23 Side Dishes That Go With Ribs

Barbecue ribs conjure thoughts of warm summer evenings, the leisurely tending of a grill, and tables loaded with a magical array of enticing sides. There are quite a few different ways to make barbecue ribs, from a spicy dry rub to saucy, sweet, and tangy, but those choices pale in comparison to the decisions you have to make about what will accompany them. Ribs, if they're done well, are a tender and deeply savory main course, and as good as they are, they benefit from sharp and crunchy dishes to balance them out. Even though your ribs are going to be the center of attention, a barbecue just isn't complete without a full spread of great sides.

Given the variety of options you have, sides are also your opportunity to get more creative with your barbecue meal. Even with the variety of rib types and regional styles, your ability to surprise and experiment is going to be a little limited, but with sides, you can impress with special seasonal veggies, spicy corn, and potato salads with unexpected twists that will have your guests begging you for the recipe. You'll find all those options and more here, whether you want classic and comforting, or a side dish you never considered for ribs before. Make two of these recipes, or make ten, but know that whatever you choose, your ribs are going to be in good company.

1. French Potato Salad

This is a great variation on your traditional creamy potato salad that ditches the eggs and mayo for a mustard-based dressing with just the tang you want to complement a rack of ribs. The dressing is a tasty mix of Dijon and Champagne vinegar with olive oil, which is lively and bright. There is also a healthy showering of parsley, dill, and scallions, giving the whole potato salad some herbal depth and bite. This potato salad is just as satisfying as the classic but with more pungent acidity.

Recipe: French Potato Salad

2. Easy Grilled Corn On The Cob And Garlic Butter

If you already have the grill going for your ribs, you can knock out a side too with this amped-up barbecue favorite. The base of this recipe is the sweet, charred corn we all know and love, but your standard rub of butter and salt gets that much better by turning it into garlic butter. All it takes is mixing some minced garlic in melted butter, but the results are a more deeply flavorful and punchy dish.

Recipe: Easy Grilled Corn On The Cob And Garlic Butter

3. Spicy Pinto Beans

Give your normal barbecue beans a spicy twist with this tender and tasty recipe. These beans are packed with spice from paprika, chili powder, garlic and jalapeño, and get extra depth from cumin, tomato, oregano, and brown sugar. The spice doesn't stop there however, because a generous portion of hot, browned chorizo gets mixed in after everything is cooked, for a perfectly savory mixture layered with seasoning and complex heat. If you need a spicy element on your picnic table, this is one of the best ways to do it.

Recipe: Spicy Pinto Beans

4. Esquites (Mexican Street Corn Salad)

Esquites are a street food favorite south of the border, and this salad variation should make it obvious why. Charring the corn on a grill is essential to get the signature smoky flavor that makes esquites special. A mix of onion, red pepper, jalapeño, and cilantro has extra crunch and some welcome light flavors to blend with the sweet corn. The whole mixture then gets tossed with mayo, sour cream, lime juice, and the spice mixture Tajín. It manages to be creamy, bright, and savory at the same time.

Recipe: Esquites (Mexican Street Corn Salad)

5. Slow Cooker Mac And Cheese

Some melty cheese is also a good idea with meaty ribs, and you can get your fix without too much time away from the grill from this easy mac and cheese. Since you make this recipe in the slow cooker,  you don't even need to pre-cook the noodles. Just throw some shredded cheddar and American cheese in the pot with milk, evaporated milk, and butter, and you'll have a plate-clearing side ready in under 90 minutes. The mix may seem simple, but some mustard and paprika give it more depth without more effort.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Mac And Cheese

6. Shirazi Salad

One thing clearly missing from your ribs is some good crunch, and that's where our friend the cucumber can really help you. This Iranian dish is built around extra-crispy Persian cucumbers, augmented by red onion and juicy tomatoes, which makes it incredibly light and fresh tasting. The veggie mixture is then flavored with a simple and refreshing mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, and mint. It comes together in minutes and makes a cooling addition to a meal full of meat, salt, and smoke.

