There’s no denying that barbecue is American food, and today, its smoky goodness has spread far outside of traditional barbecue regions, bringing Texas brisket to Chicago and burnt ends to every end of the United States.
And with good reason: A recent Center of the Plate report from Chicago-based research firm Technomic shows that barbecue is consumers’ most preferred pork preparation choice when dining out, and the highest-rated flavors for pork are hickory and smoky—flavors long associated with barbecue. Consumers also show strong preferences for beef dishes with flavor imparted by specific preparation style, seasoning, sauces and rubs.
Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights at Technomic, notes that barbecue’s appeal is part of consumers’ ongoing quest for flavorful food. “Another draw is regional appeal; that is resonating with consumers strongly right now, and barbecue is a great connection to that,” she adds.
For restaurateurs, as regional barbecue styles become widespread—and widely known—genuine barbecue is as much about finding the right methods, ingredients and flavorings to match a particular region and audience than it is about following an exact Carolina swamp sauce recipe or Texas technique.
Like the people who make it, barbecue follows clear migration patterns. At Mabel’s Smokehouse and Banquet Hall, a homey, Southern-focused concept in Brooklyn, N.Y., Southern hospitality and flavors are served by two Southern transplants, Meghan Love from Kentucky and Jeff Lutonsky from Oklahoma. The two wanted to bring hometown recipes like pulled pork and Andouille sausage to their new home.
Other barbecue joints are the result of inquisitive chefs who take the full-immersion approach to learning traditional techniques. A few years ago, restaurateurs Chef Jay Villani and Ray Touringhy traveled from Portland, Maine to explore North Carolina and Texas “in search of inspiration, tradition, and delicious barbecue.” The result is Salvage, a place that replicates the self-service style counters of North Carolina and Texas, where customers order racks of ribs, chopped pork and smoked brisket by the pound and eat at communal picnic tables.
Rising expectations, operational challenges
This spread of regional barbecue styles means that consumers across the country seek out barbecue on all menus, regardless of segment. This can spell opportunity, since barbecue’s flavors are naturally varied and a fit for a variety of applications. “Barbecue brings some really dynamic profiles,” says Weikel. “The depth of flavor with the preparation styles, and the versatility of the sauces combine sweet, spicy, tangy and smoky notes.”
And across all segments, authenticity is key: Consumers are getting savvier about what good, genuine barbecue looks like, which means that operators need to preserve barbecue’s natural smoky flavors and preparation styles. Recent regional menu promotions on national chain menus support this: The Memphis BBQ burger at Carl’s Jr. features Memphis-style barbecued pulled pork piled on a hamburger. Likewise, casual-dining chain Ruby Tuesday highlighted both a Texas dry rub and Louisiana-style sauce during its recent American Rib Festival promotion.
Additionally, Technomic researchers predict that economical, slow-cooked cuts will continue to proliferate due to consumers’ desire for authenticity. Whether made in-house or using a reliable supplier, barbecue delivers just that.
Expand your resources
Not all operators have the time and equipment to smoke barbecue back of house, so some look to manufacturers for help with chef-driven solutions that preserve the integrity of the complex art of barbecue—without compromising the ingredients, flavor and preparation of barbecue done right. Over the last 17 years, Hormel Foods has watched barbecue flourish across the country and spread to unexpected places and plates. Through its travels, barbecue has found new inspiration.
It’s that ingenuity that compelled Hormel to look at ways to evolve its line of AUSTIN BLUES® Barbeque. The company spent the last two years experimenting with new hardwood blends, testing rubs and smoking methods to create something truly unique: AUSTIN BLUES® Pecanwood Smoked Barbeque St. Louis Ribs and Pork Shoulder.
Crafted using simple, all natural ingredients and a fundamental slow-smoke preparation method, this is competition-quality barbecue in every sense of the word. Prepared with a savory barbecue rub and slow-smoked over 100% pecanwood, resulting in a rich mahogany color, intense smoke flavor and distinctive exterior bark, this will redefine expectations for fully-cooked barbecue. Visit AUSTIN BLUES® Barbeque here.
This post is sponsored by Hormel Foodservice