Smoke Rises

Published in Menu Strategies

Smoking techniques are not just reserved for fine dining and barbeque restaurants; they’re a popular trend across segments. Check out how these college and university operations are keeping their menus up in smoke.

Rice University, Houston, Texas

The chefs of Rice University Dining Services in Houston use tools as old-school as wood-fired smokers and as modern as hot-holding cabinets and combi-oven steamers to produce smoked specialties for the school, which has an enrollment of about 6,000 undergrads and grad students.

They smoke traditional Texas beef brisket, a frequent choice of summer conference groups at the university, outdoors in a mobile smoker fueled with a mix of pecan, apple, cherry, hickory and mesquite wood.

“A lot of people come here from outside Texas, so they really enjoy this type of cuisine,” says dining director Johnny Curet, CEC, whose staff includes 18 American Culinary Federation-certified culinarians. 

For smaller smoking jobs, the chefs may use hot-holding cabinets modified to burn wood chips. For example, they smoke and cook catfish portions right in the cabinet prior to service. More substantial items like briskets, flank steaks or ribs are typically done in two steps, an initial cabinet smoking for a couple of hours followed by a finishing cook in the combi oven-steamer.

During the school year, students can find a smoked entrée once or twice per week in one the campus’ six serveries, Curet says. In addition to the popular beef and pork items, other featured proteins include salmon fillets, chicken quarters and whole ducks, the latter rubbed with ground anise and coriander or Owl Spice, Rice’s proprietary salt-free seasoning blend.

Vegetarians also share in the smoky fun. “We also smoke things like pineapples, tomatoes, corn and squashes,” says Curet. “It is part of our DNA to offer a good variety of meatless items.”

Menu Sampler: Rice University, Baker College Kitchen

    • Veggie Entrée: Smoky Eggplant with Chick Peas and Spinach
    • Pizza Special: Grilled Vegetable
    • Entrée: Grilled Salmon with Artichokes and Leeks
    • Vegetable: Grilled Squash

Emmanuel College, Boston, Massachusetts

Smoke “adds a second and third dimension of flavor” to chicken, seafood, ribs and produce at Emmanuel College in Boston, says Carl Marchione, executive chef of the Bon Appetit Management Company account. “That’s why it’s so popular.”

Marchione uses a pair of electric smokers with digital temperature and smoke controls that allow great flexibility. “If I want to do pulled pork the traditional way it is done outside, low and slow, I can set it at 225° for 15 hours,” he says. “Or we can put chickens or ribs in the smoker first thing in the morning and have them ready for lunch.”

Marchione uses the smoker to adapt cedar plank-cooked salmon, a favorite dish from his previous career as a hotel chef, to the college dining environment. He marks line-caught salmon fillets on the grill, coats them with Dijon mustard, fresh dill and brown sugar and smokes them over cedar chips. “It comes out almost exactly the way it did when I cooked it on the plank,” says Marchione.

Other smoky signatures at Emmanuel, which has about 2,500 students, include smoked tomatoes and mozzarella for pizza topping and smoked pinto beans and bacon.

Another selling point of smoke cooking is its relative lightness. “When you smoke a pork butt for 16 or 18 hours for pulled pork, the fat is rendered completely out,” Marchione says. “It is due to the dry heat of the electric smoker and the fact that you are not using oil.”

Menu Sampler: Emmanuel College, Muddy River Café

    • Grilled Portobello Mushroom Sandwich $4.95 with sundried tomatoes and roasted red peppers on ciabatta
    • Steak and Cheese Sub $5.95 with American cheese and sautéed peppers and onions
    • Caprese Sandwich $4.95 with sliced tomato, fresh basil and mozzarella cheese on a sundried tomato and basil baguette

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

Risley Dining Room at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., has just become 100 percent gluten-free, 14850.com reports.

For the past two years, the university has slowly phased out gluten in the dining hall’s menu by eliminating it in its stir fries, biscuits and brownies.

Instead of offering gluten-free versions of typical college fare, including pizza and pasta, the dining service team aimed for more sophisticated restaurant-style items.

Along with being gluten-free, Risley is also peanut free and tree-nut free.

The dining room is the second college eatery...

Industry News & Opinion

James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., recently hosted a weeklong program called Weigh the Waste, which aimed to show students how much food gets wasted in dining halls, The Breeze reports.

Throughout the week, students placed food they were about to throw away on a scale located near the trash bins at one of their dining halls. At the end of the week, the school tallied the waste and saw that 817 pounds of food had been wasted.

School officials hope that the annual program, which it’s hosted since 2015, will remind dining hall patrons to only take as much food as...

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Maryland will begin offering weekly specials at all of its dining halls this semester, The Diamond Back reports.

The weekday specials will allow Dining Services to offer past menu items that students miss as well as new dishes students have been requesting, according to a spokesperson.

Students can find out which specials are being offered each week via dining hall table tents as well as through Dining Services’ social media. During select weeks, the specials may reflect a particular theme, such as Taste of the South.

Read the full story via...

Ideas and Innovation
coal creek student salad bar

When I was visiting Minneapolis Public Schools, I saw that they have these cool signs on top of their salad bars. As soon as we got back, we re-created them. They are big and branded, and have the portion requirements. They say “Taste something new today” on one side, and we support our local farmers on the other. They help the bars look fresh and delish, and attract students’ eyes.

FSD Resources