Recipe: Shirazi Salad

7. Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad

Roasted Brussels sprouts get all the glory, but shave them and they make a crunchy and flavorful base for a salad. Raw sprouts don't have the same bitter flavor as the cooked ones either, so you can slice them with no other prep. A sweet, tart dressing of mustard, red wine vinegar, agave, and olive oil will soften up the sprouts a bit after being mixed in. This already tasty mix needs a few extras, but Manchego cheese, dates, and sunflower seeds are heavy hitters that make this a truly flavor-packed experience.

Recipe: Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad

8. Creamy Egg Salad

Don't sleep on egg salad, as this side can satisfy a crowd just as well as potato or macaroni salad with just a handful of ingredients. Mayo, Dijon, and vinegar are trusted go-to's for a reason, mixing fat, acid, and a little bit of spice for everything an egg needs. All that gets mixed with chopped hard-boiled eggs and a few of eggs' favorite herbs: chives and parsley. The creamy richness of egg salad is well-matched for ribs with either sweet and tangy barbeque sauce, or a spicy dry rub.

Recipe: Creamy Egg Salad

9. Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes have so much flavor that you only need a couple of ingredients to make a hearty, warming side. Honey may be a bit surprising for the already sugary potato, but roasted in the oven everything takes on a caramelized depth that's as savory as it is sweet. Some lemon juice makes sure everything stays awake, and cinnamon doubles down on the homey comfort. With so little work and so many big tastes, it's an ideal accompaniment to a meal where the main course can take a lot of work.

Recipe: Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes

10. Carrot Slaw

No insult to cabbage, which offers great texture and a peppery taste, but carrots bring so much to the table as a slaw. This recipe inverts your classic coleslaw, going heavy on the carrot and using the cabbage in a supporting role. While the dressing still uses mayo, it also switches things up with more vinegar, olive oil, and lemon juice, moving things away from creamy and towards a more balanced, peppy tartness. It's a natural fit for sweet carrots and a tasty way to get creative with the same mix of ingredients.

Recipe: Carrot Slaw

11. Chopped Caprese Salad

There's no need to limit caprese to an Italian appetizer, as this delicious salad will be as appreciated at a barbecue as it is before a bowl of pasta. Fresh, milky mozzarella, acidic tomatoes, and minty basil are a tried-and-true combination that doesn't require much messing with, but this chopped version does up the convenience factor and makes it fork-ready. Some balsamic vinegar adds sweetness and some tart flavors to round out the dish, but the only thing caprese ever needs besides that is some good, buttery olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Recipe: Chopped Caprese Salad

12. Slow Cooker Baked Beans

Low-effort meets big barbecue flavor with these easy baked beans. A slow cooker makes everything a cinch by letting you mix the sauce and beans and let it go with no oversight. Some bacon layered on the bottom adds fat, salt, and extra smoke to traditional barbecue ingredients molasses, brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar. A small curveball comes from gochujang, a spicy Korean chili paste. It won't make anything too hot but will add a nice warm depth to the beans.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Baked Beans

13. Easy Fried Green Tomatoes

Green tomatoes are more sour and acidic than fully ripened tomatoes, which makes them an excellent counterpart to ribs. A simple breadcrumb mixture with garlic powder, salt, and pepper gives them some extra flavor without distracting from their tangy appeal. Eggs are mixed with buttermilk to serve as the binding agent for the breadcrumbs and add some fatty richness. Bright, crispy on the outside, and tender on the inside, these go well with a creamy dipping sauce like ranch.

Recipe: Easy Fried Green Tomatoes

14. Old-Fashioned Hot Water Cornbread

The ingredient list here may look a little suspicious with no rising agent or buttermilk, but that's because this hot water cornbread relies on an old technique for both great texture and flavor. Boiling water softens the cornmeal and allows it to be shaped into rustic patties, and then instead of being baked, the patties are fried in a shallow pool of oil. They end up with a tasty crust and a tender center, with plenty of flavor from just corn, salt, sugar, and the magic of hot oil.

Recipe: Old-Fashioned Hot Water Cornbread

15. Oven-Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Oven-baked sweet potato fries are a nutritious and enjoyable alternative to deep frying. They are also much easier to make than standard French fries, requiring only slicing, coating with a few seasonings, and some time in the oven. Smoked paprika, chili and garlic powders, and salt make them spicy and savory-sweet instead of fatty, with a creamy texture. These are a simple, shareable, and handheld side fit for a backyard meal.

