Houston BBQ 101

How To Order

Though you will occasionally find a sit-down, table-service barbecue joint, most places use a counter-service model. There are two types of counter-service: placing your order with an order-taker at a point-of-sale, or with the meat-cutter at the cutting board. 

While you are in line, there will be individual menus to peruse, or a large chalkboard or other wall-mounted menu so you can begin deciding what to order. As a courtesy to other guests in line, it’s always a good idea to know what you want to order by the time you reach the order counter, so as to speed up the process. 

After ordering with an order-taker, you can then proceed to sitting at a table. Your order will be sent to the kitchen and assembled there, and your name will be called (or some type of buzzer will ring) to pick up the order when it is ready.

When ordering with the actual meat-cutter, the process is slightly different. Placing your order this way is an obvious throw-back to the olden days of Texas barbecue when meat-markets transitioned to cooked-meats. It also adds an entertainment factor to the process as you interact with the meat cutter and watch him or her cut your meat right in front of you. 

Approach the counter with your order in hand (or you should at least generally know what you want to order). Brief chit-chat with the meat-cutter is perfectly appropriate, for example, “How was the cook last night?” or “What’s good today?”  

The meat-cutter may present you with a “taster,” which is small chunk of brisket, to taste. This is kind of like when the wine guy at a restaurant pours a sip of wine for you to taste and approve. It is also a gesture of welcome and hospitality. It is also, quite frankly, a way to tempt your taste buds so you will order more brisket (“Wow, that’s good! We should probably get a half-pound instead of a quarter-pound, right?”). 

Now it’s time to place the order. This is your moment of glory.

In most cases you will be ordering meats by the pound. Brisket is ordered by the quarter-pound (usually enough for one person), half-pound (two persons), and full pound (four or more persons), and multiple pounds. 

Keep in mind that the price per pound is sometimes on a sliding scale, with a quarter-pound the most expensive per unit. For instance, a quarter-pound might cost $10 (the equivalent of $40 per pound), while a full pound order is $26. That’s why it is often cheaper per pound of meat to go with a large group. In some cases it also makes sense to order a full pound, eat a quarter of that for lunch, and take the rest home and freeze it for later consumption.

You can also order other meats by the pound like pork ribs, sausage, turkey and pulled pork. Pork ribs are also sometimes sold by the “bone,” i.e. per rib, or by the whole rack, which is about 13 bones. Sausage is sometimes sold by the whole link. 

Getting back to the brisket order, you may also be asked for which “cut” of brisket you want, either “lean” or “moist.” Lean comes from the flat muscle of the brisket and contains less fat, while the moist cut comes from the point muscle and contains more layers of flavorful fat between the actual meat. 

In general, if you want to judge the skill of a pitmaster, order the lean brisket. It should be tender and what fat there is should be completely rendered. If you are just there to enjoy a meal with friends, you can place a “mixed” order of brisket which is a bit of both lean and moist. Other names for moist brisket are fatty, loose, or wet cut. 

Once you have placed your meat order, you can now move down the order counter and place your side-dish and dessert order. You can then take your tray(s) to the check-out person who will take your drink order, tabulate your order, and then you can pay for the whole thing. Take your trays to the nearest table and eat your way to barbecue nirvana. Don’t forget to take pictures!

How the HOUBBQ Guide helps: On the individual barbecue joint profile pages you can refer to the Pro-Tip and Known-For data to get info about how and what to order. You can get further tips in the Ordering area of the Location Details. In the Features Filter, you can narrow down places based on if they offer Table Service or Counter Cut service (ordering directly with the meat-cutter). 

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