facebook pixal
Food

A restaurant operator’s guide to barbecue

Here’s a peek at different proteins, sauces and styles to ignite menu planning.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Barbecue means different things to different people. For many consumers, any outdoor cookout can be considered a barbecue, even if BBQ methods and flavors aren’t part of the festivities. But for foodservice pros—and pitmasters especially—barbecue means only one thing, and the process itself is equal parts art and science.

To better serve guests of all stripes, restaurant operators should have a working knowledge of different barbecue styles so they can answer questions from guests who may be unfamiliar with styles not common in their region. But chefs should also consistently evolve their offerings to keep BBQ lovers coming back for more and encourage experimentation.

Consider this your barbecue “cheat sheet” and source of inspiration any time you’re ready to tinker with BBQ sauces and rubs, cuts of meat, cooking techniques, and more.

The Big 4: Memphis, Kansas City, Texas, Carolina

There are four main types of barbecue, named for where they were created. Each has a unique preparation style—Carolina-style barbecue, for example, features a mustard-based sauce, and Memphis barbecue—like that offered at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous in Memphis since 1948—is often enjoyed dry-rubbed, without sauce.

Each also features signature dishes and cuts. Texas barbecue, for instance, showcases beef (the Lone Star State’s cattle industry dominance is likely a factor), while Memphis’ signature dishes are centered on pork. Kansas City-style BBQ uses a wide variety of meats, including pork, beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, and sometimes even fish. It’s rubbed with spices, slow-smoked over wood and served with a thick, tomato-based barbecue sauce—the signature trait of this style.

Other styles to keep an eye on

St. Louis, Alabama, Louisiana, Southern and Hawaiian-style barbecue are also staples on many menus. St. Louis-style dishes center on pork; Alabama-style features a rich, mayonnaise-based white sauce instead of traditional brown sauces.

Heavily influenced by Texas barbecue, Louisiana BBQ incorporates southern, Creole and Cajun flavors and sides, including cornbread and red beans and rice. Traditional Southern BBQ, such as the dishes on the menu at Florida-based chain Bono’s Pit Bar-B-Q, incorporates southern staples such as collard greens, hush puppies, fried okra, and mac and cheese.

And finally, Hawaiian barbecue refers to island-influenced versions of the traditional meat-and-sides offerings served in mainland states. Dishes such as chicken katsu, Spam musubi, and lumpia (fried, pork-stuffed spring rolls) are paired with such sides as steamed rice and macaroni salad.

What do diners want?


According to Technomic’s 2019 Flavor Consumer Trend Report, Kansas City barbecue sauce is the most popular variety across the country. Beyond that, though, different regions have different tastes:

  • the Western U.S. favors Hawaiian barbecue, followed by Texas barbecue
  • Southern consumers cite Louisiana-style as a favorite
  • the Northeast prefers Memphis-style
  • the Midwest enjoys Memphis and Texas barbecue

Preparation style is the way most consumers prefer flavor to be imparted into dishes, followed by the overall combination of ingredients, seasonings and sauces. These two methods account for virtually everything people know as barbecue.

For operators, crafting a tasty barbecue offering or menu means tuning into not only what’s popular in the region but also diners’ likelihood to branch out—are they interested in trying new flavors and cuts? If so, experiment!

Innovating on the barbecue menu

Adding new and exciting barbecue dishes to the menu is easy. Start by offering signature dishes from one or more of the most popular styles, then expand by putting an innovative twist on an existing dish to pique guests’ interest. For instance, a pulled pork sandwich will always be a safe bet, but pulled pork-topped nachos could be more craveable—particularly on an appetizer menu.

Some chefs have redefined barbecue by using different proteins and introducing new formats. For instance, at Sonny’s BBQ, a chain with locations in the Southeast, an LTO called the Bar-B-Cuban sandwich features slow-smoked pulled and sliced pork, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard barbecue sauce on toasted garlic bread. The mashup of barbecue and Cuban food offers diners a new and interesting way to enjoy familiar flavors they love.

Another way to innovate with barbecue is to think beyond lunch and dinner dayparts. For instance, breakfast and brunch chain Another Broken Egg Café recently introduced Brisket Benedict—a jalapeno-cheddar cornbread waffle topped with brisket, poached eggs, hollandaise, a spicy barbecue drizzle and green onions. And for the snacks menu or happy hour, offering barbecue sliders is a perfect way to encourage diners to try a little bit of everything.

Operators can also take cues from barbecue big hitters when trying to change things up. At the consistently top-rated barbecue joint Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que in Kansas City, Kansas, a signature menu item is the Smokie Joe sandwich, which combines the restaurant’s iconic pulled pork, as well as its beef brisket, on one soft, oversized bun. At la Barbecue in Austin, Texas, innovation inspiration can be found on the sides menu: its chipotle slaw is zippier than standard restaurant fare, and house-made pickled jalapenos offer a tangy, spicy kick to any dish.

With the popularity of barbecue across the country, it’s easy for operators to riff on signatures to make their own special dishes—served with thin, spicy sauce; thick, sweet and smoky sauce; or no sauce at all.

For recipe inspiration, preparation pointers and more, visit clemensfoodservice.com/our-commitment.

This post is sponsored by Clemens Food Group

Want breaking news at your fingertips?

Get today’s need-to-know restaurant industry intelligence. Sign up to receive texts from Restaurant Business on news and insights that matter to your brand.

Trending