Is the artisanal barbecue really more expensive?

There’s a joke I often see on various online food groups related to contemporary barbecue tastes.

“So they can charge more!”

For everyday barbecue consumers, this may ring true. If you just want to fill your stomach, going to a less expensive chain restaurant may be the way to go. In this case, you probably don’t care if the sides were homemade or if the brisket is premium.

But is the artisanal barbecue much more expensive than what you get at a chain that is supposed to be better value?

First, let’s answer the original question of why it’s called a homemade barbecue. This term refers to the use of rigorous processes and standards when it comes to smoking meats and preparing side dishes in-house, all with the finest ingredients.

Although some barbecue restaurant chains have tried to improve their offer, there is an indisputable qualitative difference between the best artisanal barbecue restaurants and the mainstream chains. Homemade barbecue is just better barbecue.

1504 Airline; 713-802-2000

Closed on Mondays.

To find out if artisan joints are really much more expensive than chain restaurants, I visited one place of each and placed the same order typical of everyone’s barbecue lunch: a quarter pound of brisket moist, half a pound of pork ribs (usually three bones) and a small portion of coleslaw.

For the artisan BBQ, I visited Pinkerton BBQ in the Greater Heights; for the chain barbecue, I visited Rudy’s Country Store & Bar-BQ on US 290 near Beltway 8. Both specialize in a meat market style ordering system, i.e. say meats are only ordered by the pound and sides are sold separately.

At Rudy’s, my order of brisket came in at 0.32 pounds of brisket at $23.98 a pound, for a total of $7.67 (even though I ordered a quarter pound, it’s normal for the cutter to meat protrudes slightly). For pork chops, the scale showed 0.45 pounds at $16.98 a pound, for a total of $7.64. A 5 ounce side of coleslaw was $2.59. Grand total: $17.90.

At Pinkerton’s, my brisket order turned out 0.30 pounds of brisket at $30 a pound, for a total of $9. For pork chops, the scale showed 0.49 pounds at $21 a pound, for a total of $10.29. A side of coleslaw, at just under 5 ounces, came in at $3.50. Grand total: $22.79.

So the extra cost to patronize one of the best craft barbecues in the state versus a chain barbecue is less than $5 for a typical meal.

Certainly, many consumers prefer the taste and experience of Rudy’s, or are more cost conscious. Every time I pass a Rudy’s, the parking lot is full. They are undoubtedly a successful barbecue business and will continue to be.

But, in my opinion, the qualitative difference between the barbecue you get from a chain restaurant versus a craft joint like Pinkerton’s far exceeds the extra five bucks you’ll pay there.

There are other factors involved, of course. For example, small barbecues often ask for a gratuity (tip) on your order, which can add a few extra dollars to the bill. This is because small family operations do not have access to the economies of scale that restaurant chains have to offer perks such as health insurance. Tipping helps bridge that gap (although I wouldn’t be surprised if restaurant chains start soliciting tips in the future).

And yet, even with a tip added, I believe the value of an artisanal barbecue is even greater. Especially because you support a small family business.

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About James Almanza

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