My first barbecue assignment for Texas Monthly was during the summer of 2021. Over the course of six weeks or so, I photographed some of the top barbecue joints in the state, including Snow’s, Burnt Bean Co., and Franklin, for the Top 50 list that was published in the fall. “Do you get to take home the leftovers?” is a question people ask me a lot when I’m working on location, and my answer—which, after years of photographing food, is still genuinely joyful—is “Heck yes!” 

Our family was rich in meat that summer and again this year, when the magazine sent me to capture the magic at KG BBQ, Vargas BBQ, and Reese Bros for the 25 best new and improved barbecue joints in Texas.  

Leftover barbecue can be sad—reheating it just reminds you of how glorious it once was. But using the meat (and the sides and fixin’s) as foundations for new dishes will make even those who say they don’t like barbecue (bless their hearts) happy. 

While you may not be coming home with loads of mostly untouched food after a photo shoot, perhaps you have overordered after standing in line for too long with nothing in your belly but a free can of Lone Star. Maybe, like many football fans this month, you’re wondering what to do with the leftover barbecue from your tailgate.

A pot of beans is a perfect way to stretch that smoky flavor into several different meals. Smoked jalapeño sausage in place of andouille in red beans and rice is almost too obvious to mention, but I would still be remiss to not bring it up. Chopped brisket is great in pintos, too. There are lots of ways to remix zhuzhed-up beans for a lunchtime reminder of all the fun you had last weekend. 

We enjoy beans with rice or cornbread the first night, with a spoonful of plain yogurt and a shake of hot sauce, and maybe a sprinkle of tortilla chips. On day two, I’ll heat them on the stovetop, stirring in a handful of raw spinach or arugula. Then I’ll top the mixture with chopped herbs and serve alongside a slice of buttered toast. Refry your smoky beans on day three for an easy, portable lunch the rest of the week: bean and cheese tacos. 

Working with a half slice of cold brisket and a few soggy pickles? Even that seemingly pitiful display can be transformed. Shred the meat and chop the pickles, then stir them into a warm pot of boxed mac and cheese. Smoky, fatty brisket elevates the creamy macaroni, and little pops of sour pickle balance the richness.

Sometimes, especially after a big feast, a nice salad is in order. My smoky Tex-Mex chicken salad uses up some of what you may already have on hand and turns it into a spreadable, dippable, protein-packed meal that makes for a great single-serve lunch or a big batch that will last all week. I enjoy mine on a tostada for a quick lunch or on a bed of spinach or arugula with crushed tortilla chips for supper. 

This recipe is less about measuring precise quantities and more about tasting your way to the perfect bite. The meat is already smoked, so there is no actual cooking to be done—just gently stir and season to taste. Believe me when I say you can’t go wrong here. 

Start by cubing one avocado. Zest half a lime and squeeze all of its juice over the avocado, then sprinkle with salt. Add pickled or fresh jalapeños, a tablespoon or two of diced red onion and chopped cilantro, and then another little sprinkle of salt. Stir together, then add 3 to 4 cups of shredded or chopped smoked chicken, a handful of shredded cheddar cheese, and a half cup or so of pinto or black beans (leftover barbecue beans work well here, too). Top with a few spoonfuls of Greek yogurt and stir it all together. 

The salad should be mixed enough so that one spoonful gives you a bite with a bit of everything. Add additional jalapeños for heat, more yogurt if it seems too dry, extra cilantro for more zing, another sprinkle of cheese for fun. If you think the pickles from your leftover barbecue would add a nice tang to the mix, by all means, chop and stir. Drizzle hot sauce or salsa on top for an extra kick at the end. 

Whether you are working with a few precious morsels or half a bird, once you understand there is gold in your leftovers, that cold bag of barbecue will never feel the same. I have a job this week photographing a big Texas barbecue joint out in Driftwood, and as excited as I am to have another opportunity to shine a light on some of the hardest-working folks in the food industry, I can’t stop thinking about what I’ll do with the leftovers.