These incredible sides range from Southern classics like mac and cheese and collard greens to lighter fare including crunchy slaw and an unexpected fruit-laden salad. Whatever you choose to serve with your ribs, just be sure sure to have plenty of BBQ sauce — and napkins — on hand.
Ribs, whether baby back or spare — whether grilled, smoked, or baked in the oven — are the kind of thing that demands total absorption: eyes down, both hands messy from BBQ sauce, not coming up for air until that bone’s picked clean. When you do come up for air, though, you want something delicious to eat before tackling the next rib in the pile. Ribs are often tangy, sweet, and full of rich, delicious fat so there are certain sides that balance BBQ ribs particularly well, acting almost like a reset for your taste buds.
Behold, 10 of our favorite sides for ribs, from the light, crisp, and palate-cleansing to creamy, rich, and ultra decadent.
Collards are often cooked with smoked ham hocks, but smoked turkey drumsticks are a great substitute and yield more meat than ham hocks. Cleaning and trimming 5 pounds of greens is the hardest part of this recipe — after that, it’s easy. Get our Crock-Pot Collard Greens recipe.
What’s nice about this recipe is its versatility. It works beautifully as both a creamy stovetop dish with any sort of mix-ins you like, and as a crunchy baked mac ‘n’ cheese sprinkled with panko breadcrumbs. Get our Classic Macaroni and Cheese recipe.
Honestly, almost any potato salad is good with ribs, but the tangy herbed dressing (a shallot-and-Dijon vinaigrette with parsley, tarragon, and dill) is a nice change from the usual heavy mayo version and cuts through the richness of BBQ ribs like a knife. Get our Herbed Potato Salad recipe. (And find out which potatoes to use for potato salad too.)
Hush puppies by any other name do taste as sweet—as these summer corn fritters prove so well. Fresh kernels off the cob are folded into cornmeal batter with cayenne and scallions, then fried crisp and golden brown (but fluffy and tender inside). Drag them through the BBQ sauce on your plate for a swoon-worthy bite. Get our Crispy Corn Fritters recipe.
For something easier but just as satisfying, quick-cooking grits combine with milk, sharp cheddar cheese, hot sauce, and eggs, then bake in a casserole dish that can go directly onto the table. When corn’s in season, try folding some fresh kernels into this dish too for pops of juicy sweetness. Get our Baked Cheese Grits recipe.
Grilled corn on the cob is great as-is, but generously spread this herbed butter on top and sprinkle with flaky sea salt for a simple yet sophisticated dish that truly epitomizes summer. Get our Corn with Basil Butter and Flaky Salt recipe. (Or if you go with an Asian-influenced barbecue sauce for your ribs, try our Mirin and Soy Sauce Grilled Corn recipe on the side.)
Green cabbage, fresh corn (a recurring theme for good reason), tart tomatillos, and cherry tomatoes: the perfect summer coleslaw recipe. A lime, garlic, and mustard dressing finish it off, along with a sprinkling of chopped cilantro. Get our Corn and Tomato Coleslaw recipe. (And if you like more spice, try our Lime and Jalapeño Coleslaw recipe.)
Out of the box, for sure, but this tart, cooling, crisp, and refreshing salad is the perfect go-with for rich pork and multi-layered BBQ sauce. Try it and you might just start a new summer grilling tradition. Get our Spicy Jicama, Grapefruit, and Mango Salad recipe.
Cornbread is the perfect foil for the richness and complexity of a stack of bones, but this spicy quick bread with pickled jalapeños is an interesting cornbread alternative. It has a dense texture that’s excellent for dipping in BBQ sauce. Get our Jalapeño-Corn-Beer Bread recipe.