Caitlin Bensel

Well, this weekend for sure. And pretty much any weekend after that for the next three months. 

May 24, 2017

If you’ve hopped on the Southern-inspired food train, well…I can’t blame you at all; welcome aboard. From the pinnacle comfort food classics to incredibly fresh, vegetable-forward dishes inspired by the region’s rich bounty of produce, the American South has a heck of a lot to offer in terms of cooking technique, iconic dishes, and delicious inspiration. It’s no wonder at all that Southern food has stepped into, and stayed under, the national culinary spotlight in recent years. Originally hailing from the city of Valdosta, GA myself (located about as deep in south Georgia as you can go before ending up in Florida—probably best known for high school football and the engaging array of interstate billboards that guide you to our exits), this is the food I grew up identifying as “good cooking” and the food I was first interested in making—and making my own. All of which is to say, it’s been exciting and, frankly, quite satisfying to watch Southern food move from “low-brow and unhealthy” to where it sits now on the country’s culinary radar, a large part in thanks to chefs like Hugh Acheson, Ashley Christensen, Sean Brock, etc. for showcasing just how versatile and inspired dishes rooted in Southern culture and ingredients can be. 

SO, now that we have established that Southern-inspired eating is a great way to be eating—especially during the summer months—let’s get down to the food. Here’s a menu of some of my favorite recipes for a classic barbecue spread, perfect for any upcoming get-togethers—Memorial Day, July 4th, tailgating, you name it. Enjoy, ya’ll. 

Appetizers

Boiled Peanut Hummus

Confession: Outside of a peanut butter cookie, boiled is the only form in which I like my peanuts. And I don’t just like them, I love them… and likewise, absolutely love this tasty Southern twist on traditional hummus from Chef Hugh Acheson. Now, I know a lot of folks who aren’t a fan of those “hot, slimy, Southern peanuts,” and that’s fine (it’s not really, but whatever); however, I’d still encourage you to give this rich and toasty legume spread a try with plenty of fresh veggies and pita. Pureed just might be your perfect entry point to boiled peanuts. You can add whatever spices you like to your boiling water to flavor the peanuts, but the only real essential is plenty of salt—salt that water until it tastes like the ocean. And yes, in this application, you can get away with using canned, but if you’re trying to enjoy your extra boiled peanuts for snacking while you cook (highly recommend this course of action), I’d suggest boiling them yourself. It’s easy. 

Hot Chicken Deviled Eggs

Who cares which came first when you can have both the chicken and the egg in one devilishly good (see what I did there) bite? They’re spicy, but not totally burn-your-mouth spicy; so feel free to increase or decrease the cayenne pepper depending on how much of a kick you like. Second only to their deliciousness, my favorite thing about these deviled eggs is the fact that they’re a perfect use for leftover fried chicken (yes, that happens). When you can make a party-perfect app using your cold dinner leftovers—you sir/madame, are winning. 

Main Dish

OK, this is a barbecue menu, and so obviously, the star has gotta be… barbecue. I’m gonna give you a few options here, because we aren’t all cut from the same cloth and shouldn’t have to settle for the same hunk of smokey-good meat. Pick one (or two, depending on your crowd) of the following proteins, and aim to put out at least a few of the recommended sauces. Pause—I can’t emphasize enough how critical it is to offer options when it comes to barbecue sauce. You don’t want to start a riot… which frankly, is apt to happen should you only put out one BBQ sauce, thus making a blanket statement on what type of BBQ sauce you believe is the best, and the best for everyone around your table. Trust me on this one, go for at least 2-3 sauces.

Proteins: 

Hickory Pulled Pork

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Fantastic Bourbon Smoked Chicken

Coffee Rubbed Texas Style Brisket

The Ultimate Smoky Sweet Ribs

Sauces:

White Barbecue Sauce

 Fancy Barbecue Sauce

El Sancho Barbecue Sauce

Tangy Strawberry Barbecue Sauce

Molasses Barbecue Sauce

Peach Barbecue Sauce 

Other Accouterments (i.e. pickles, duh)

Quick Homemade Pickles

Pickled Red Onions

Vermouth Pickled Green Tomatoes

Zucchini and Squash Pickles

Watch: How to Make Easy Refrigerator Pickles

 

Sides

Heirloom Tomatoes with Charred Okra, Vidalias, and Malt Mayo

Starting here because this stunning tomato salad is what I’m talking about when it comes to showcasing regional produce in a vibrant, healthy, Southern way. Chef Ashley Christensen rocks at this, so you may notice a couple of my side recommendations are her recipes. 

New Potatoes with Shaved Celery, Buttermilk, and Dill

Don’t let the lengthy recipe title above intimidate you, it’s just a fancy, chefy way of saying “DAMN GOOD Potato Salad.” 

Crunchy Coleslaw

You can’t do barbecue without slaw, and this is a good, solid standby offering loads of crunch and bright, tasty flavors via a diversity of fresh produce including cabbage, carrot, fennel, jicama, and Granny Smith apple. 

Root Beer Baked Beans

Because it’s hard not to love it when you get to pour root beer into a “veggie” side dish. 

Desserts

Caramelized Banana Pudding 

When banana pudding gets all dressed up… it’s nothing but good. 

Easy Peach Cobbler

Backed with over 300 user reviews, it’s hard to argue with this simple-to-make, 5-star take on the sweet Southern standby.

Nectarine-Blubbery Crisp

If you prefer a more textural topper than what a cobbler tends to offer, go for a crisp. You can most assuredly use peaches in place of the nectarines in this recipe if you prefer. Serve it warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and you’re golden (as the crunchy, sweet oat topping). 

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