Barbecue on Cue

This constantly evolving American classic continues to expand its foodservice reach.

From roadside stands to fine dining, barbecue dishes are some of the hottest items on the menu. In fact, barbecue dishes are found on nearly 60 percent of all U.S. menus tracked by Chicago-based research firm Datassential, and they've seen 13 percent growth in quick service and midscale restaurant settings since 2005.

Steven Raichlen, a journalist, lecturer, TV host and author of "The Barbecue Bible" and "Project Smoke," says the regional lines that once defined Carolina pork and Texas beed styles are overlapping more and more. "Barbecue is a national food, marked by local, regional elements that will always be important," he says. "For example, the woods used are still pretty faithful to regions. Texas uses oak, hickory is used throughout the South, and alder is typical of the Pacific Northwest.

"The American public is interested in all the details of their food, and barbecue is great for that," says Linda Orrison, president of the National Barbecue & Grilling Association, the only trade association dedicated to the business of barbecue. "You can descirbe as much of the cooking and flavoring process as possible: wet rub, dry rub, wood types, termparture, hours cooked, etc. ...[And] wherever you are, you can find local ingredients to smoke or grill. It's incluusive. I've seen kay and cocnut shells used as smoking elements."

Universal Appeal

"Barbecue is one of those nearly universal foods that most consumers can relate to in some way," says Maeve Webster, president of Menu Matters, an Arlington, Vt.-based consultancy. "There are  varieties from Asia, Europe, Latin America, South America and many of the islands. Like street food, barbecue is a comfort food, and if some elements of the dish are unfamiliar, the idea of barbecue is very familiar, so it facilitates experimentation."

Another way to put a personal stamp on barbecue is with localized sauces served on the side.

"The menu or item 'story' always needs to tie back strongly with the overall focus of the operations," says Webster.


Article by Kathy Hayden, Progressive Grocer: Grocerant Solutions

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