In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain introduces readers to a rough cob of a man named Boggs, who declares his motto to be, “Meat first, and spoon vittles to top off on.” Boggs wasn’t referring to dinner, but to his intention to kill one Colonel Sherburn, but that’s another story. For barbecue lovers, literary or not, there is merit in Boggs’ sentiment, however out of context it seems.
In the wide world of barbecue, the spoon vittles that come along side the main attraction depend on where you are. In the South, there is usually a cup of Brunswick stew, the everything-in-a-pot concoction originally made with rabbit, squirrel, chicken, beef, pork, corn, potatoes, lima beans, tomatoes, and whatever, and claimed by both Virginia and Georgia. The other staples are coleslaw, and crackers—for the stew— and cornbread, well larded with cracklin’s if you’re lucky.
In Texas, you’re more likely to get pinto beans, with or without some chopped beef stirred in, potato salad, coleslaw, and Texas toast. Depending on what part of Texas you find yourself in, you might also get guacamole, onion rings, French fries, cornbread, calf fries, stuffed jalapeños, tortillas, sliced onions, pickles, fried okra, or even macaroni and cheese.
In other parts of the county…. No, when it comes to barbecue, it’s either the Lone Star or Dixie, and all the rest are more or less just pretending. And before someone from Kansas City chimes in—no, I don’t know what kind of sides they serve in Kansas City, and the only way to find out is to go to Kansas City, and the last person to do that voluntarily was Wilbert “I’m going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come” Harrison, but that was in 1959, and besides, he was from North Carolina. OK.
Where were we, oh yes, side dishes. As you will note, the common factor in both the South and Texas is coleslaw. Coleslaw probably is the perfect accompaniment to barbecue. It brings a cool crunch to the party, and there are just about as many ways to make it as there are people who make it.
It can be on the sweet side, or it can be tart. It can be plain, just chopped green cabbage with some type of dressing, or it can be fancy with carrots, red or purple cabbage, sweet peppers, diced apples, jicama, broccoli, cauliflower, pickled okra, diced pickles or water chestnuts—fresh would be best. I’ve never heard of putting nuts in coleslaw, but it sounds worth a try. Another addition guaranteed to perk up the slaw is celery seeds. The best coleslaw I ever tasted had celery seeds. Dressings can be thin and tart or creamy and sweet. Salad dressing, sweet pickle juice, and lime juice makes for an interesting combination.
Having lived in Georgia for thirty years, where coleslaw goes places you would never imagine, I can attest to the versatility of this humble dish. It is good on crackers, in chili, on hotdogs and hamburgers, on barbecue sandwiches, and sprinkled over scrambled eggs.
So, the next time you have to choose, say, “Coleslaw, please.” You can get it everywhere, probably even in Kansas City.