Traditional Memphis BBQ Sides

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Meat Coma: As great as the meats are that come out of using Memphis styles and techniques, there is probably a limit to how much we could, or should, eat. To help avoid a meat coma we have put together the sides you need to make the meal. The side choices in the Memphis market are an endless array from fries, fried pickles, onion rings to hardboiled eggs and collard greens.

The three seemingly omnipresent choices, however, are potato salad, baked beans and cole slaw. Many of us have our family favorite version of these guys. Our recommendations are all classic in style. They could easily work their way into your family’s favorite food playbook.

Table Of Contents

1. Cole slaw

Savory slaw recipe

We aren’t starting with cole slaw because it is the easiest and fastest, although it is. It often functions as a meal component in addition to a side item. Not much better than a pulled pork sandwich with a crisp piquant slaw to balance out the rich flavors of the pork and sauce. With that thought in mind, you’ll find this version has a couple twists making it unique.


Savory slaw dressing

Whisk together:

  • ¾ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon deli brown mustard
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill weed
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • Juice from ½ lemon


savory slaw ingredients
In a large bowl:

  • 1 pound green cabbage finely shredded
  • 1 medium carrot grated
  • ½ red onion finely sliced and cross cut

Combine both components and serve.

2. Barbecue baked beans

Barbecue baked beans recipe

You’ve taken time to craft a great BBQ sauce, now it is time to put it to use. That is part of what distinguishes this style from a Boston baked bean, which typically has no tomato. The other thing we suggest is that you use one of your own barbecued meat products; rib tips, shoulder end slice, etc.  Now, it is likely that everything was eaten and enjoyed, in which case slightly browned bacon will work just fine. You could substitute canned beans in this recipe, in which case reduce the cooking times by 50%. However, the flavors combine much more thoroughly if you take the ground up approach we describe.

Prep Step

Completely cover one pound of navy beans, with at least two inches additional water. Let them soak overnight loosely covered. Rinse and drain them before adding to the recipe.

Build a beans

In a crockpot, build from the ground up in this order, layered as much as possible;

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup diced smoked meat or bacon
  • 1 # soaked navy beans
  • 2/3 cup barbecue sauce
  • 1 eight ounce can plain tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • ¼ cup brown deli mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon beef base or 2 cubes beef bullion
  • 2 cups warm water

Cook on high heat for 3 hours without stirring.

Stir to combine all ingredients. Reduce heat to low and continue simmering another four hours.

Add salt to taste. If too thick add more water as needed. If thin leave lid unsealed for the last hour of cooking to thicken up.

3. Tater Salad

Tater Salad recipe

This is such an American dish, and yet it lends itself to permutations from food cultures throughout the globe. Mostly we’re going to stick with the traditional approach, leaning toward a fresh style with things chopped somewhat coarser for more textures. As much as we love a good russet potato, there are a couple good reasons to go with either red or gold potatoes for your salad. Both have a little more flavor of their own when boiled, improving to the finished dish. Secondly, their skins are thinner so you don’t have to peel them making this salad both healthier and better looking.

Pro Tip: dice your potatoes before cooking. This helps them cook more evenly and allows for more precise sizing.

Prep Step

Dice and boil until tender:

  • 2 pounds red or yellow potatoes

Drain and chill until ready to build your salad:

  • Hard boil; 6 eggs

Chill them completely before use.


In a bowl whisk together:

  • 1-½ cups mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons yellow prepared mustard
  • ½ teaspoon garlic salt
  • ½ teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Assemble the salad

In a large bowl:

  • Cold diced and cooked potatoes
  • Cold hardboiled eggs shelled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion diced
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped dill pickles

Add dressing and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste if needed.

Side dish or meal? Yes! So confusing.

A favorite way to visit a restaurant for the first time is to sample their offerings in appetizer and side dish forms. You can get a great idea of how they do what they do. A word of caution though, this can lead to enjoying those same items in place of your entrée to make a meal. To which we say, cool!

One of the most universal sides in the barbecue world is mac and cheese. With good reason, the rich cheese and creaminess are a natural complement to the spices and bold flavors of barbecue. A fan favorite is to mix your barbecued meat right into the mac and cheese. Good mac and cheese is a process recipe, but easily accomplished.

