Deliberative methods are of increasing interest to public health researchers and policymakers. We systematically searched the peer-reviewed literature to identify public health and health policy research involving deliberative methods and report how deliberative methods have been used. We applied a taxonomy developed with reference to health policy and science and technology studies literatures to distinguish how deliberative methods engage different publics: citizens (ordinary people who are unfamiliar with the issues), consumers (those with relevant personal experience e.g. of illness) and advocates (those with technical expertise or partisan interests). We searched four databases for empirical studies in English published 1996–2013. This identified 78 articles reporting on 62 distinct events from the UK, USA, Canada, Australasia, Europe, Israel, Asia and Africa. Ten different types of deliberative techniques were used to represent and capture the interests and preferences of different types of public. Citizens were typically directed to consider community interests and were treated as a resource to increase democratic legitimacy. Citizens were preferred in methodological studies (those focused on understanding the techniques). Consumers were directed to focus on personal preferences; thus convened not as a source of policy decisions, but of knowledge about what those affected by the issue would accept. Advocates—who are most commonly used as expert witnesses in juries—were sometimes engaged to deliberate with consumers or citizens. This almost always occurred in projects directly linked to policy processes. This suggests health policymakers may value deliberative methods as a way of understanding disagreement between perspectives. Overall however, the ‘type’ of public sought was often not explicit, and their role not specified. This review provides new insight into the heterogeneity and rising popularity of deliberative methods, and indicates a need for greater clarity regarding both the constitution of publics and the relative usefulness of different deliberative techniques.