Few food cultures are as rooted in tradition as barbecue is in America. Yet, there are some operators who are reinventing the barbecue wheel—and yielding craveable results.
The new Q
As regional American cuisine and the global-flavors trend continue to influence the industry, operators are menuing more ethnic barbecue options. Barbecue mentions with Asian bowl items are up 18.2 percent, according to Technomic. The Plant Café Organic, a Calif.-based health-focused chain, menus a tempeh bowl with Korean barbecue sauce.
Other ethnic barbecue options include Frontera Mex-Mex Grill’s Mexi barbecue sandwich, made with carnitas topped with barbecue-chipotle sauce, bacon and Mexi slaw; Applebee’s Sriracha shrimp with a proprietary barbecue spice; and Protein Bar’s Korean Bibi-Q-Bar-rito with braised barbecue beef, organic quinoa blend, roasted corn, kale slaw, radishes and housemade Agave barbecue sauce, wrapped in a low-cal whole wheat tortilla.
While these new takes pay homage to traditional barbecue, operators should tread carefully when innovating with these flavors. “You have to be careful not to stray too far from tradition, so your customers still know they’re eating barbecued food,” says Erick Williams, partner and executive chef at County Barbeque in Chicago.
Williams puts a twist on traditional barbecue with several menu items: a bacon and barbecue parfait, with smoked pork butt, caramelized onions, cheddar grits and bacon combined in a 3-ounce shot glass; smoked pork puppies, with smoked pork butt, aged cheddar and aioli; and a barbecue taco trio based on the chef’s choice of a barbecued protein, topped with garnishes.
Operators are also focusing on smoked or smoky applications with barbecue items. Obviously, barbecue fare is already smoked, but more operators are calling out the smoke on menu items to give it a more complex flavor profile. Johnny Rocket’s recently debuted Smoky Cheddar Pulled Pork Tots featuring hickory-smoked pulled pork and their signature smoke house barbecue sauce.
And barbecue brands with a build-your-own ordering style are expanding, according to Technomic. Blackwood BBQ, which has two locations in Chicago and plans to open more, offers build-your-own barbecue plates, sandwiches and salads with a choice of protein and sauce. Carve Barbecue in the Denver market has a similar format; the concept plans to open at least four more locations by the end of this year.
Convenience without compromise
Possibly no other food has the variety and taste nuances that can be found among barbecue sauces. Many operators make their sauce from scratch, but this can cause a stress on labor and increase food costs.
On the flip side, many operators prefer the concept of speed-scratch cooking by using prepared sauces straight from the bottle or doctoring them up with ingredients already in inventory to create a signature dish. This speed-scratch approach can help chefs work efficiently without compromising on creativity or quality.
And the flavor possibilities are endless: Operators could decrease the tomato and increase the pepper content to create a Carolina-style sauce. For a Texan or Southwestern flavor, add cumin, chili powder or chipotle.
Regardless of where operators find inspiration, one thing is clear: Innovative, flavorful barbecue is a win-win, for both consumers and for operators.