You may have noticed that pork and beef prices don’t seem to have a ceiling, and neither does the demand for barbecue in Texas. As the restaurant industry struggles and some establishments are forced to close permanently, the barbecue sector has been a rare bright spot. But a challenge that popularity now brings is that all those barbecue joints are vying for the same limited supply of meat to smoke. That means we’re left with an abundance of Texas barbecue joints paying a whole lot for a shaky supply of briskets—and in turn, diners are paying more as well.
Slices of smoked beef, pork ribs, and sausages arranged together on a serving tray lined with butcher paper have become symbolic of Texas barbecue over the last decade. It’s certainly a handsome way to display barbecue, but relying on sales of meat by the pound isn’t great for profitability. Rather than just serving up pounds and pounds of meat, some strategies to help stretch that barbecue might be in order. These are some of my favorites. A few might seem obvious, and others might not seem like money-saving options, but serving smoked meat on top of anything besides butcher paper could be helpful for barbecue joints and customers alike about now.
Put it in a bun
I know. It’s just a sandwich, but a sandwich is the most obvious way to make barbecue more filling. Put it on a bun, Texas toast, or maybe even a biscuit. Either option is better than just giving away white bread. Add some (inexpensive) onions and pickle slices and you’ve got a meal. Get more creative with the toppings, and the meat ratio decreases. There are few sandwiches more comforting than the brisket melt (a brisket grilled cheese to most) at Guess Family Barbecue in Waco, and the price of dairy products is falling. Make it a Reuben with some sauerkraut, or throw on some grilled onions and peppers for a brisket cheesesteak.
Put it in a tortilla
As taco editor José Ralat says, a taco is made up of three components: a filling, a tortilla, and salsa. Those latter two are as important as the filling, but not nearly as expensive as chopped brisket. Just ask the folks at La Pantera Tacos y Mas in Fort Worth. I also have fond memories of the brisket enchiladas at Ace’s BBQ in Mission, the smoked chicken enchiladas at Meat U Anywhere BBQ in Grapevine and Trophy Club, and the deep-fried brisket “egg roll” at Bolivar Street BBQ in Sanger.
Put it on a potato
If your pantry doesn’t contain a few boxes of large russet potatoes, what are you waiting for? The barbecue-stuffed potato, a.k.a. the “Bubba Tater,” is the ultimate way to bolster a barbecue meal. As I said before, cheese, butter, and sour cream aren’t getting any more expensive, and at some barbecue joints that dairy trio makes up more of the Bubba Tater filling by weight than the barbecue. Brisket, bacon, green onions, and a chipotle sour cream sauce covers the Hot Mess; a stuffed sweet potato is one of the most famous items on the Pecan Lodge menu in Dallas.
If you have a deep fryer at your disposal, throw in some tater tots or french fries and try your best imitation of the swamp fries at Riverport Bar-B-Cue in Jefferson, or the loaded tots at Bumbershoot Barbecue in Argyle.
Put it on anything
The Frito pie with chili and cheese is canon in Texas, but subbing out chopped brisket is perfectly acceptable. Or heck, just make some brisket chili from brisket leftovers like they do at Slow Bone in Dallas, or take a cue from Micklethwait Craft Meats and chop some barbacoa to throw on top. Trade out the Fritos for Takis like the ones you’ll find at 225 BBQ in Arlington, or go with unprocessed corn and just make some brisket elotes that look as good as those from T-Ghost BBQ in Weslaco. I guess you could even put barbecue on a (gasp) salad, but I’ve never had one that I can remember fondly. I’d love to have a plate of the barbecue nachos and a beer in front of me from Cowtown Brewery in Fort Worth, but if you’re ordering those nachos to go, eating in the car before you get home would be advised lest those chips wilt.
Grind those trimmings
Meat-market style barbecue in Texas was built on smoked sausages. Many pitmasters look at their brisket trimmings and see potential sausage fillings, but others just see trash. Don’t throw those trimmings away. Making sausage requires specialized equipment for grinding and stuffing. Then there are the casings, and the expertise required to make a great link. I get it, but just remember that only a grinder is required to turn those trimmings into burgers, meatballs, or a smoked meat loaf like the one they serve at Derek Allan’s BBQ in Fort Worth.
Change the protein focus
Texas is the beef state, and our barbecue joints are known for brisket, but even steakhouses serve pork chops and chicken. The same supply issues that have plagued the beef packers have also affected the pork industry, but a bone-in pork butt is still a heck of a lot cheaper per pound than a brisket. I’m not saying to stop smoking brisket, but you might as well let the price gap between a pulled pork and a brisket sandwich reflect the current market.
Focus more on poultry as well. Chicken and turkey processing haven’t been decimated in the same way as beef and pork. With all the sports bars closed in Texas, chicken wing prices are lower than they’ve been this decade, and just look to Gatlin’s BBQ in Houston if you don’t think a smoked chicken wing can be special. Boneless turkey breast prices have also remained constant. Maybe order a few more, and when the brisket is sold out, offer some sliced smoked turkey instead.
Barbecue joints have switched their business model from primarily dine-in to takeout over the last two months. That requires the prepackaging of pickles, onions, and white bread. Local health restrictions currently require these items, usually provided for free, to be individually packaged inside the restaurants as well. When packing up that takeout order, restaurants can ask if the customer really wants pickles, onions, and bread with their barbecue. Ask them to check a box when placing a preorder if they want a side or two of barbecue sauce, and stop wasting packets of plasticware on food orders that are being taken home. I don’t use them, and lots of other folks probably don’t either. Just ask.