In the South, "barbecue" as a concept is inextricably linked to meat. From pulled pork to brisket to ribs, a Southern cookout is a carnivore's dream. But as plant-based eating becomes more and more popular nationwide, plenty of professional chefs and home cooks in the South seek out ways to add vegetarian-friendly dishes to their BBQ gatherings. Vegan proteins like Impossible Burgers and tofu dogs do a lot to make plant-based diners feel comfortable at summer picnics, as do lively vegetable-focused side dishes packed with classic Southern flavors. We asked professional chefs and recipe developers to recommend the best veggie side dishes to serve at a Southern barbecue, and they provided us with six tasty suggestions to try this summer.
While baked beans got their US-based start in New England, these sweet & savory legumes made their way down South and can now be found on picnic tables throughout the region. While traditional baked beans often include salt pork or bacon, recipe developer Marly McMillen of Namely Marly tells us that it's relatively easy to make baked beans without animal products. She says that she makes her baked beans "with veggie bacon, [so] it will keep the vegetarians, vegans, and even omnivores satisfied. It's even gluten-free, making it a one-stop dish that everyone will love." She also includes molasses for sweetness, Dijon mustard for spice, apple cider vinegar for tang, and soy sauce for umami.
For an in-depth view of the much-loved Southern vegetable side dish known as succotash, check out our complete guide. In the meantime, just know that succotash--a salad with sweet corn, lima beans, and seasonal veggies and herbs--is a natural pairing for smoky and juicy BBQ fare.
This Succotash with Bacon and Tomatoes is a beautiful and BBQ-friendly recipe (just be sure to replace the bacon with veggie bacon for a vegetarian version), or you can go with this creative succotash-inspired dish by chef/recipe developer Gabriel Glaser of Chef Travel Guide: "I switch out lima beans for cowpeas and fresh pole beans. I also use olive oil instead of the usual butter or cream, because this allows the vegetables to be the star. I start with a cold pan and crisp up some applewood bacon pieces [you can also use veggie bacon for this]. After they are crisp, set them aside. Next, pour off the excess fat and start sautéing the pole beans, diced onion, and the cowpeas. Once the edges of the onion turn translucent, add tomatoes and corn kernels. Drizzle with a little olive oil and mix in a sprinkling of minced tarragon and some hand torn basil. Move the vegetables from the pan to a serving dish and garnish with the crispy bacon and some more fresh herbs."
The importance of watermelon to a classic Southern cookout is well-established, but if you'd like to give the traditional watermelon wedge an upgrade, consider this handheld picnic treat from founder and recipe developer Anna Silver of Cook For Folks: "I like to make skewers with watermelon and grilled halloumi cheese. Halloumi is a hard cheese which has a very similar texture and taste to meat when grilled, and the addition of watermelon provides a mild sweetness and textural counterpart to the halloumi that is both unique and tasty."
Southerners eagerly anticipate the arrival of sweet corn season (usually at the end of the summer), and serving a big bowl of fresh corn salad is an easy and flavorful way to offer this delicious vegetable side to a cookout crowd. "For me, you can't go wrong with a corn and avocado salad. This dish is really quick to prepare and marries perfectly with sirloin steaks, burgers, and ribs," insists owner and grillmaster Bobby Pritchard of Smokey Grill BBQ.
This vegetable side recipe for Mexican Corn Salad is vegetarian and packed with bold flavors, and this Summer Corn Salad With Poached Shrimp is light, refreshing, and very in-season (and can easily become vegetarian with the omission of the shrimp).
If you believe that it's not a barbecue without coleslaw, then you're in good company throughout the South. "You can never go wrong with a classic homemade coleslaw as a staple BBQ side dish. The reason this works so well is because the creamy vegetables make a great palate contrast to the smokiness of the BBQ food. It's even better if you are grilling spicy meat and pair it with some coleslaw to really make the spices pop!" says CEO Michael East of Griddle King.
Whether you're interested in a classic mayo-based cabbage slaw or a more avant-garde version of this cookout favorite, we've got you covered with a wide selection of coleslaw recipes.
Many barbecue fans see cucumber pickles as a garnish rather than as a side, since they're so frequently found on pulled pork sandwiches and brisket platters. However, when prepared on a larger scale, quick-pickled cukes can be thoroughly enjoyed as a stand-alone dish. Chef/owner Robbie Shoults of Bear Creek Smokehouse in Marshall, Texas makes a cucumber salad with a bright apple cider dressing, which replicates the flavors of cucumber pickles without requiring a time-consuming pickling process. "My cucumbers in Vinegar Salad is the perfect pairing for a meal with friends and family. The tanginess of the vinegar brings out the smoky flavor of grilled meats. This quick recipe is sure to be a crowd-pleaser!" says Shoults.
To make Cucumbers In Vinegar Salad, bring ¾ cup apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup water, and ¾ cup sugar to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool. While it's cooling, peel cucumbers and slice until you have 3 cups worth of slices. Put the sliced cucumbers in a glass dish or bowl, then season the dressing with salt & pepper. Pour the dressing over the cucumbers, cover the dish/bowl with a lid, refrigerate for one hour, and serve cold.
READ: Farmer Lee Jones On Sustainability and All the Summer Vegetables You Should Plant