Side Shows

Traditional Side Dishes Get a Modern Twist

Elevating classic East Texas sides to new heights is a uniquely Houston phenomenon.

By Robb Walsh August 4, 2015 Published in the August 2015 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Fried cubes of mac 'n' cheese are a must-try at Jackson Street.

Image: Audra Oden

While the Czech and German meat markets of Central Texas have traditionally served smoked meat simply—nothing but meat and butcher paper—East Texas barbecue has always come with Southern sides, from beans to greens, coleslaw to cornbread, and at least a few desserts. While it can be argued that the current generation of Houston barbecue joints is besting its central Texas rivals of late, the Bayou City has long led the pack in the side dish department, and by a country mile.

The Southern cooking tradition gave us a head start, and things have only gotten better from there. Love deviled eggs? Wait till you try the smoked ones at Jackson Street BBQ, where an egg yolk filling is removed and smoked for half an hour before being piped back into the boiled white. Then there’s the mac ‘n’ cheese, formed into squares, coated with bread crumbs and deep-fried into irresistibly crispy cubes. Jackson Street co-owners Bryan Caswell and Greg Gatlin both come from Louisiana families, which also explains the inclusion of dirty rice among their side dishes (not to mention the barbecued crabs that make occasional weekend appearances).

At CorkScrew BBQ, Will Buckman has found a novel use for the fat trimmed away from his briskets. He collects it in roasting pans and renders it in the smoker, at which point the melted, oak-smoked tallow makes a great base for baked beans. As for pintos, one taste of Buckman’s and you’ll never think them boring again. And over at Roegels Barbecue Co., look for ripe, fresh tomatoes in a tart vinaigrette, and mashed potatoes made with fully-dressed, roasted russets.  

Still, Killen’s may the best place to sample Houston’s new barbecue sides. Don’t miss their modern riff on Ronnie Killen’s grandma’s creamed corn, an exquisitely silky, buttery casserole that will remind you of a Cajun maque choux. Then there’s the stepped-up coleslaw made with slivered almonds, sunflower-seed kernels and broken-up clumps of instant ramen noodles, which add a satisfying crunch—a trick that has been enjoyed at church potlucks and family reunions across East Texas for summers immemorial. 

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