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15 Best Ribs Side Dishes in 7 Categories

Sticky, succulent ribs are a true crowd-pleasing dish. They’re great for sharing, they’re delicious – and best of all, they’re the perfect excuse for a huge range of delicious sides. But how do you choose the perfect side dish that complements the ribs and suits the occasion? Read on to find out.

Choosing the right side dishes for your ribs is an art; you need to consider the occasion, the guests, and the other food that will be available.

Whether you’re looking for fresh, healthy side dishes to complement the richness of the ribs, quick, easy side dishes for when you’re in a hurry, or classic BBQ favorites, we’ve got you covered. Read on to find the best rib side dishes for all occasions.

Ribs Sides for BBQ

Ribs Sides for BBQ

A classic summer BBQ demands classic side dishes. This isn’t the time to try something new and fancy; your guests will appreciate the simplicity of tried and true favorites.

BBQ ribs are truly the star of the show, with their smoky flavor and sticky, tender texture, so keeping the sides simple yet tasty is truly the way to go.


Coleslaw with a Creamy Dressing

Coleslaw is a classic side for ribs for a reason. The refreshing, crisp, and tangy flavors pair perfectly with the succulent meat.

The ingredients of coleslaw differ depending on the recipe – but in its most classic form, it consists of shredded cabbage and carrots, often with some onion added, tossed in a creamy or tangy dressing.

The freshness of the vegetables combined with the zing of vinegar in the dressing cuts through the hearty, fatty flavors of the ribs – creating the perfect flavor combo.

Coleslaw is also endlessly adaptable, so you can customize the dish to fit your preferences. It’s also important to consider the marinade you’ve used for your ribs.

If you’ve used a sticky, sweet glaze for your ribs, a tangy coleslaw with a vinaigrette-style dressing would be ideal. If you’ve cooked your ribs with a dry spice rub, a creamy, mild coleslaw could be a great way to balance the spice.

There are plenty of ways to customize a classic coleslaw and put your own twist on it; here are some of our favorite ideas:

  • Add sweetness: Shredded apple is a great way to add extra sweetness
  • Add crunch: Include chopped nuts such as walnuts or almonds for an interesting texture, or sprinkle fried crispy bacon over the top
  • Add spice: Add hot sauce, jalapenos, or cayenne pepper to elevate the heat
  • Add bite: Ribs are robust enough to hold their own with several strong flavors. Don’t be afraid to add things like blue cheese, feta, or pickles to your coleslaw.

Baked Beans

Baked Beans

Baked beans are the ideal accompaniment to ribs at a BBQ, as they can be cooked right alongside the ribs, developing a deep, savory, and smoky flavor.

This side dish is usually made from navy beans and includes a rich, sweet sauce, combined with spices and other ingredients like onions and garlic. The rich flavors and smoky taste profile perfectly harmonize with the luscious, tender ribs – they’re a match made in heaven.

Baked beans are also an ideal comfort food; the soft, creamy texture, developed over hours on the BBQ, provides the perfect contrast to the meaty ribs. They’re extremely customizable, too.

If your ribs are already sweet, you can hold back on the sugar or molasses for a more savory flavor profile. Alternatively, if your ribs are on the spicy side, you can hold back on the heat.

Cayenne, Chipotle, or Tabasco Add Heat

It’s easy to vary the ingredients and make the baked beans truly your own – here are some of our top variations:

  • Add meat: Bacon or sausage creates a deeper, more savory flavor for your beans
  • Try black beans: Although commonly made with navy beans, using black beans gives a rich, savory flavor profile that pairs wonderfully with the flavorsome ribs
  • Add heat: For spice lovers, baked beans are the perfect vessel for adding heat to your BBQ. Cayenne, chipotle, or Tabasco are all ideal additions to your baked beans.

Simple and Quick Sides for Ribs

Simple and Quick Sides for Ribs

Sometimes when you’re hosting, you just want to keep things simple. After all, if you’ve spent all day cleaning your house and preparing some succulent ribs, you don’t want to spend even more time meticulously preparing side dishes.

