small pieces of crispy bacon are all great options.

Baked Beans

Baked Beans

When you’re cooking a classic BBQ dish like ribs, you need classic side dishes. Enter baked beans – a comforting, highly savory dish that perfectly pairs with the smoky ribs.

The soft, almost creamy texture of the well-cooked beans makes the ideal contrast to the tender meat. They’re also a real crowd-pleaser – your guests will absolutely love them.

This dish is typically made with navy beans and a rich, tomato-based sauce sweetened with molasses, but there are many ways to customize the dish:

  • Change the beans: Try using black beans instead of navy beans for a richer, more savory flavor
  • Add bacon: Amp up the umami flavors by including bacon in your baked beans
  • Add a kick: For spice lovers, try including chili peppers of your choice for some heat.

Simple and Quick BBQ Sides

Simple and Quick BBQ Sides

When you’re hosting a BBQ, especially if it’s a large event, preparing all the meat and side dishes can start to feel overwhelming.

That’s why we love having the option of making easy, simple, and quick side dishes. They’re easy to prepare without compromising on flavor, making them ideal for a busy host.

Potato Salad

Potato Salad

Potato salad is an instant crowd-pleaser at any event. The soft potatoes, the creamy dressing, the crunch of celery, and the tang of mustard and spices make this dish a true flavor sensation.

Best of all, potato salad can easily be made in advance, leaving you free for grilling and socializing. There are almost infinite ways of customizing a potato salad to your taste, but here are some of our favorite variations:

  • Make it light: Use a Greek yogurt-based dressing to cut some calories and create a lighter dish
  • Add toppings: Crispy bacon and finely sliced green onions are our favorite toppings, but don’t be afraid to get creative
  • Make it cheesy: Instead of a standard creamy dressing, try a blue cheese dressing for added depth of flavor.

Corn on the Cob

Corn on the Cob

This might just be the easiest BBQ side of all, and it’s a real crowd favorite. Corn on the cob is a quintessential BBQ side dish that captures the taste of summer in every bite.

The juicy kernels explode in your mouth at every bite, and the sweet flavor combined with butter and salt is delicious. Best of all, it cooks incredibly quickly, making it perfect for when you’re feeling under pressure.

Either quickly boil it on the stove until tender, or toss the cobs on the grill and cook until lightly caramelized. For a classic dish, it’s best served with just butter and salt. However, if you want to make an elevated side, try one of these variations:

  • Chilli and lime: Squeeze lime juice and sprinkle chili powder over the freshly cooked cobs for a zesty treat
  • Add cheese: After spreading the cobs with butter, sprinkle finely grated parmesan cheese over them to make them truly indulgent
  • Herbs and spices: Try making a compound butter with added herbs and spices, then spread that on the cobs instead of regular butter. Finely chopped herbs, minced garlic, or any spice of your choice are great options.

Healthy Sides for BBQ

Healthy Sides for BBQ

While we love BBQs, it’s a fact that sometimes the dishes may not be the healthiest. Providing healthy sides for your BBQ is a great way to please your health-conscious guests, and these dishes are not just healthy – they’re delicious.

Healthy sides are the perfect way to balance the indulgence of traditional BBQ dishes with nutrient-dense, wholesome options.

Grilled Vegetable Medley

Grilled Vegetable Medley

Cooking on the grill imparts a delicious, caramelized flavor to any food, and vegetables are no exception. For a healthy option, choose a variety of fresh vegetables, such as zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms, and red onions, then grill until tender.

Cooking on the grill provides a delicious char and imparts a smoky flavor, and you can also amp up the taste by using your preferred spice rub or marinade. Some of our favorites include:

  • Lemon and olive oil: Drizzle the vegetables with extra virgin olive oil, add a squeeze of lemon and some flaky sea salt and cracked pepper
  • Make it spicy: add a spice rub that includes chili flakes or cayenne pepper to your vegetables before tossing them on the grill
  • Add cheese: After grilling, sprinkle the vegetable medley with finely grated parmesan for a deliciously indulgent twist.

Quinoa Salad

Quinoa Salad

For a filling, nutritious, and delicious side dish, try adding a quinoa salad to your BBQ table. It’s a great option for making ahead, as this allows the flavors to deepen and mingle – making it even more delicious.

Quinoa is known for being the superfood of the grain world; it’s high in fiber and protein and contains all necessary amino acids.

The great part about a quinoa salad is you can add whatever you like; just think about your preferred textures and flavors and get creative. For a dressing, our favorite choice is a simple lemony vinaigrette with good-quality olive oil. However, any dressing of your choice will work here.

Sides for BBQ Chicken

Sides for BBQ Chicken

Chicken might just be our favorite BBQ dish. It’s so versatile, and everyone loves it. Whether you’re doing barbecued drumsticks, thighs, or breasts, it’s essential to make sure you choose sides that complement the meat.

