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Why is BBQ Served With White Bread?

There’s nothing more tasty than some thick white bread with your BBQ – it’s making my mouth water just thinking about it. But what’s the history behind this tradition?

Serving white bread with BBQ began in the late 1800s in the Carolina’s where barbecue began (sorry Texas). White bread absorbs all the greasy, saucy, messiness of BBQ and is traditionally served with cooked meats, pickles and onions.

Let’s dive down into the history of white bread with BBQ, and look at the types of white bread that are the perfect accompaniment. We’ll also consider what bread-based alternatives there are if you want to try other options.

What’s The History of White Bread With BBQ?

When you go to a Texas roadhouse barbecue joint, all their delicious smoked meats are served with whopping slices of “Texas Toast”. Texas Toast is a blocky, thick slice of bread about an inch thick. 

The bread that roadhouse ‘cue joints serve isn’t artisan style, not whole wheat, not sourdough, not a crusty baguette, not French or Italian – it’s your Plain Jane, average, run-of-the-mill, cheap white bread. It has the consistency of Play-Doh.

What gives? Well, it’s not about the bread. It’s all about the meat. Bread is just a vehicle.

Let’s be clear. We are talking about traditional roadhouse-style smoked meats here. Ribs, brisket, pork, chicken, and links. Not steaks, fish or hamburgers. No grilled vegetables.

Barbecue is messy. It’s not haute cuisine served on the best china with a fine wine. In ‘cue joints, there’s beer by the pitcher. Country music. Meats are served on butcher paper. You dig in – often with your hands. That block of cheap white bread will help you consume all that juicy, delicious meat.

Barbecue cooking styles vary with region. In many areas, brisket is not served sliced – it’s chopped. In fact, “you don’t need teeth to eat this beef” is a sign on roadhouse doors. In East Texas, you need white bread for a “free-style” brisket sandwich.

Cheap white bread will absorb all the greasy, saucy, messiness of barbecue. You can use it to make open-face sandwiches with pulled pork and sauce. Roll it up around a combo of smoked links, sauce, onions, and pickles. Use it to soak up every drop of the amazing sauces. Load it up with beans and burnt ends (or “outside browns”).

Serving slabs of white bread with messy meats is practical. The white bread-barbecue meat combo has been around for a long time. Probably since barbecue began, back in the Carolina’s in the mid-1800s. Back then, white bread and barbecue meats were often served with pickles and onions.

Traditional BBQ Also Had Pickles & Onions With White Bread

Some folks might question why they are served small stacks of dill pickles and onions with their ribs. Might seem odd. Some people say that the combination of meats, spicy sauces, pickles, and onions are more than just the sum of the parts.

It’s about the contrast: meats are soft and rich, while pickles and onions are crunchy and tangy. Sauces are sweet and pickles are sour.

Experts say the barbecue meat-pickle-onion-white bread marriage began in the late 1800s. It probably began in the Carolina’s, where barbecue began. Texans, of course, would probably dispute that.

Selling smoked meats probably started out as a butcher’s side gig in an old meat market. Instead of letting meat spoil, they smoked it and sold it. Butchers, of course, are all about the meat, not some fancy-dancy, time-consuming side dishes. Butchers began selling simple, available sides. Pickles. Onions. Sometimes radishes.

The butchers didn’t even need refrigeration. Just chop them up the onions and serve them. For the pickles, they only had to open a jar. Get the entire fascinating history of barbecue meats, white bread, onions, and pickles here.

How do you eat the pickles, onions, white bread, and meat? Some experts like to alternate bites. One barbecue critic describes taking a bite of ribs, then a bite of pickle, bite of ribs, etc. With a sausage link, set the link on the slice of bread, add pickles and onions, and roll up the bread. Smoked sausage sandwich!

What is the traditional pickle choice? For some, that’s a closely guarded secret – no pickle shigging (aka squealing, finking, squeaking, or singing). But pickle insiders say that Best Maid pickles have been the traditional choice for a long time.

Many ‘cue roadhouses have started making their own versions of pickles and selling them on the side. Here’s a recipe for Texas-style pickles.

Pulled Pork BBQ White Bread Sandwich

What’s The Best White Bread For Your BBQ?

The traditional choice of bread for smoked meats with spicy sauces is – bland. The taste of the bread is not supposed to overwhelm the taste of the meats.

Best sliced white bread choices are: Wonder Bread, Mrs. Baird’s, Bimbo, Arnold’s Country White, Stroehmann White Bread, Martin’s Old-Fashioned Real Butter Bread, Pepperidge Farm White, and Sara Lee Farm White, to mention just a few.

Squishy, soft, white rolls are a practical option. Load them up with chopped brisket or pulled pork, like a sandwich. Potato rolls are soft and bland. Hoagies work well.

What Other Types of Bread Go Well With BBQ?

In South Texas, barbacoa is a Tejano tradition. Barbacoa is served in fresh, flour tortillas. Traditional barbacoa is cooked in a pit. Today, there aren’t many restaurants allowed to cook in a pit. You, however, can dig your own pit in your backyard. Here’s a video.

If you don’t feel like pit-digging, but want a bread side, it’s easy and quick to make grilled bread. You can prepare bread slices ahead of time, leave them refrigerated, then put them on the grill after everything else is done. 

Heavy breads with hard crusts made great grilled breads. Artisan-style sourdough or Asiago cheese bread works well.

Garlic bread is a popular side for all barbecue meats and can be grilled easily. There are lots of recipes to try. Garlic butter can be spread on all types of bread, including naan and pita bread. Garlic butter with cheese grills up great.

Cornbread is a traditional BBQ bread choice. There are lots of versions of cornbread: add sweet corn, chiles, cheddar cheese or bell peppers. Add jalapeños and beer. Cornbread is a traditional side with brisket and ribs.

Hushpuppies are cornbread cousins. Hushpuppies are made from cornmeal, garlic powder, sugar, and buttermilk. The thick batter is dropped by the spoonful (melon ballers work well) into hot oil and fried to a golden-brown. Hushpuppies are a traditional Southern and Texas side for brisket, ribs and links.

Biscuits are another traditional choice for barbecue. Biscuits emerged in the United States sometime before the Civil War, like barbecue. Biscuits were cheap and easy to make. They require no yeast. Today, biscuits are a great side to barbecue. Cheddar cheese, bacon – even BBQ sauce can be added to biscuits.

Corn fritters are uniquely Southern. Corn fritters are made from flour, corn, eggs, sugar, and milk. The fritters are fried as balls or as patties.

Of course, a freshly baked loaf of French or Italian bread, a crispy baguette goes with everything. King’s Hawaiian Bread sweetness is a nice complement to spicy BBQ sauce.

Some folks think harder rolls, like Ciabatta or sourdough, hold up better under lots of sauce. Onion rolls are a nice complement for chicken and links.


Ok, so I’ve just finished editing this article and normally I’d write a nice little round up of what you’ve just read – but I’m so hungry after all this that I’m off to make myself a pulled pork sandwich instead!Needless to say: white bread + BBQ meat + pickles and onions = heaven 🙂

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >