Traditionally cooked with pungent spices in either a wet sauce or a dry rub, baby back ribs are best served with side dishes that balance its strong-tasting flavors. Choose side dishes whose flavors contrast with the tang or heat of the sauce; complement and deepen the flavor of the ribs; or freshen your palate from the rich meat.
Cool and Refreshing
Salads provide a contrast to baby back ribs in their temperature and their freshness. Cabbage pairs well with pork, so you can't go wrong with cole slaw and a creamy dressing that balances acidity in a tomato-based rib sauce. Potato salad with the same kind of dressing works equally well. If your sauce is Asian-inspired, with soy sauce or teriyaki flavors, use a rice wine vinaigrette with the cole slaw and add shredded carrots, cilantro and red onions.
Pass the Veggies
For a summer barbecue, grilled corn on the cob brings a touch of sweetness that tones down chili powder or hot paprika flavors of ribs. Serve corn also for the bright, yellow color it brings to the table. Grilled onions, white or red, eggplant or potatoes also pair well with pork; cook them alongside the meat on the grill. Deepen their flavors with a sprinkling of fresh or dried oregano.
Sweet and Juicy
Stone fruits, such as peaches, plums and apricots, bring a smooth texture contrast to chewy ribs and sweetness to offset a hot sauce. Grill these fruits, as well as pineapple slices or avocado, to bring out their flavors. Cut the avocados in half and pit them but leave their skins intact, grilling just the cut side. Or serve a fresh, fruit salad, with tropical mango, kiwi and pineapple.
Bread and Wine
If your rib sauce doesn't already have garlic in it, serve slices of buttered garlic bread with fresh parsley. The garlic and parsley cut through the richness of the meat, and the richness in the butter balances any acidity in the sauce. If the sauce does have garlic, biscuits or cornbread are crowd favorites, served with butter and honey. A flavorful beer or bold, red wine rounds out the meal.
- National Pork Board: Back Ribs Basics
- The Flavor Bible; Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
- Bon Appetit: Grilled Avocado, Scallion, and Red Onion
- Food & Wine: Best Wines for Barbecue