Thankfully, when ribs are the star of the show, simple side dishes are ideal. No need to spend hours preparing – these simple and quick sides can be ready in minutes.

Corn on the Cob

Corn on the Cob

Does any food evoke the feeling of summer as much as corn on the cob? We think this is the best simple side dish for ribs out there. It’s naturally sweet and juicy and makes a perfect contrast to the fatty, savory, and meaty flavor of ribs.

Best of all, preparing it is an absolute breeze – ideal for when you’re just done with cooking and don’t want to do anything complicated.

Corn of the cob can be prepared in a few different ways, but one of the most simple is boiling. Simply shuck the corn and boil for five minutes, then serve alongside your ribs for a juicy, crowd-pleasing side.

If you prefer a smoky, charred flavor, you can place the shucked corn on the grill. This gives the corn added complexity and an almost caramelized flavor, which pairs perfectly with the smoky ribs.

To serve the corn, there is a huge range of easy and simple variations to add flavor to the kernels. Here are some of our top picks:

  • Classic style: Simply slather the corn with butter and sprinkle it with sea salt for a timeless flavor combination
  • Spicy style: Drizzle the cooked corn with butter, then add a spicy rub or BBQ seasoning
  • Zesty style: Squeeze lime and chili powder over the cobs to add a zingy, bright flavor that goes well with the rich ribs.

Garlic Bread

Garlic Bread

Garlic bread might just be the ultimate crowd-pleasing dish – don’t be surprised if it disappears almost as soon as you bring it out. It’s also incredibly easy to make – you can even buy a store-bought version if you prefer.

The crispy, buttery bread makes the ideal accompaniment to the savory, smoky ribs, and your guests will love the pairing.

Garlic bread is also very versatile – while the classic version is made with a French baguette, it’s also great with sourdough, focaccia bread, or ciabatta.

The possible toppings are also endless, and you can customize them to fit the flavor profile of your ribs marinade. Here are some of our favorite ways to add a twist to garlic bread:

  • Add cheese: A cheesy twist is always welcome, and garlic bread works well with almost any cheese. Try parmesan, mozzarella, or even colby jack – the mild flavors all work well with the strong flavors of the ribs and garlic
  • Add herbs: Almost any herbs will work here- parsley, basil, thyme, or even rosemary. Herbs add depth to the dish and nicely balance out the garlic
  • Add heat: For spice lovers, you can’t go wrong with adding chili flakes or some cayenne pepper to this dish. Perfect for a spicy-themed barbecue.

Healthy Side Dishes for Ribs

Healthy Side Dishes for Ribs

Let’s not kid ourselves – ribs definitely can’t be classed as healthy food. Healthy, light dishes can be the perfect accompaniment to mouth-watering, flavorful ribs – they add flavor but are light enough to offset the heaviness of the meat.

We like vegetable-heavy dishes that bring color, vibrancy, and flavor to your meal. Healthy doesn’t have to mean flavorless – these dishes are delicious, and easily hold their own next to the main course.

Quinoa Salad with Roasted Vegetables

Quinoa Salad with Roasted Vegetables

This dish combines the nutty superfood quinoa with delicious, perfected roasted vegetables – creating a dish that is both healthy and filling.

It’s the perfect side for indulgent ribs, with a high fiber and protein content from the quinoa and vegetables. It’s also easy to match the ingredients and flavor profile to what’s in your rib marinade, ensuring your meal is cohesive and harmonious.

There’s no strict recipe for this dish; it’s entirely up to you how you want to prepare it. Quinoa can be cooked by boiling on the stove for about 15 minutes, and after it is drained you can add the vegetables of your choice.

Popular additions are roasted bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and zucchini, but roasted root vegetables like onions, sweet potatoes, and beets are also popular.

The dressing is up to you, too. You can keep it light with olive oil and lemon juice, or be creative with a creamy feta dressing. Adding your own touch is also easy; there’s no end to the variations and substitutions.

