3 smoky vegetarian barbecue sides for a uniquely Southern Christmas

How to bring a smoky, savory flavor to your holiday table

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen
  • Pat Martin offers tips for holiday entertaining
  • His vegetable sides have enough oomph to satisfy even non-veggie eaters
  • Barbecue is the quintessential meal to serve for a crowd, Martin says

If there's one thing whole-hog expert Pat Martin needs you to take away from his treatment of unlikely barbecue sides such as carrots, it's this: Don’t be afraid of char.

"The deep caramelization that a hot fire can give your food is, for me, the payoff for doing all the work to prepare the grill in the first place," writes the Nashville pitmaster in his cookbook "Life of Fire," which covers everything from whole-hog barbecue to charred carrots with sorghum and buttermilk. We've shared the recipe for those carrots below.

Firing up the grill might seem like an odd thing to do around the holidays, but hear us out: Cooking outside keeps some of the mess there, too. It eliminates some of the crowding in the kitchen that happens when your house is full of guests. The grill also adds incomparable flavor to sturdy vegetables such as carrots, though burning them all to bits is a different story, Martin said.

"Once something is burned, it will be unpleasantly bitter, and that’s all you will taste," he said. "If the food looks burned but still tastes deliciously savory, that’s some good char."

Get grilling:All-American grilling recipes, tips and tricks to level up your backyard barbecue

And when it comes to serving a crowd, Martin recommends what may already come as second nature to many home cooks: Serve everything family style right at the table rather than fussing with plating meals individually.

"Keep the drinks off the table — but close by — to make room for all the food," he said.

To keep things calm for the hosting cook, make kids eat what's being served rather than trying to accommodate them, said Martin, who has three children.

"No hot dogs and chicken tenders on this day," he said.

And although the recipes we've provided here are vegetarian, they pair well with meat, whether it's roasted poultry, brisket or classic barbecue. If serving the latter, consider seeing if you might be able to buy it by the pound or quart from a local restaurant to save yourself the hassle. No one will think anything of it.

"There is no better type of food or service for a crowd than barbecue," said Martin, whose own holiday meals often revolve around the Southern staple. "It's the quintessential meal to serve. It relaxes the formality of the occasion and demands inclusion of conversation (from) everyone at the table."

Char adds an extra layer of flavor to a side of grilled carrots.

Charred carrots with sorghum and buttermilk

In his book, Martin explains that it takes awhile to grill carrots into soft, caramelized spears.

"I’ll throw the carrots on the grill as I go about my business (or grill something else), rotating them a quarter-turn every few minutes," he writes. "This will take a bit because I want you to char them pretty good! The carrots will get extra sweet and caramelized thanks to golden-brown sorghum syrup, the maple syrup of the South. It should be a light to medium caramel color. Don’t use blackstrap molasses, as it’s too bitter. If you can’t find sorghum molasses where you live, use a dark honey or maple syrup — or dark cane syrup. You add tangy, rich buttermilk to all thatsweetness, and you have a winner."

You’ll want to use whole (full-fat) buttermilk in this recipe, which will thicken into a heavy cream-like texture when you whip it. Note: If you can’t find whole buttermilk, add a splash of heavy cream to low-fat (1%) or light (1.5%) buttermilk, or use whole milk yogurt as a substitute.

Serves 2-4


  • ½ cup whole buttermilk.
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and left whole.
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil.
  • 3 tablespoons golden sorghum syrup.
  • 2 teaspoons fleur de sel or other flaky salt.


Measure out the buttermilk and let it sit at room temperature while you prepare a hot grill. Clean and oilthe grill grates well.

In a large bowl, combine the carrots, olive oil, sorghum and fleur de sel and toss until the carrots are well coated.Place the carrots on the grill and cook, rotating them a quarter-turn every couple of minutes, until tender and well charred all over; this will take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the carrots. Transferto a platter.

As soon as the carrots are finished, pour the buttermilk into a bowl and use a whisk or electric mixer to beat the buttermilk until it’s thickened to the texture of soft whipped cream. Drizzle the carrots with the whipped buttermilk and serve warm.

Charred creamed corn from barbecue legend Pat Martin.

Creamed charred corn

Martin developed this recipe to add the flavor of the grill to a dish he loved growing up.

"Back then, I was as picky as most kids are, but I loved my Maw-Maw’s creamed corn because it was sweet," he said. "She would always use Silver Queen corn, but you could use Peaches and Cream or another local variety that’s in season, preferably a white corn (which, on a side note, makes by far the best corn 'likker')."

Here, Martin adds jalapeños for a little heat, but you can skip them if you're feeding sensitive kids or adults.

Serves 4


  • 4 ears corn, shucked.
  • 2 jalapeño peppers.
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil.
  • 2 cups canned cream-style corn.
  • 2 tablespoons sugar.
  • 1 tablespoon butter.
  • 1½ teaspoons Diamond Crystal.
  • kosher salt.

Prepare a hot grill. Clean and oil the grill grates well.

Rub the corn and jalapeños with oil and grill, turning frequently, until well charred all over, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside until cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, in a medium cast-iron skillet, combine the canned corn, sugar, butter, salt and 2 tablespoons water and set over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved, the water has been absorbed, and the mixture is heated through, about 7 minutes.

To cut the corn from the cob, stand the ear up vertically and with your chef’s knife slice downward to the cutting board, making sure you are only removing the kernels from the cob. (Even better, cut the corn over a pie dish,as this will catch all the kernels for you.) Remove the stems and seeds from the jalapeños and finely dice.

Add the corn and jalapeños to the creamed corn and stir to combine and heat through. Serve.

Pitmaster Pat Martin says these charred green beans remind him of the smoky wok-fried version he used to love as a kid.

Grilled green beans with Memphis dry rub

A hot grill turns green beans into something extremely savory and slightly smoky, with a lightly crispy skin, according to Martin.

"These beans make for a great side dish with any meat cooked with fire, but they’re delicious enough on their ownfor snacking, especially when sprinkled with some of my Memphis-Style Seasoning for an extra hint of sweetness and heat."

There's no reason to blanch these beans, he writes.

"Throwing them directly on a hot grill will cook and char them before they can dry out too much. You can make these beans ahead of time and refrigerate them until you’re ready to use them. (I like to cut them up, toss themwith olive oil and lemon juice, and add them to salads.)"

Serves 4


  • 2 pounds green beans, trimmed.
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil.
  • 1 teaspoon fleur de sel or other flaky salt.
  • 2 teaspoons Memphis-Style Seasoning (recipe follows).

Prepare a hot grill. Clean and oil the grill grates well.

In a large bowl, toss the green beans with the oil and salt until coated. Transfer to a grill basket (or a wire rack set on top of the grill), piling them a few beans high so the ones on top will steam as the ones below char over the fire.

Toss the beans every couple of minutes, just until they’re tender and slightly charred, about 10 minutes total.

Return the beans to the bowl, add the Memphis-style seasoning and toss to coat. Serve immediately or refrigerate for later.

Memphis-style seasoning

Makes about 4 cups


  • 1⁄3 cup fine sea salt.
  • 1 1⁄3 cups paprika.
  • 1 1⁄3 cups chile powder.
  • ¼ cup ground cumin.
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder.
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon garlic powder.
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
  • 1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon ground coriander.
  • 1 teaspoon ground celery seeds.
  • 1½ teaspoons ground thyme.
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cloves.
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice.
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon.
  • ½ teaspoon ground oregano.
  • ½ teaspoon ground rosemary.
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves.
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds.
  • ¾ teaspoon monosodium glutamate (MSG).

In a medium bowl, whisk together all the ingredients. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to one month.