HOW TO ORDER BARBECUE
TL;DR: Get a 3-meat plate of split fatty and lean brisket extra bark on both, with pulled pork and jalapeño sausage. No bread. Side of baked beans, collard greens and peach cobbler. And a lonestar beer.
Howdy. Just kidding, no one really says that in Texas unless they are a true cowboy. If this is said, show respect.
Welcome to Texas. Barbecue differs from state-to-state so naturally you need to try some good ole Texas barbecue on your visit. While some states have sweet bbq, others like a vinegar taste, Texas likes rubs. Salt and pepper take the stage here. The meat should be so flavorful with the rub that you don't need to reach for a sauce. Being new to Texas and hoping to have a great first impression, you may ask yourself 'what do you order? How do you order? What does 'bark' or the cut or all that have to do with the meat?' Here is how to look like a local when ordering barbecue in Texas.
Barbecue is more than a meal. This isn't a quick turnaround of get-in, get-out type of eating experience. It's about sitting down with friends, having a cold one and sharing a meal.
WAIT VS NO LINE
Top BBQ joints will typically have a line that starts prior to the restaurant opening. Do not view this negatively or allow it to defer you from eating at this establishment. Rather, realize that this place is so good that people will actually wait for it. But there's more happening here than waiting for a meal. This is an experience of friends and strangers who have come together to wait for a great meal. Waiting in line is part of the fun.
One of my favorite moments was waiting in line for Franklin Barbecue in Austin, TX. Arriving at 6:30 AM, I spent 6.5 hours waiting in line. The wait became more than just a line. It was filled with games, strangers became friends, and beers were shared. Outsiders cannot believe someone would wait so long just to have BBQ. To this I say, sorry my friends, this is an experience you have to have to understand. And yes, it was totally worth it.
Killen's BBQ (Houston) - - The Pit Room (Houston) - - Willow's Texas BBQ (Houston)
POUND VS PLATE
The menu is typically split between ordering meats by the pound or ordering mixed plates of meat. Assume that everyone in your group is going to have more than a half pound of meat, but less than a full pound. Also consider the sides, breads and vegetables. Do the math and that will help you decide how much meat to order. Let's break that down.
If there's two of you, I recommend a plate per person so you can sample a bit of everything. Try the three meat plate - brisket, something pork, and a sausage. Meats are about one third of a pound on a plate, which is a good deal. If there's a group with you, order by the pound. Try a pound of fatty brisket, pound of lean, half pound of something pork (pulled pork is delicious) and then a sausage or two. The jalapeño sausage is a personal favorite and it's not always as spicy as you think.
Pickles and onions will be added to your plate to pair with your meats. Bread is included too and as a courtesy, don't take the bread if you don't want it. Just tell them 'no bread' and they will appreciate it. Barbecue joints biggest complaint is how much bread is thrown out.
Don't forge sides! Typically there's a bean and green somewhere on the menu. Get a cup of each and then treat yourself with mac 'n cheese. And maybe a slice of the cobbler, cause why not.
If this sounds like a lot of food, don't be too concerned. One word = leftovers.
FATTY VS LEAN (BRISKET ONLY)
This is going to be about brisket because Texas is not known for pork. Moo baby. There are two types of brisket: fatty and lean. Before diving into the self explanatory meats, you need to understand what the bark is. Bark is the rub or crisp seasoning on the outside of the brisket. It's a collection of all the spices that soaked into the meat. Ask for bark, heck, ask for extra bark.
Fatty brisket is going to have more fat in the slice of brisket. Don't steer away from fat because you think it will make you fat. This is the good kind. If the brisket is cooked well, the fat will be soft and candy-like in taste and will melt in your mouth. Ask for bark. Again, you shouldn't need sauce to help. This is my favorite and I always try the fatty with bark.
Lean brisket is going to be denser and it won't have the tender, juicy pockets like the fatty. It will have more of a meaty taste. You can also ask for bark on this cut. Lean is typically used for BBQ sandwiches and tacos. I use lean as an opportunity to sample the local sauces. If you're going for more of a healthy option, this would be it. Why you're trying to be on a diet in a bbq joint is like trying to understand why you'd put a bull in a china cabinet.
The cutting of the meat is rather important. The person slicing your meat is an expert at what they are doing. Ask them about the slices, the cuts, etc. From past experience, they are happy to discuss their love of meats and will give you samples!
SPECIAL CUTS - BEEF RIBS, PORK RIBS, BURNT ENDS
On special occasions, BBQ joints will provide beef ribs, pork ribs, burnt ends and more. They are worth sampling if you have the stomach space and the wallet. The specials are never cheap.
Beef ribs, also known as dinosaur bones, are huge and can be shared by two people. This has rib bone meat attached which is juicy, and flavorful and is a nice treat.
Pork ribs are also the rib bone meat and you'll get a pack of four typically. You can share between two or each friend can have one.
Burnt ends are cubed pieces of brisket or pork that are cooked to perfection, coated in the restaurants BBQ sauce and cooked a second time. This flavorful meat packs a big taste. You get a few pieces that can be shared with friends. Always ask if it's brisket or pork, I prefer the brisket.
Look up the top 50 BBQ joints and see if there is one around you. Plan to be there 45-minutes to an hour before they open. Some restaurants will have a ticket system, some will require you to get in line, some provide free beer. Just know, you can't cut the line. Like if a friend says save me a spot; don't do it. Joints look down on people jumping in line. The BBQ joint has only made so much food. If your buddy cuts the line this means someone who has been waiting doesn't get anything. Your whole party will be pulled from line and sent home with empty stomachs. I've seen it happen and I respect the heck out of it.
Texas BBQ is a true pleasure and a great way to bring friends together. Share a meal and catch up, then go home and sleep off the meat-coma. Venturing to different BBQ joints around Texas is a small love that shows you how different towns are, and how everyone puts a unique spin on their version of BBQ. I haven't found two that are the same, but I'm still willing to try them all just to make sure. Stay hungry and enjoy your BBQ adventure.
If you want to dive into meats more, I highly recommend Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto: A Cookbook. Also recommend that you visit Franklin Barbecue.