The ART OF WAR - Strategies on ordering BBQ
Alright the title might be a bit facetious as I'm sure you all know how to walk up to a counter and order Combo #1. But for the most part if you read bad reviews of decent BBQ joints there's a pretty common thread which tells me that people are not employing proper BBQ ordering strategies.
#1 What NOT to order
COMBOs - Any kind of combo meal is generally a bad idea. It's great from a restaurant's point of view as the margins are higher, but it's generally less bang for your buck. The combo invariably will contain that all popular filler - chicken (more on this later)
BRISKET - 99.999% of BBQ brisket suck. I have eaten brisket at joints owned by world champion brisket cooks and they sucked. This is not necessarily the fault of the cook. As I've stated before, brisket is the insensitive douchebag of the BBQ world. The second that a fresh new cooked brisket is sliced into, it's going down and going down fast. Now this isn't a problem if everyone was lining up ready to get their fill, but this doesn't happen in a restaurant setting. People get the brisket at 6 then perhaps 6:20, then 7 etc. You really don't have a fighting change when it comes to brisket unless you're literally the first person to order it. If the place you're eating at happens to pre-slice and rewarm their brisket you're basically screwed. There's even a well known blogger who makes it a habit of stopping by BBQ joints late in the day and ordering the brisket - surprise surprise he constantly has bad things to say ...
Now this if a place SPECIALIZES in brisket and you do see a line of people waiting for it, you will do well to follow suit. If you are ever in Austin, Texas and waiting on line at Aaron's BBQ just to order the turkey - baring dietary restrictions you are an idiot. Get the brisket.
CHICKEN - I have never met a chicken I wouldn't have preferred deep fried. I've eaten chicken that's been delicately roasted on a bed of vegetables stuffed with truffles and foie gras and I'd still rather have some pan fried chicken. Now that might be more telling of the fact that I'm an uncultured brute but I stand by my view. Chicken is a bland meat. Where as hardwood smoke transforms much meat garbage in to BBQ gold, it simply makes chicken taste like smoked blandness. People really love my smoked chicken and I still make it and serve it, but if my wife would only let me get a deep fryer, everyone would be eating fried chicken. The one standout in BBQ chicken was the one I had at Big W's Roadside BBQ. I don't know what that guy does but that chicken was just gushing with juice. If you're seeking success at a BBQ restaurant, just skip the chicken.
Side dishes - BBQ joint side dishes are pretty uninspiring. Quite frankly you really only need some slaw and hush puppies. Everything else just takes up room better served by smoked meat. Skip the sides and order more beer. Your stomach and your pitmaster will love you.
#2 What TO order and how to do it
BY THE POUND - best bang for your buck is to get things by the pound. Ignore the 2 sides, ignore the corn bread. Go straight to the good stuff. If you need some carbs just drink more beer.
PULLED PORK - When you order pulled pork tell them to make sure you get a decent amount of bark mixed in. This is the outside crust that's been exposed to the smoke. A good 60% of the meat is not exposed to the smoke and will not have much flavor compared to what the bark is offering you. Try not to get pre-sauced meat. Pulled pork that has been pulled and sauced ahead of time oxidizes and will be dry by the time it gets to you.
BURNT ENDS - If they offer it, always get a side of burnt ends. I don't care if you just stopped by for coffee. Burnt ends are the twice cooked fatty end of the brisket and they are magical. They're also hard to time because BBQ joints can only make them once someone orders a brisket. So being first in line won't help you. They also tend to run out the fastest as the fatty deckle is relatively smaller than the flat which is normally sold for brisket.
RIBS - In general it's pretty hard to screw up ribs. Whether they're pork spares or beef shortribs. If you want a half slab of ribs get spares. If you want to eat a full slab, get baby-backs. Baby-backs are leaner so plowing through a full slab is more pleasant. Even though ribs are the easiest BBQ to cook, I still tend to order them when I go out to eat BBQ.
BRISKET - Yes I know I just told you not to order the brisket. Now if you must have the brisket, ask for the fattier end. I always order the lean end but that's because I'm trying to gauge the skill level of the cook. No need for you to be a hero or an academic. It's pretty hard to screw up the fatty end.
SLAW ON THE SANDWICH - Here up North and around the country, coleslaw is a side dish. Down South, they put their slaw on top of the meat in their sandwich and for good reason. It adds a bit of freshness which really helps lighten and highlight the smoke flavor of the meat. Watching people leave their slaw uneaten next to their sandwich makes me cry. It's like flying to a foreign country where people serving cheese burgers decide to put the cheese on the side only for the majority to ignore the cheese. Slaw that pork Yankee!