3 tips for throwing an authentic barbecue

catering barbecue event college

From Reser’s Foodservice.

Barbecue continues to have broad appeal with diners, and chefs consider it to be a top perennial favorite, according to the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot 2015 Culinary Forecast.

Many operators have already seen the value in this trend, which is why special events and annual traditions featuring barbecue are trending in foodservice. The University of Missouri, in Columbia, Mo., holds a welcome picnic each fall for freshmen, serving 550 pounds of smoked pulled pork in one hour.

Likewise, Davidson College, in Davidson, N.C., hosted a reunion weekend for 1,500 alumni in June that included barbecued chicken. The campus also has three dining outlets that serves barbecue once a week rotating between pork, beef and chicken. And Shepherd University, in Shepherdstown, W.Va., serves pulled pork with fresh, vinegar-based coleslaw at its Underpass Café, with plans next semester to offer boneless ribs.

For operators, these types of events provide a unique opportunity—and also a unique challenge. Running a successful barbecue event is largely a matter of common sense, planning and organization, and done right, it could become a signature event or item for your operation for years to come.

Make a plan

Before you decide to become a pitmaster, it’s important to understand that barbecuing is a significant undertaking that requires time to cook.

First, research which style of barbecue to serve, such as Kansas, Memphis, Texas or Carolina. Visit local restaurants and talk with chefs to get ideas or survey students as to what they’d like—because authenticity is key. “If barbecue is a popular item in the state you operate, you need to represent that region with what’s preferred,” says Dee Phillips, director of dining services at Davidson College.

Also, make sure you have enough prep time. With cooking temperatures between 200°F and 250°F and up to 16 hours or more of cooking, patience is key: Slow cooking imparts flavor and tenderness to tougher cuts of meat that can’t be achieved by high-temperature grilling. “For the fall welcome picnic, our cooks start smoking pork butt at 3:00 am,” says Nancy Monteer, associate director of campus dining at University of Missouri. 


No longer is there a need for a pit or a smoker to achieve the smoked flavor that comes from cooking over an open flame. “What really scares people about barbecue is the cooking equipment,” says Phillips, whose kitchen doesn’t possess a smoker, but instead uses a combi oven to achieve the same end result.

At University of Missouri, however, the staff prefers to use an industry smoker, which requires them to consider the type of wood used to smoke as well as having someone tend the smoker.

Then comes training and knowing how long to leave meat smoking. Certain cuts of meat will take a lot of smoke, such as pork butt or brisket, but ribs, not so much. “It’s best to have someone trained in barbecuing so the smoke can permeate the protein properly,” says Scott Anderson, assistant food service director and executive chef at Shepherd University.

Authentic side dishes

While smoked and sauced meats star at barbecue events, it wouldn’t feel complete without sides. Sides need to be built and flavor imparted the same way meat is slow cooked, because as with the meat, authenticity is important. “Whatever you put forth, ensure it’s the quality and consistency your guests prefer and there’s the right amount to feed everyone,” says Anderson.

Classic barbecue sides include potato and macaroni salads, baked beans, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese and, of course, coleslaw.  Reser’s Foodservice has recognized the rise of barbecue and offers all of these, including many regional flavor varieties, as well as desserts and fruit salads. “The industry has taken notice that barbecue is a popular item and has developed packaged items that make serving barbecue very easy,” Phillips says.

The last item needed to complete a good barbecue is cold drinks. Iced tea, sweet tea, lemonade are ideal choices, with the drink station—especially for large events—set up on the opposite side of the serving line, so bottlenecks don’t occur.

For more menu ideas for your next barbecue event, visit Reser’s Foodservice here.

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