Grilled Zucchini and Squash

Grilled Zucchini and Squash

If you’re making ribs, grilled zucchini, and squash are ideal, as they can be done on the grill right alongside them. Not only that, but they’re healthy, tasty, and easy to make.

The vegetables are mildly sweet and perfectly complement the smoky, strong flavors of the ribs, particularly when lightly charred.

Making this dish is easy, and can be done in just a few minutes. After slicing the vegetables, you can drizzle them with olive oil and put them sprinkle with the seasoning of your choice.

Then grill them for a few minutes on each side until they are just tender and have those gorgeous grill lines on them.

Vegetable Sides for Ribs

Vegetable Sides for Ribs

Ribs are quite a heavy, meaty dish, and sometimes you want a side dish that offsets this. Vegetable-based side dishes don’t have to be boring if they’re done right, they can be the ideal accompaniment to the rich rib flavors, complementing instead of overpowering.

Vegetables are also great vessels for flavor, and you can include as many spices and herbs as you like to complement the rib marinade.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Roasted Brussels Sprouts are Great with a Sweet Glaze

Roasting is without a doubt our favorite way to cook Brussels sprouts. They end up with crispy, lightly charred edges and soft, tender insides – a far cry from the overcooked mushy sprouts some of us remember from our childhoods.

The sprouts take on a deep, complex, and almost nutty flavor, providing a delicious counterpoint to the flavorful ribs.

Preparing the sprouts is simple and easy – just halve or quarter them, depending on how big they are, and drizzle them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. They’re best roasted on a baking sheet at 400°F for around 20 minutes or until crispy and slightly charred.

If you want to try a variation, here are some of our tips:

  • Drizzle honey or maple syrup over the sprouts: For a sweet glaze that goes well with ribs
  • Grate parmesan cheese over the sprouts: Then, roast for a further 10 minutes for crispy, cheesy goodness
  • Add red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper: This will give the sprouts a spicy kick.

Sautéed Spinach with Garlic

Sautéed Spinach with Garlic

This healthy side dish goes perfectly with the hearty, filling ribs. Best of all, it comes together in just a few minutes and is incredibly good for you. Spinach is high in vitamins and minerals, while garlic adds a delicious depth of flavor to the dish.

To make, simply wash the spinach leaves and sautee quickly with garlic and olive oil. This is best done just before serving, to ensure the spinach stays a vibrant green.

This is a good dish for smaller groups, as it can be hard to cook ahead of time for large gatherings. To add an extra dimension to this side dish, try one of these variations:

  1. Squeeze a lemon over the spinach just before serving.
  2. Add roasted pine nuts or slivered almonds to the top of the spinach before serving.
  3. Grate parmesan cheese over the top of the cooked spinach.

Best Appetizers Before Serving Ribs

Best Appetizers Before Serving Ribs

Although sides are important, don’t forget to prepare the right appetizers for your ribs. You want to pique your guests’ appetites, without leaving them overly full for the main course.

The best rib appetizers are classic, hearty, and savory, creating a tantalizing window into the upcoming main event.

Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeño Poppers

Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeño Poppers

These show-stopping Jalapeno poppers are the perfect choice of appetizer for ribs. Cheesy, savory, and delicious, they’re nonetheless light enough that they don’t ruin your appetite for the main course.

The combination of spicy jalapeno, smoky, salty bacon, and creamy, tangy cheese, creates the perfect blend of flavors that suitably whets the appetite for ribs.

These are straightforward to make – just mix cream cheese with grated cheddar, stuff it into the jalapeno pepper, and wrap it in a strip of bacon.

The popper is then baked or cooked on the grill next to your ribs, creating a delicious flavor explosion in every bite. If you want to mix things up, try one of these variations:

  1. Try adding different cheese, like blue cheese, brie, or mozzarella
  2. Add herbs to the cream cheese for a more complex flavor profile
  3. Use milder peppers for a less spicy entree.

