How White Bread Became A Traditional Southern Barbecue Side Dish

Barbecue has long been a treasured tradition South of the Mason-Dixon line, and each region has a distinct style. Whether you're eating Kansas City sauce smothered ribs, pulled pork in the Carolinas, or Texas dry-rubbed brisket, one accompaniment unites them all: white bread. No matter where you are in barbecue country, white bread, pickles, and often raw onions come with your order free of charge.

White bread as a universal side for southern barbecue dates back to the beginning of barbecue around the turn of the 20th century. Of course, backyard cookouts have existed for centuries in different forms around the globe, but smoking meats to sell as a commodity began in butcher shops and meat markets. Butchers began selling an assortment of meats as a side business. Since they were shops and not restaurants, they didn't have the ingredients or kitchens to prepare elaborate side dishes. However, butcher shops often sold household staples like white bread, bottled pickles, and hot sauce. These products were shelf-stable, cheap, and convenient, not to mention the perfect sides to make a plate of meat into a well-rounded meal.

Even today, many smokehouses are still adjoined to country stores or gas stations. While white bread and jars of pickles are probably delivered to barbecue joints regularly, if provisions are low, they can raid the shelves of their next-door neighbors, harkening back to the days of old.

White bread and barbecue creations and cultural significance

Over the past century, barbecue has become an art form and its own category of soul food with a panoply of side dishes like coleslaw, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, and pinto beans. While those sides cost extra, white bread comes included with the meat. Despite the stigma that packaged, processed white bread has incurred, it's a mainstay at barbecue joints with both cultural and utilitarian significance. Barbecue is an everyman's meal served over butcher paper or on trays in super casual, unpretentious atmospheres. White bread fits into the everyman ethos perfectly, even inspiring a sense of nostalgia for simpler

As a utilitarian ingredient, white bread has many uses. Its soft, spongey crumb and mild flavor soaks up all the sweet and tangy barbecue sauce and umami-rich juices that fall off the meat. Some people use it as an edible napkin to sop up all the meat and sauce on your plate at the end of the meal until it is so saturated that it melts in your mouth. Of course, you could always use the sliced white bread as a vehicle for the rest of the ingredients on your plate; top it with meat, pickles, onions, and sauce for an open-faced sandwich that you can fold and eat like a hot dog.