- Insider asked chefs about their favourite and least favourite dishes to order at barbecue restaurants.
- Some chefs said you should always order the burnt ends and baked beans.
- You may want to avoid ordering a hamburger or queso macaroni and cheese.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Barbecue is an important part of cuisines around the world, but some dishes translate to a restaurant setting better than others.
Insider spoke with professional chefs and grilling experts to find out what you should be ordering at a barbecue restaurant, and which dishes you can usually skip.
Here are the best and worst things to get from a barbecue joint:
Always try the regional specialty.
Craig Hartman, chef and owner of BBQ Exchange in Virginia, told Insider that any regional specialties are a must-try at most barbecue restaurants.
“You have to try whatever the region is famous for. That means minced pork in the Carolinas, burnt ends in the Midwest, brisket in Texas, and so on,” said Hartman.
A few more famous regional specialties that Hartman recommended include Texas brisket, Alaskan smoked salmon, and cochinita pibil in Yucatán.
Burnt ends are a classic and tasty barbecue dish.
Burnt ends are pieces of meat that are cut from the “point” or fattier end of a brisket.
Matt Moore, a Nashville-based professional chef and cookbook writer who specialises in meat and grilling, told Insider that burnt ends are one of his favourite barbecue orders.
“Good brisket outside of Texas is hard to find,” said Moore. “If a place is offering up burnt ends, that’s a clue that they know what they’re doing with the main cut of brisket and the ends.”
Baked beans are almost always a safe bet at a barbecue restaurant.
Baked beans are a simple side that can really sing with flavour when prepared right.
“Baked beans are something that most people could make at home, but this dish turns into an all-star at the right barbecue joint,” said Moore. “One tip is to make sure the restaurant cooks the beans on the same smoke as the other meats.”
Moore added that the best barbecue spots actually use the baked beans as the smoker’s drip pan to give them that sought-after flavour.
Smoked turkey makes for great leftovers.
“Smoked turkey [is] so juicy when done right,” said Lynch. “Plus whatever you don’t finish at the restaurant, you can throw on a salad or sandwich the next day for work.”
To make the most of leftover turkey, consider adding a drizzle of smoky or sweet barbecue sauce to make up for any moisture it may have lost in the fridge.
Try the pork butt to gauge the quality of the restaurant.
Moore said ordering pork butt, the cut of meat from the upper part of a pig’s front leg, is usually a good way to judge a restaurant’s overall quality, as it’s a tricky dish to get just right.
“You can always assess a restaurant based on their pork butt,” Moore told Insider. “The meat should be juicy and permeated with plenty of smoke.”
Pork butt is often served on a platter, but you can also find it offered in a sandwich with pickles and onions.
On the other hand, you may want to reconsider ordering extra barbecue sauce.
It may seem counterintuitive, Moore told Insider, but a good barbecue joint shouldn’t slather its meat with sauce.
“You don’t need sauce on good barbecue. If you must order sauce, please order it on the side,” said Moore.
Expertly prepared barbecue should already be spiced and flavorful. If a piece of barbecued meat needs sauce to be palatable, the restaurant may not be doing a great job.
The queso macaroni and cheese isn’t always a worthy side.
Barbecue restaurants are known for offering a glut of decadent sides, but Lynch said she doesn’t appreciate the texture or flavour of macaroni and cheese made with queso.
“I’m not a huge fan of the Texas-style queso mac and cheese that’s often served at barbecue restaurants,” said Lynch. “I just think it’s gross.”
“Slop” platter or bucket specials are sometimes just kitchen leftovers.
Diners with large appetites might be tempted to order a barbecue “slop” bucket, but Hartman cautioned against this.
“Many restaurants offer ‘slop’ buckets where the kitchen gives you a layered dish with all the foods they have stacked on top of each other,” he added. “I would definitely not order this.”
Unfortunately, these buckets or platters of food often feature menu items that aren’t selling well, and you may be stuck with a subpar meal.
Green beans can be a lacklustre side.
Vegetables can be hard to come by in barbecue joints, but opting for a side of green beans may not be the best use of your money.
“This isn’t a side that you should pay for. In most places, it’s likely similar to what you could get in a school cafeteria,” said Hartman.
Unless the menu indicates that the green beans are prepared fresh, you may end up with a plate of the same canned beans available in the local grocery store.
A hamburger usually isn’t the best thing on a barbecue menu.
Even though barbecue restaurants are known for their mouthwatering meats, one chef said that ordering a hamburger is typically a missed opportunity.
“Why would anyone order a hamburger from a barbecue restaurant? This is an item that a restaurant only puts on the menu to appease the occasional barbecue hater,” Hartman told Insider. “Stay away from half-hearted dishes like this.”
If you’re craving something between two buns, try ordering a pulled pork sandwich instead.
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