We’ll look beyond that, with a couple easier items; Memphis rubbed baked chicken wings, and BBQ pork nachos. A pile of wings can easily become a meal, think ribs that are already cut apart. And with the nachos it is hard to only eat them as an appetizer, they’ll go down so easy you can be full in no time. So, from the top…

4. Mega Mac and Cheese

Mega Mac and Cheese recipe

Since you are going to take the time to do this, let us show you how to do it right. We will start with a Béchamel sauce, a fancy way of saying light white gravy from roux. Blend in your cheeses, stir in the mac, layer these, top it and bake. This recipe will also expand well for a larger group. Here are the details.

Grate (or buy shredded) and mix;

  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup Swiss cheese

Start your water for the macaroni noodles, salted and oil float, when boiling add;

  • ½ pound macaroni

Cook one minute less than the package calls for al dente.

In a deep skillet, melt;

  • ¼ cup butter

Add and whisk until blended and bubbly;

  • ¼ cup unbleached flour

Add slowly and continue whisking over medium low heat;

  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1¼ cup half and half

When the sauce has thickened and reached a soft boil, turn off the heat, add half of your cheese and stir into the sauce. You should have a pretty thick cheese sauce as a result. Your macaroni should be ready, drain the noodles and add to the skillet, stirring them together until the noodles are well coated.

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees

Make your crumb topping combining in a bowl;

  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • ½ cup unseasoned bread crumbs
  • ½ cup grated parmesan or Romano cheese

Mega Mac and Cheese unbaked dish

Spray a 9”x9” baking dish with a light coat of oil. Spread 1/3 of your cheesy noodles in the bottom, add a layer of ½ your remaining cheese blend. Repeat, 1/3 of the noodles and the last of the cheese blend. Layer the last of the noodles and top with your crumb mixture. Bake for 25-30 minutes until bubbly and lightly browned on top.

Here’s your shopping list:

  • ½ pound macaroni
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup Swiss cheese
  • ½ cup butter (1 cube) split
  • ¼ cup unbleached flour
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1¼ cup half and half
  • ½ cup unseasoned bread crumbs
  • ½ cup grated parmesan or Romano cheese

5. Memphis Rubbed Wings

Memphis Rubbed Wings recipe

We promised easier, this should fill the bill. Make a batch of Graceland’s Memphis rub, if you haven’t already.  Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees. Many ovens have a ‘Roast’ setting which will use the broiler function to heat the oven while cooking, others do that in your ‘Pre-heat’ setting. We recommend using one of these and cooking your wings closer to the top of the oven to get a nicer browning affect.

In a bowl toss together;

  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 24 cut chicken wings, drumettes and flats (or wingettes)

Spread evenly on a baking sheet, lined with parchment for easy clean up if you like. Bake 20-25 minutes depending on size, until cooked through.

In a large glass bowl add and toss until lightly coated;

  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • Cooked wings

applying memphis rub to wings

In another bowl with your rub, toss the wings a few at a time, or roll one at a time, until well coated with seasoning and serve.

6. BBQ Pork Nachos

BBQ Pork Nachos

So easy and so good! Here are the ingredients;

  • ½ sweet onion finely diced
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup pulled pork, warmed and mixed with Graceland Barbecue sauce
  • 1 bag of salted kettle potato chips
  • Squeeze bottle of barbecue sauce (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. On a sheet pan spread out the chips. Cover with ½ of your shredded cheese. Spread out the barbecued pork then top with remaining cheese. Sprinkle onions evenly then drizzle with barbecue sauce if desired. Bake 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted.

Feel free to have fun with this, adding jalapenos, olives, or any of the usual suspects you enjoy from traditional nachos. If you have the equipment, freshly cooked chips are the way they’ll serve them up in Memphis, but you’ll find this dish just fine!

7. Cornbread with cheese and peppers

Cornbread with cheese and peppers recipe

There is nothing like golden cornbread, and a lot of barbecue joints offer you the choice between this and white bread to accompany your meal.  Few dishes are more American, or lend themselves to variations from adding white raisins or peppers or cheese… or just enjoying plain with butter and honey. This is a classic recipe that uses only corn meal, so it may also work for those avoiding wheat gluten. We love using mild Hatch chili peppers and some sharp cheddar to get good full flavors.