Recipe: Oven-Baked Sweet Potato Fries

16. Creamy Macaroni Salad

You will find no bland, mayo-drenched macaroni salad here, but instead, one that's layered with sharp, vibrant flavors and still as creamy as you want. You still get your mayo of course, but it's mixed with sour cream, Dijon, honey, apple cider vinegar, and earthy celery seeds to brighten it up and give it far more depth. The salad is also closer to living up to its name with plenty of red pepper, onion, tomatoes, celery, and dill pickles that provide plenty of crunch and their own fresh, acidic flavors.

Recipe: Creamy Macaroni Salad

17. Corn Fritters

These corn fritters are almost dessert, which as a side for a meaty barbecue is a compliment, not a complaint in our book. Sweet creamed corn is added to flour, salt, and some paprika and egg yolks that keep the savory balance intact. Folding in whipped egg whites gives these fritters a wonderful airy texture and helps them fry up with a crispy exterior. After just a few minutes cooking in oil, they'll be hot and ready to be served up alongside jams and other dipping sauces.

Recipe: Corn Fritters

18. Beer-Battered Onion Rings

The term beer-battered is always exciting, and these onion rings live up to that expectation. Beer doesn't just add flavor to an onion ring batter, it also helps make it extra light and crispy because of the carbonation. Some cornstarch whisked into the flour mixture also adds to the crunch factor, producing the perfect airy coating for rings of sharp yellow onions. Just make sure you don't crowd the pan as you fry them, you want to keep that oil hot for maximum browning and crisp.

Recipe: Beer-Battered Onion Rings

19. Crispy Fluffy Hush Puppies

The corn-flavored crunch of hush puppies makes them the ideal side for ribs. Instead of buttermilk, this recipe uses milk and apple cider vinegar for a little extra flavor without losing that tangy bite. A mixture of cornmeal and baking powder flavored with salt and garlic powder fries up fluffy, crispy, and golden. They also get a little extra boost from chopped onion and diced jalapeño, which adds a little spice and brightness to an otherwise savory treat.

Recipe: Crispy Fluffy Hush Puppies

20. Southern Collard Greens

Salad can be great with smoked meat, but sometimes you need a green dish that can stand up to a barbecue dish like ribs without being overshadowed, and that is what these collard greens were made for. Sautéed for hours with a ham hock, they are bitter, salty, and smoky themselves, with a strong vegetal flavor that can hold its own against any main course. This is as savory as green vegetables get, and just about as tasty as they get too.

Recipe: Southern Collard Greens

21. Asian-Inspired Coleslaw

If you want to take a break from creamy coleslaw, start here. The cabbage base isn't too different from typical American coleslaw, except you get a nice mix that's heavier on purple cabbage, which has a little more flavor than green. The dressing, on the other hand, is a nearly full 180 from mayo, with rice vinegar, soy sauce, serrano, lime, and honey. It's incredibly zesty and sharp, with a nice umami undertone from the soy sauce. This coleslaw has all the crunch and cooling flavors you want but with a more pungent, vinegary edge.

Recipe: Asian-Inspired Coleslaw

22. Classic Southern Potato Salad

You can do potato salad all sorts of ways and yet we often end up coming back to basics. Well, this recipe is classic, but it's not basic. You have your traditional ingredients like chopped, hard-boiled eggs, celery, and mayo, but just a few extra touches liven it up while making sure grandma would still approve. Sweet relish lends the mix more complexity and flavor, and celery seeds have a subtle bitterness that balances everything out. This is the best version of a time-tested crowd-pleaser.

Recipe: Classic Southern Potato Salad

23. Cheddar Heirloom Tomato Pie

Your typical rib side is simple and homespun, but if you want to get a bit fancier while keeping things rustic, try this tomato pie. Both the filling and crust are full of cheddar, while the filling also gets some salt and meaty notes from bacon. The real star of course is the heirloom tomatoes, which are both a beautiful topping and literally bursting with flavor. Roasted before assembly and again in the pie, they'll combine with the cheese for a memorable mix of sweet and savory.

Recipe: Cheddar Heirloom Tomato Pie