Houston BBQ 101

When To Go

Timing is everything in the barbecue business, but not just when it comes to cooking. As a barbecue consumer, it’s important to know when to visit your favorite Houston BBQ joint. What is the best time/day/week to visit? 

First, what weekdays are they open? As a rule, most joints are mom-and-pop businesses, so they need a day or two off to recharge as well as perform cleaning and maintenance. For that reason, many small joints are closed Sunday or Monday or both. 

Why are they closed on Sunday and Monday? One factor is that Sunday is a day of rest for religious purposes. Houston barbecue is historically associated with African American (Protestant) as well as Creoles of Color (Catholic) pitmasters whose ancestry comes from the religious traditions of the Southern U.S. and Louisiana. 

Being closed on a Monday is more of a practical matter. This is often that day when the week’s food deliveries are made. And in general, Mondays tend to be the slowest business day at many restaurants. 

Indeed, it’s something of an inside joke for barbecue connoisseurs when they say “Never take a barbecue tour on a Monday” because many places are closed that day. 

In general, Tuesday-Saturday are the days when the most joints will be open. 

So what’s a good time to go to a barbecue joint? There are two factors that influence this decision: many barbecue joints are only open for lunch, and they close the same day when the run out of food, i.e., they “sell out.” Many are the times a barbecue aficionado has rolled up on his favorite barbecue joint only to be met with the dreaded “Sold out!” sign. 

What gives? The bottom line is most barbecue joints only have so much time, manpower, and pit space to cook a finite amount of barbecue every day. Because of this, they are only open during a relatively brief window, usually from about 11am to 3pm on their opening days. So it’s advisable to get to your favorite barbecue joint as early as possible (refer to “Barbecue Lines” above). 

One note about being the first in line at a barbecue joint. Though it is pretty rare these days, some barbecue joints will “recycle” their leftover meats from the day before and serve them to the first customers of the day. If you are ever the first to order at a joint and the ribs have a chalky, wet bark, or if the brisket has a mushy texture, it means they may have spent the night in the cooler and were re-heated for the current day. 

That said, more barbecue joints are starting to offer breakfast and open as early as 7am. The thinking here is that there are already staff on site cooking the barbecue, so they might as well offer a simple breakfast dish like tacos that have a high profit margin. It is also a legitimate way to recycle leftover meat from the day before by chopping the meat and reheating it on a flat-top or as a stew to serve in a breakfast taco.

And for those barbecue joints with more pit space and manpower, making multiple “cooks” per day, i.e. cooking multiple batches of barbecue on a daily basis, allows them to stay open for dinner and never (or rarely) sell out.

And finally, a quick pro-tip on which times of the year to visit the most popular barbecue joints. During most of the year, the biggest names in barbecue have long lines and it’s not always practical for someone with a busy family or work life to stand in line for hour(s) to eat barbecue.

So the best time of the year to avoid these lines is to go to these barbecue joints the week after barbecue-centric holidays like the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day, or even Super Bowl weekend. People tend to be “barbecued-out” during these times and the lines at your favorite super-popular barbecue joint are that much shorter. 

How the HOUBBQ Guide helpsThe Days Open Filter allows you to easily generate a list of barbecue joints open for the day you are planning to visit. The Meals Served Filter allows you to find barbecue joints that are open for breakfast, lunch or dinner. And the Features Filter allows you to specify those joints that Do Not Sell Out, are Open Late, and Open Sundays.

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