Lightly oil a 9×9 pan. Preheat oven to 375.

In a bowl mix:

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

Add and blend:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup creamed corn
  • 1 4oz. can chopped green peppers, drained
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil or melted shortening

This will make a fairly thin batter. Pour half into your pan. Sprinkle evenly:

  • 1 cup shredded cheese

Pour in the remaining batter. Bake 45 minutes until golden brown and set, checking with a toothpick.

8. Spicy Fried Pickle Recipe

Spicy Fried Pickle recipe

A little history

The origin story of fried pickles is too good not to share, you can’t make this stuff up. In 1960 Bernell “Fatman” Austin leased some dirt in Atkins Arkansas for $10 a month, right across the highway from the Atkins Pickle Plant. He built a drive in restaurant, and a couple years down the road began serving fried pickles, so appropriate in a place that became known as the pickle capital of Arkansas. At 15 cents for 15 pickles the dish crept its way into southern food lore.

It is no surprise that fried pickles appear across the board at Memphis barbecue joints and restaurants. It is pretty unanimous that dill pickles are the only logical choice, but there is a small cultural divide in fried pickles. Batter or breaded? For this recipe we chose breaded because it offers a more consistent product with an easier process. Nothing against battering, we just found this to be fairly easy to master, and filled with flavor.

The recipe

You need a 32 ounce jar of what we call sandwich pickles, sliced the long ways, preferably crinkle cut. Drain the pickles and pat them dry, leaving them on a rack while you prepare the other steps.

We’re going to use a classic three step process for breading; dredge in flour mix, dip in egg, bread with seasoned crumbs.

Pro-tip; always use one hand for the wet process, the other for the dry. Left drops pickle into flour, right moves from flour to egg, left moves from egg to crumbs, right finishes and removes. It will avoid breading your fingers to twice their normal size.

Prep for step one, in a bowl mix;

  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup corn starch

Prep for step two, whisk in a bowl;

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon water

Prep for step three; in a bowl mix;

  • 1 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dry sweet basil
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Dredge, egg wash, crumbs and repeat, and place pickles on a rack until time to fry. For the crumb stage, press the pickles lightly into the crumb mixture to ensure a thorough coating.

Fill a deep skillet about one inch deep with peanut oil and heat over medium while monitoring the temperature. Your target is 350 degrees, with a ceiling of 375. Oils can flash if held over 400 degrees for extended periods, and it will definitely ruin the oil for future use…in addition to possibly scorching your food. After use your oil should be only slightly darkened, and after cooling can be strained and stored in the fridge a couple months, to be used again.

When the oil is at 350 fry the pickles in small batches, about 90 seconds then turn them over for another 90 seconds or until well colored, then place on a rack with paper towels underneath.

And now comes the hard part; what sauce do you serve with them? We favor our own barbecue sauce, but the majority of folks seem to favor ranch dressing. Whichever way your tastes run, enjoy!

9. Cheese Grits Recipe

Cheese grits in dish

The word ubiquitous is the southern states relationship with grits. Pick a meal any meal; grits will work, breakfast lunch or dinner. Fresh from the pot or chilled sliced and fried, this dish made from corn meal is also quite versatile. All alone cooked corn meal is pretty bland, which makes it perfect to play with because it takes all kinds of flavors, letting you go wherever your taste might lead.

We like savory and we like cheese, so that is where we will go with this recipe. Relatively easy, this should only take about half an hour. You can speed it up with instant grits, if they are available in your area, but we like the way flavors meld and the texture of bringing them all the way up.

Time to get cookin’

In a pot, bring to a boil over medium-high heat;

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

Once it has reached a boil whisk in;

  • 1 cup coarse ground cornmeal

Continue to whisk the cornmeal until smooth and fully blended. Cover and decrease the temperature to low. Continue at a soft boil, whisking every few minutes to avoid clumping. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the mix has become thicker and creamy.

Remove from the heat, add;

  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
  • ¾ cup sharp cheddar cheese shredded
  • ¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese

Whisk until smooth, cover and let sit for 2-3 minutes, stir and serve.

Ingredient list recap:

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
  • ¾ cup sharp cheddar cheese
  • ¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese

History of Memphis Barbecue

Pulled Pork Sandwiches