Our favorite chicken sides are savory and delicious, but not overpowering – ideal for having with any barbecued chicken dish.

Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese

This timeless classic is the perfect side dish for chicken and is equally popular with children and adults. In fact, you might find this side dish to be even more popular than the main event.

The creamy, cheesy sauce, the tender macaroni, and the golden crust make this dish a firm favorite at any BBQ, and the best part is there’s a huge number of ways you can get creative and make this dish your own:

  • Make it spicy: For macaroni with a kick, add jalapenos to your cheese sauce
  • Extra crunchy: Sprinkling breadcrumbs over the top along with the cheese is a great way to make the top extra crunchy, golden, and delicious
  • Try different cheeses: Don’t be afraid to try something different with the cheeses. Some blue cheese, goat’s cheese, or brie are all delicious and intriguing additions to this classic dish.

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food, but when you add garlic? Truly an elevated side dish. The creamy, soft potatoes combined with buttery, savory garlic is truly the perfect complement to grilled chicken.

To get the best possible garlic flavor without a hint of bitterness, slow roast the garlic in the oven until soft, caramelized, and delicious, then mash it along with the potatoes until the entire mixture is smooth and creamy.

If you like, you can add herbs of your choice, or even top the entire dish with a sprinkling of crispy bacon; the choice is yours.

Keto BBQ Sides

Keto BBQ Sides

If you or your guests are trying to stick to a keto diet, a BBQ is the perfect event. The main course is usually meat-based, and there are tons of low-carb side options that will appeal to both keto and non-keto guests alike. With these dishes, no one has to feel like they’re missing out; they’re just as delicious as any higher-carb side dishes.

Grilled Asparagus

Grilled Asparagus

Asparagus is the quintessential spring and early summer vegetable, and it’s also the perfect keto side dish. Naturally low in carbohydrates and high in fiber, this dish is also incredibly quick and easy to prepare and requires just a few simple ingredients.

Our favorite method is to simply toss the asparagus in olive oil and grill until tender, then sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. If you prefer, you can cook them in butter instead of olive oil or add a sprinkling of parmesan cheese to the cooked spears.

Cauliflower "Potato" Salad

Cauliflower "Potato" Salad

Just because you’re on the keto diet, doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the deliciousness of potato salad. Cauliflower is an incredibly popular vegetable among those on the ketogenic diet as it is perfect for mimicking higher-carb foods like potatoes and rice.

In the case of this salad, simply steam or boil cauliflower florets until they’re tender yet still firm, then use them in place of potato in your salad.

A creamy dressing and the addition of low-carb vegetables like celery and spring onions are typical, but you can also add hard-boiled eggs, herbs and spices, and crispy bacon.

Vegetable Sides for BBQ

Vegetable Sides for BBQ

Sometimes you just want simplicity in your BBQ sides. With vegetable side dishes, you can let the meat be the star of the show, and use these nutritious and delicious vegetable dishes to complement the main course.

With a range of flavors and textures, vegetables are a great way to round out your BBQ meal, and these options are packed with flavor as well as nutrients.

Grilled Zucchini and Squash

Grilled Zucchini and Squash

Zucchini and squash are some of our favorite summer vegetables, and both of them are great when grilled. They’re low-calorie, nutrient-dense, and flavorful, and are also perfect for marinating; they are well known for their ability to absorb flavors.

For a simple side, just slice the zucchini and squash into strips and grill until slightly charred but still firm. To add flavor, you can either marinate them before grilling them in the marinade of your choice or drizzle them with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper after they’re cooked.

Steamed Broccoli

Steamed Broccoli

When your main dish is rich and highly flavorful, such as BBQ ribs or brisket, a simple, light side dish is all you need. Steamed broccoli doesn’t have to be boring; when well cooked and seasoned, it’s the perfect accompaniment to any main dish.

Steaming is the perfect way to cook this vegetable as it helps it to keep its vibrant color and firm texture. Once cooked to perfection, you can add flavor by tossing the florets with butter or olive oil and then sprinkling them with sea salt, pepper, or your choice of herbs and spices.

For some extra indulgence, try sprinkling the finished dish with finely grated parmesan cheese to finish.

Korean BBQ Side Dishes

Korean BBQ Side Dishes

Korean BBQ is all about the interactive experience. The meat, such as beef, pork, or chicken, is grilled on a central grill and then served with a huge range of sides.

The sides are just as important as the meat when it comes to Korean BBQ, and many popular side dishes are highly spiced and flavorful to complement the various marinated and non-marinated meats.

The meat and sides can be enjoyed with rice, or wrapped in a lettuce leaf for a lighter option.

Kimchi

Kimchi

Kimchi is a spicy staple of Korean cuisine and is known for its strong flavors. Fermented from cabbage and radishes and highly seasoned with garlic, ginger, and other spices, it’s a mixture of tangy, spicy, and crunchy – the perfect side dish for barbecued meats.

Thanks to the fermentation process, it’s also great for your gut health and aids in the digestion of your meal. You can buy pre-made Kimchi from a well-stocked supermarket or your local Asian supermarket, or try making your own from scratch.

Pickled Radishes

Pickled Radishes

Pickled radishes provide a delicious, sweet, and tangy counterpoint to the richness of barbecued meat. Usually made with thinly sliced daikon radish, the brine is typically made of sugar and vinegar, resulting in a sour yet sweet side dish.

The daikon radish retains its crunch, providing a delicious added texture when eaten with grilled meat. It’s also an excellent palate cleanser between the different courses.

As with kimchi, premade pickled Korean radish is easily available for purchase, but making your own is pretty simple and easy – just combine sliced daikon with white vinegar, water sugar, and salt to taste, and store in the fridge for at least one day before eating.

Low Carb BBQ Sides

Low Carb BBQ Sides

Low-carb diets are increasingly popular, and they’re easy to accommodate in a BBQ setting. Grilled meat is naturally low-carb, and sides made with low-carb vegetables are popular and easy to make.

These sides are so delicious they’ll be devoured by everyone at the BBQ – not just those on a low-carb diet.

Cucumber Salad

Cucumber Salad

What could be more refreshing and delicious on a hot summer day than a crisp cucumber salad? Cucumber has a high water content and is naturally low in carbohydrates and high in fiber, making it ideal for those trying to cut carbs.

Combined with a few simple ingredients, you can make a delicious, tangy, and refreshing cucumber salad that works well as both a side and a palate cleanser between courses.

A classic cucumber salad includes vinegar, dill, olive oil, and red onion, but there are several ways to change things around and make the salad your own:

  • Make it spicy: Add chili flakes to the salad for a touch of heat
  • Low-carb sweetener: Try sprinkling a little stevia or monk fruit sweetener on the cucumber salad to add a little sweetness for balance
  • Make it cheesy: Feta cheese is the perfect partner to cucumber – try crumbling a sharp feta over the cucumber salad before serving.

Grilled Eggplant

Grilled Eggplant

Eggplant is a BBQ favorite for a reason. Its spongy, almost meaty texture is perfect for grilling, and it’s great at absorbing flavors and marinades. It’s also low in carbohydrates, making it perfect for those who are looking to eat a low-carb diet.

We like to keep it simple by brushing eggplant strips with extra virgin olive oil and seasoning with salt and pepper before grilling, but there are plenty of ways to add your own twist if you prefer:

  • Add parmesan: Once grilled, sprinkle the eggplant strips with extra olive oil and parmesan cheese
  • Make it tangy: Drizzle with balsamic vinegar or squeeze some lemon juice over the grilled eggplant
  • Add spice: Cayenne pepper, chili flakes or a cajun spice rub are all great options for adding flavor to your grilled eggplant.

Drinks That Match a BBQ

Drinks That Match a BBQ

When you combine salty grilled meats with a hot summer day, it’s safe to say your guests are going to get thirsty. The drinks you provide are just as important as the food; you need to ensure the flavors will complement the food as well as provide refreshment.

We like to serve these drinks in big, icy pitchers so that guests can serve themselves.

Iced Tea

Iced Tea

The perfect Southern summer drink, iced tea is easy to make and deliciously refreshing. The slightly bitter flavor makes it the perfect complement to strong, savory-tasting meats, and you can brew it as strong or light as you please.

Choose between honey or sugar as a sweetener, and consider adding some lemon for a citrusy tang. There are plenty of variations you can make as well – these are some of our top picks:

  1. Make it fruity: Add peach or raspberry to the pitcher to infuse your iced tea with fruity flavors
  2. Try some herbs: Mint is a classic addition to iced tea, but basil is also delicious – don’t be afraid to be creative
  3. Make an adult version: Try making a spiked version with some bourbon added – just ensure it’s clearly labeled.

Lemonade

Lemonade

The sweet, tangy flavor of lemonade makes it an ideal, refreshing palate cleanser. The lemony, sweet flavor is hard to beat on a hot summer day, particularly when it’s served ice cold. We love to customize our lemonade to make things interesting; why not try one of these variations?

  • Add berries: Fresh berries like blueberries or strawberries infuse a delicious flavor into the lemonade and also tint the drink a delightful pink color
  • Try some herbs: mint, thyme, and rosemary are all delicious additions to an icy lemonade pitcher
  • Add some fizz: Try making your lemonade with sparkling water instead of still water for a bubbly, refreshing twist
  • Make a grownup version: As long as you keep the alcoholic version clearly labeled, why not try adding some vodka for a delicious lemonade punch?
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