Loaded Potato Skins

Loaded Potato Skins

There’s a reason potatoes are so popular; they’re incredibly versatile, and go with almost anything. Loaded potato skins are the ideal appetizer to pair with ribs, as they’re comforting and flavorful, with the perfect combination of bacon, cheese, and green onion.

They’re also a crowd pleaser, especially for kids, so this is a great option if there are going to be children at your gathering.

Making loaded potato skins is easy, you just need to make sure you start in plenty of time. After baking the potatoes, part of the interior is scooped out, then the hollows are filled with cheese and bacon.

After they’re perfectly golden and crispy, the skins are topped with sour cream and green onion for a deliciously indulgent treat. You can customize these however you like, but we love the following variations:

  1. Add different cheeses, such as blue cheese or pepper jack.
  2. Add garlic and herbs for garlic bread-inspired flavors.
  3. Add crumbled sausage to the top instead of bacon.

Easy Ribs Dinner Ideas

Easy Ribs Dinner Ideas

While ribs might sound daunting, it’s actually very easy to make an easy rib dinner with only a little effort. Whether you’re entertaining a crowd or just planning a casual family dinner, these easy rib dinner ideas create amazing flavors with minimal fuss.

The focus is on flavor, with the ribs remaining the star of the show.

Sticky BBQ Ribs

Sticky BBQ Ribs

Sticky BBQ ribs must be the quintessential rib dish; it’s the image that pops into your mind as soon as you think of ribs. A rich, tangy, and sweet sauce smothers the ribs, caramelizing as they are slowly good and bringing out the best of the meaty, smoky flavors.

This dish can be made either in the oven or on the grill, depending on your preference, and you can either use a pre-made BBQ sauce or use your preferred homemade recipe.

Ribs and Macaroni Salad

Macaroni Salad with red bell pepper, onion, celery, gherkins and mayonnaise dressing.

This classic combo is particularly popular with children, making it the perfect family meal. The hearty, rich flavor profile of the ribs contrasts with the fresh flavors in the macaroni salad.

Best of all, the macaroni salad can be prepared well in advance, so you don’t have to rush to put it together at the last minute.

You can use your choice of rub or marinade on the ribs, and adapt the macaroni salad however you prefer. We like it with the addition of mustard, mayonnaise, and crunchy fresh vegetables, such as chopped celery and bell peppers.

Sheet Pan Ribs and Vegetables

Sheet Pan Ribs with Vegetables are Easy and Quick to Make

We love one-pan meals for easy and quick weeknight dinners. This meal combines rich, savory ribs with your choice of vegetables, all cooked on a sheet pan in your oven.

Once again, you can use your choice of marinade or spice rub on the ribs, and choose vegetables that complement the flavors. We like bell peppers, carrots, and potatoes, but the choice is totally up to you.

No matter what you choose, the vegetables will end up richly flavored with mouthwatering rib juices, bringing everything together in a harmonious flavor combination.

Drinks That Match Ribs Dishes

Drinks That Match Ribs Dishes

Choosing the right drink to go with your carefully cooked ribs is just as important as choosing an appetizer or a side dish. We think ribs go well with strong flavors. The meaty, smoky flavor profile is robust enough to stand its ground next to complex beverages.

Root Beer

Root Beer

A great choice for adults and children alike, root beer is the perfect choice to combine with ribs. The sweet and spicy flavors of the root beer harmonize with the smoky, spicy flavors of the ribs.

Root beer is also served chilled, and the ice-cold liquid, fizzing with carbonation, is perfect for cutting through the fatty, rich flavors of the ribs.

Bourbon Whiskey

Bourbon Whiskey

Is there a more fitting accompaniment to smoky BBQ ribs than bourbon whiskey? Both have deep, robust flavors, both have smoky notes and hints of spice, and both are classic Southern BBQ staples.

Bourbon can be sipped neat, over ice, or combined with other ingredients in a delicious cocktail. Either way, it’s the perfect drink to enjoy with ribs.

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