As summer heats up, many of us are planning barbecues with family and friends – and while spending time with loved ones outdoors will always be fun, getting the food right is important. Juicy burgers and perfectly grilled sausages are a key part of a barbecue, but often it’s the side dishes that take your spread to the next level. So what are some of the best barbecue sides?

From crispy coleslaw and creamy potato salad to golden corn on the cob and smoky, spicy beans, here are five of the best side dishes to elevate your next barbecue.

1. BBQ beans

BBQ beans

No outdoor barbecue is complete without a side of beans – but we’re not talking about just buying a tin of baked beans! Traditional barbecue beans are tantalisingly smoky, saucy, and spicy, and because they use dried beans, they’re often a labour of love. But there are many recipes to choose from depending on how long you have.

If you want to make authentic, slow-cooked barbecue beans, you can soak dried beans in salt water, which stops them from bursting and gives them a creamier texture. A slowly reduced sauce results in a deliciously deep and complex barbecue flavour, and bacon is often added to give the beans an even smokier, meatier taste.

This traditional recipe from Serious Eats is for people who are, as the name suggests, serious about food. With a total prep time of 14 hrs 35 mins (including cooking and soaking), it’s not a recipe to start on the day of your barbecue! But with a sauce that’s made from ketchup, garlic, mustard, hot sauce, brown sugar, and molasses, you’re guaranteed serious flavours.

If you like the idea of barbecue beans but don’t have a day to spare, there are many other simpler recipes. Jamie Oliver’s veggie recipe takes only one hour and 25 minutes to cook, and paired with mashed sweet potato, it’s deliciously hearty. Or make an even quicker, simpler version by following this BBC Good Food recipe, which is ready in less than 30 mins.

For more on making barbecue beans, check out the video below.

2. Corn on the cob

Corn on the cob

Glistening golden yellow corn is synonymous with summer, and when you’re eating in the sunshine, few foods taste as good as barbecued corn on the cob. Cheap, healthy, and easy to cook, corn on the cob is delicious with just some butter and salt, but there are many ways to give this classic barbecue side dish a boost.

One of the best ways to enjoy corn on the cob – and one of the most globally popular – is to make the classic Mexican street food, elotes. Fresh ears of corn are cooked over hot coals to bring out their nutty flavour (and char the kernels), and then the corn is slathered in a mouthwatering sauce that’s creamy, spicy, zingy and cheesy all at once.

To make the sauce, you need to mix garlic, coriander, chilli powder, lime juice, mayonnaise, and cheese (to make authentic elotes you should use Mexican cotija cheese, but if you can’t find that, feta works well too). If you’re vegan, you can simply use vegan mayo and omit the cheese, or use vegan feta. Try this mouthwatering elotes recipe by Serious Eats.

Aside from corn on the cob, there are many other ways to enjoy corn at a barbecue. If you like the flavours of elotes, you could make Mexican street corn salad by Love and Lemons. Alternatively, why not make this jalapeño popper grilled corn salad by Wonky Wonderful, which combines corn, bacon, jalapeños, and cheddar cheese?

And, for more ways to enjoy barbecued corn on the cob, have a watch of the video below.

3. Coleslaw


Coleslaw is a barbecue staple for a reason. Crunchy yet creamy, fresh yet tangy, savoury yet sweet, it’s a deliciously complex fusion of flavours. And it’s also one of the few salads that works with hot food. Coleslaw was originally tossed in vinaigrette, but when it crossed the Atlantic, mayonnaise was added instead, and it’s this version that’s most popular today.

At its most basic, coleslaw is simply chopped cabbage (red or green), grated carrots, and sliced onions that are then dressed – but there are many ways to adapt this dish. Whichever recipe you choose, if you want to avoid soggy coleslaw, it’s best to salt your sliced vegetables in advance.

If you like slaw-style raw cabbage salads but aren’t a fan of the classic creamy coleslaw, there are many other recipes you can try, from sweet and sour rainbow slaw to peppery kohlrabi slaw; just check out these recipes on BBC Good Food!

Or, if you’d like to stick with classic coleslaw, why not try this recipe from BBC Good Food? Made from dijon mustard, mayo, yoghurt (or soured cream), vinegar, and paprika, the tangy, creamy flavour perfectly balances out the rich taste of grilled meat. Vegans don’t have to miss out either – you could try this vegan coleslaw recipe by Cupful of Kale.

And for more inspiration, check out the video below to see how to whip up a homemade creamy coleslaw in just five minutes.

4. Veggie kebabs

Veggie kebabs

The main focus of barbecues is usually the burgers and sausages, and whether they’re meat or mock-meat, grilling burgers and sausages over hot coals gives them a lovely charred flavour. So why not give vegetables the same treatment and cook some veggie kebabs over the barbecue?

Not only are they really easy to prepare (just chop the veg and stick it on a skewer), but veggie kebabs are also really healthy, and a great way to offset all the burgers, buns, and hotdogs you may also be eating! Peppers, onions, mushrooms, courgette, aubergine, tomatoes, and even chunks of corn on the cob all work well.

To keep things simple and celebrate the power of vegetables, why not make these easy balsamic glazed veggie kebabs by The Kitchn? The glaze is made from balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, and garlic, and then simmered until thickened, and when it’s drizzled over the vegetables it helps them become tantalisingly tender and caramelised.

If you’d like to add some extra protein to your veggie kebabs, you might want to follow Jamie Oliver’s recipe and add chunks of halloumi cheese to your skewers, which are delicious when barbecued. If you’re vegan or you don’t eat dairy, you can just swap the halloumi for tofu; try this recipe for grilled BBQ tofu kebabs by Vanilla & Bean.

Or, to get more veggie skewer tips and inspiration, check out the video below.

5. Potato salad

Potato salad

Just like coleslaw, potato salad is another barbecue staple that’s also incredibly versatile. Though it’s a side dish, when made properly, potato salad is easily tasty enough to be the most popular food at a barbecue – and you may find that you run out far sooner than you think!

A classic potato salad is dressed in mustard, mayonnaise, olive oil, and vinegar, and sharp-tasting ingredients like spring onions, capers, or gherkins add a satisfyingly tangy crunch. You can use either waxy or floury potatoes, but floury potatoes tend to become mushy when tossed with the dressing, so waxy is usually your best bet.

To make a classic potato salad, you might want to try The Guardian’s recipe for perfect potato salad. Aside from the ingredients listed above, it also uses finely chopped anchovies for an extra salty taste, as well as fresh parsley, chives, and mint for maximum zingyness.

But there are endless adaptations of potato salad, and most are just as delicious served warm or cold. You can make Yotam Ottolenghi’s spiced Nepalese potato salad, Food 52’s garlicky roasted potato salad, or the Serious Eats Austrian potato salad (Erdäpfelsalat). Just head over to BBC Good Food for more potato salad inspiration.

Or, to see how to make potato salad in three delicious ways, have a watch of Jamie Oliver’s video below.

Final thoughts…

So there you have it… five mouthwatering side dishes that are guaranteed to take your barbecue to the next level! From salads to skewers, barbecues are all about variety – and each dish above can be easily adapted for omnivorous, veggie and vegan diets.

The great thing about these side dishes is that they can all be made well in advance too. Plus, while some dishes, like veggie kebabs or corn on the cob, are delicious cooked on the barbecue, they can just as easily be cooked in your oven or grill, allowing you to keep your barbecue for the burgers!

For more ideas about eating outdoors this summer, you might want to check out our articles; 8 sizzling barbecue recipe ideas and 10 top tips for planning an outdoor dinner party or picnic.