At most any barbecue, no matter the size, you'll find at least one of the three favorite side dishes; Cole Slaw, Barbecue Beans, or Potato Salad. Each of these have one very important thing in common, they can be prepared well in advance, freeing the host from having to put together too many dishes all at once. After all the focus of the cookout is what you are cooking, not what goes on the side. This doesn't make any of these dishes any less important, however. A good side dish often makes the meal and you'll find people praise a great side dish as much if not more than the main course.
Cole Slaw: Traditional has dictated that in the world of Southern Barbecue you'll find one thing that rises above all else on the side of great pork barbecue. That is Cole Slaw. This simple cabbage salad traces its roots back to Dutch emigrants. The true secret to a great Cole Slaw is how you prepare the cabbage. Cut it coarsely and do not grind it too fine. Cole Slaw shouldn't be runny and the way to keep it from becoming runny is to keep the water in the cabbage. This requires chopping with a sharp knife that doesn't crush it.
Barbecue Beans: In Texas you find beans served next to most anything, especially smoked brisket. Beans can be spicy or sweet or both, but should never be bland. Good beans should have lots of flavor so that they stand out on the tongue. Now, beans don't have a lot of flavor of their own so to make great barbecue beans you need to add a lot of flavor and let that flavor sink in. The secret to great beans is to cook them, low and slow for a very long time. All day if you have that kind of time.
Potato Salad: Probably every Aunt and Grandmother in America has a potato salad recipe. It has become the staple of the Great American Cookout. Potato Salads come in a wide range of variations. Everything from tart pickle based salads to sweet, dark salads. The great thing about a potato salad is that you can make it a day in advance and keep it in the refrigerator until you need it. The secret to a potato salad is in how you cook the potatoes. While you can grill, roast, or bake the potatoes for a potato salad, most people boil the potatoes, and most people over boil the potatoes. When the potato pieces are just barely tender you need to remove them from the hot water and let them cool down on their own.
So, no matter what side dish you serve up at your next barbecue or cookout, remember to take your time and make is something great. People will love the burgers or ribs, but they'll rave about the Cole Slaw.