Why White Bread Is Often Served With Barbecue In The South

A tradition you need to know about.

<p>Caitlin Bensel </p>

Caitlin Bensel

When you order a platter of barbecue, you likely expect to see brisket, ribs, sausage, and classic side dishes like potato salad and mac & cheese. But at many BBQ joints–especially if you’re in Central Texas–your plate will also come adorned with a simple slice (or several slices) of plain white sandwich bread. This barbecue add-on can seem superfluous (who’s really craving white bread when they’re eating saucy pulled pork and perfectly-smoked brisket?), but according to the experts, white bread and barbecue have a long and distinguished history together.

Related: The South's Best Barbecue Joint In Every State 2024

Meet The Experts

The History Of White Bread In BBQ

White bread is a tradition with roots in Central Texas.

Barbecue pros generally agree that the white bread tradition began in Central Texas and dates back to the 19th century. “Barbecue is served with white bread because of how inexpensive [white bread] is. We can think of the early days of Texas barbecue as a ‘ploughman's lunch’,” explains Evan LeRoy, co-owner and pit chef of LeRoy & Lewis in Austin, Texas.

Because meat markets weren’t always able to source enough beef and pork to fill the platters in past generations, they looked for other ways to fill the space. LeRoy tells us that they accomplished that goal by creating plates made up of “some meat, some bread, some pickles. Mass-produced white bread was cheap and readily available, so it was easy to hand out with smoked meat. Plus, it made a handy vehicle for sopping up sauce and meat drippings. As the cuisine grew in popularity, the tradition stuck and evolved.”

White bread and barbecue may have first united in Central Texas, but this service style soon expanded elsewhere.

"With the popularity of Texas [style] barbecue all over the country, I've seen white bread on plates and trays in most states."

Evan LeRoy

Shannon Bingham, executive chef of Devil Moon Barbecue in New Orleans, Louisiana, agrees. “A slice or two of white bread on platters feels like a quintessentially Central Texas move, but there are old Southern staples (like Dreamland in Tuscaloosa) that I think have some claim to the practice as well,” Bingham says. He also describes a childhood memory “of a long gone barbecue spot in New Orleans called Podner’s that would give you a bag of white bread instead of napkins to clean their incredibly saucy barbecue from your hands. Not a practice I have seen anywhere else (or since), but I thought it was incredibly fun in my youth.” 

<p>Robbie Caponetto</p>

Robbie Caponetto

The Purpose Of White Bread

White bread can be a “landing zone” for meat and can serve as a utensil of sorts.

When it comes to the technical purpose of a slice of white bread on a barbecue platter, LeRoy says that “we mostly use the bread for two reasons:

  • Landing zone: We serve a lot of BBQ plates, so the bread acts as a ‘landing zone’ for our meats. The bread elevates the meats and makes them look more appetizing. Additionally, the bread soaks up some meat juices and is delicious to eat after the meat or along with the meat.”

  • "Foldee": Both LeRoy and Bingham speak in favor of what Bingham calls a “foldee.” “It’s now common for diners to make a foldover with a piece of white bread, meat, sauce, and pickles or onions to make a blended bite,” LeRoy explains. Bingham says that the “foldee” “can help people make a more filling meal out of a plate. For being the go-to option, commodity white bread has just enough pliability and structure and a mild-enough flavor that it will let a slice of brisket and some onion shine in a way that a fancier bread wouldn't.”

Related: 10 Award-Winning Southern BBQ Sauce Recipes

Central Texas barbecue doesn’t tend to rely on sauce, but Bingham thinks that the spread of white bread to other Southern barbecue regions has a lot to do with the popularity of barbecue sauce in places like Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia. “I’m generally not a big sauce person, but the experience at Dreamland in Tuscaloosa where they give you a basket of white bread and a side of warm sauce is a pretty transcendent sauce-mopping experience,” Bingham says.

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