A Vegetarian’s Guide to Eating at BBQ Joints in the South
There still ways to take advantage of great BBQ joints even if you don't eat meat.
Here’s where we’ll start: It’s okay to go to a barbecue joint when you’re a vegetarian. There’s nothing inherently wrong with your decision to accompany loved ones as they enjoy massive trays of meat. The smell might bother you, but the meatless crowd has a lot to celebrate at barbecue restaurants—particularly next-level side dishes.
To better serve those looking for a spectacular mac and cheese they can eat alongside their meat-loving significant other, we’ve compiled a list of the best sides in places that are famous for something else—meats. So grab a map, ignore the uncle who asks you every Thanksgiving if you’ve given up on the same conviction and lifestyle you’ve had since you were 12 and enjoy more than just sweet tea, wherever you go.
Bar-B-Q Stuffed Potato: Big Bob Gibson’s, Decatur, AL.
Gibson’s is famous for their white sauce-covered meat, but consider the potato. Their potato, which we may not be able to legally classify as a side, is so large that some authors of some slideshows grew up thinking Gibson’s had some sort of special, secret potato farm that grew the largest potatoes in the world. Order the Bar-B-Q Stuffed Potato, hold the brisket and enjoy.
Skillet Green Beans: Sweet Auburn Barbecue, Atlanta, GA.
Sweet Auburn sells an array of sliders and wings and dips and melts, yes, but their almost all-vegetarian list of slides stands out, too. Their skillet green beans, prepared with an ideal trifecta of garlic, salt and butter, are served on wax paper, so you can admire the pool of flavor for yourself.
Slaw: Moe’s Original Barbecue, (multiple locations.)
Moe’s was started in Colorado, but the chain has grown popular in Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina for their exquisite barbecue—and the slaw is worth the visit, too. It’s vinegar-based, so you can eat basically an entire tin of it and not worry about fainting from too much mayonnaise. Moe’s also serves a decadent alcoholic milkshake called a Bushwacker. I would order that too, just to be safe.
Bar-B-Q Chips: Jim’n Nick’s Bar-B-Q, Birmingham, AL (and other places in AL.)
Jim’n Nick’s has ham on the menu, which is great, because ham is an extremely satisfying word to say out loud, so if I were in here and had some time to kill, I’d say “How’s the ham,” just to have a little fun, but then I’d move on to more important matters: ordering the homemade Bar-B-Q chips. These are potatoes, you’ll understand right away, but instead of going bare, they’re soaked in barbecue sauce and served with bleu cheese. There’s no reason to order anything else, except more bleu cheese.
Potato Salad: Hog Heaven, Nashville, TN.
Hog Heaven was created with a simple idea: every hog deserves to go to heaven. But it’s impossible to enter heaven without first dying, which is why this restaurant serves pork in sizes like regular, large and “a pound.” For those of us who can’t participate in the endeavor of getting every hog its wings, we can devour an array of potentially hell-bound sides. Try their famous potato salad, which is often ordered by the gallon. The slaw is some of the best in Nashville, too.
Mac and Cheese: Saw’s BBQ, Homewood, AL.
Saw’s serves pork by the plate and ribs by the slab and also an impressive set of vegetarian options. Their website provides a particularly handy guide to eating here if you’re gluten-free (easy), vegan (do not) or vegetarian (possible.) In fact, Saw’s offers the rarest of vegetarian sides: meat-less macaroni and cheese, which is bizarrely hard to find in this chicken stock-flooded world.
Sweet Potato Biscuits: Dreamland, Tuscaloosa, AL.
Dreamland was founded in Tuscaloosa the same year Bear Bryant started coaching, which was quite a big deal. They now have restaurants throughout the state, but also run what is basically a large-scale meat delivery service, which ships pounds of barbecue to anywhere in the world. Dreamland is worth a visit for the sweet potato biscuits alone. Order a pack of six dozen—this may seem like more than enough, but we promise, there’s no such thing as “enough” here.
Hushpuppies: Martin’s BBQ, Nashville, TN.
Martin’s has a special place in my heart, and probably pigs’ hearts too, for producing hushpuppies, a beloved Southern tradition in which you fry cornmeal into oblivion. One serving is four hushpuppies, which is the perfect amount of hushpuppies.
Fried Okra: The Original Q Shack, Durham, NC.
The Original Q Shack is a wondrous side dish paradise for the non-health conscious vegetarian. We like the crispy, tender fried okra, though the jack cheese creamed spinach is one of the loosest interpretation of “vegetable” we’ve ever encountered.
Key Lime Pie: Franklin Barbecue, Austin, TX.
Look, Franklin in an institution, and if you’re in Austin with friends who love meat, you’ll be making a stop here. And they’re going to have a great time, because Anthony Bourdain did. Sadly, the side selection here isn’t vast, but we’re deeming pie a perfectly acceptable side dish (and ask kindly that you don’t judge us.) Order the key lime, then get the bourbon banana, too.