Barbecue is one of those foods that is best consumed as soon as it is served. It simply doesn't travel well. Why? Good barbecue is juicy, tender, and smoky. The problem is barbecue begins to die as soon as it hits the plate/bun/tray. Glistening fat begins to congeal. Moisture begins to evaporate. Smoky aroma begins to fade. How to hold barbecue for service is an issue that separates the good restaurants from the bad very quickly. My personal belief developed from years of working with several of the best pitmasters in Atlanta is that smoked meats have to be protected from the negative effects of air and temperature beginning the minute they leave the smoker. Without digging too deep into exactly how the best restaurants hold their barbecue (we will be digging deeply into this subject very soon) - I want to offer a quick and dirty photo shortcut to help you order barbecue like a pro and hold it as long as you want. Yep. You can order BBQ to go at lunch and serve it hot for dinner with absolutely no loss in quality - absolutely as good as if you were eating at the restaurant.
Order your takeout in bulk, keep it as whole as possible, and have them wrap it for you in plastic wrap. Here I have a half pound chunk of brisket and a pound of pulled chicken. It so happens that this takeout came from a BBQ restaurant that holds its meat for service in the exact same way. All meats are wrapped in plastic wrap and held around 150-160 degrees in a hot box. Each ticket is filled to order. The wrapped meat is cut open, sliced to order, rewrapped, and placed back in the hot box. That's exactly what we are doing here, just on a much smaller scale. Pictured above is how it looks when I get it home.
The next step is going to vary depending on the resources you have available at home. It's a chance for you to get creative. All you need to do is understand the basics. When I get home, I take my wrapped meats and I put them inside a foodsaver bag and vacuum seal them. If you don't have a foodsaver, you could put the meat in Glad vacuum bags. Or you could even put the meat in the fridge as is (shown above). Just make sure you protect the meat as much as possible against drying out.
After I foodsaver my meats, I typically throw them in my SousVide Supreme Water Oven at 145-155 degrees to hold them at serving temperature until I am ready to eat. If you don't have a water oven, there are several ways to handle this step. You could simply take your meats, wrap them in a towel, and then put them in a cooler. Meats held this way will typically only lose around one degree an hour. It is also possible to mimic the capabilities of the water oven by simply running hot tap water to around 160 degrees and then filling a cooler with the heated water. You can then submerge the meats and hold them until you are ready to eat.
Barbecue hanging out in the water bath.
The slightly blurry photo shows the chicken as it emerged from the foodsaver bag and the original restaurant plastic wrap. It's still tender and moist. A few simple steps at the restaurant and home can stretch the life of your BBQ by hours.