There’s no denying that barbecue is American food, and today, its smoky goodness has spread far outside of traditional barbecue regions, bringing Texas brisket to Chicago and burnt ends to every end of the United States.
At Elder Hall on Northwestern University’s Evanston, Ill. campus, students have a weekly dinner option of Kansas City barbecue beef. Across campus, the Shakespeare Garden Café serves a chef’s special of barbecue pork loin. At Johns Hopkins University, dining services serves up smoked beef brisket on Monday, hoisin-barbecue spare ribs on Tuesday and honey-barbecue pork loin on Fridays.
For operators, as regional styles such as these become widespread—and widely known—genuine barbecue is as much about finding the right methods, ingredients and flavorings to match a particular region and audience than it is about following an exact Carolina swamp sauce recipe or Texas technique.
A recent Center of the Plate report by Chicago-based research firm Technomic found high consumer demand for beef and pork dishes featuring savory spices, glazes or marinades. Barbecue’s natural smoky flavors, along with the customizable flavors that various dry rubs and sauces evoke, make it an on-trend option, especially for younger consumers, who are more likely than their older counterparts to demand additional flavor in beef and pork dishes.
Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights at Technomic, notes that barbecue’s appeal is part of consumers’ ongoing quest for flavorful food. “Another draw is regional appeal; that is resonating with consumers strongly right now, and barbecue is a great connection to that,” she adds.
This spread of regional barbecue styles can spell opportunity, since barbecue’s flavors are naturally varied and a fit for a variety of applications. “Barbecue brings some really dynamic profiles,” says Weikel. “The depth of flavor with the preparation styles, and the versatility of the sauces combine sweet, spicy, tangy and smoky notes.”
Rising expectations, operational challenges
Because barbecue’s traditional elements and ingredients are well-known, it’s one of the best-described cuisines on any menu. Consumers are getting savvier about what good, genuine barbecue looks like, which means that operators need to preserve barbecue’s natural smoky flavors and preparation styles.
Bill Brizzolara, executive chef at North Carolina State University (NCSU), runs his business deep in the heart of a major barbecue belt. He finds that at NCSU, students’ preferences fall in line with Technomic’s findings.
“I find our students like traditional flavors with pork, and we are able to experiment a little more with brisket,” Brizzolara reports. “Our students like the whole range of sauces, but sweet-spicy combinations are the popular flavor profile. Asian influences are [also] popular right now. Students like the sweetness of a Korean sauce.”
Additionally, the versatility of barbecue means that operators can use it across menus and dayparts, and its smoky flavors can work in a variety of innovative ways. Smoked and pulled meats work well in a variety of applications such as burritos, sandwiches and stews or atop grits, polenta and burgers.
Expand your resources
Not all operators have the time and equipment to smoke barbecue back of house, so some look to manufacturers for help with chef-driven solutions that preserve the integrity of the complex art of barbecue—without compromising the ingredients, flavor and preparation of barbecue done right. Over the last 17 years, Hormel Foods has watched barbecue flourish across the country and spread to unexpected places and plates. Through its travels, barbecue has found new inspiration.
It’s that ingenuity that compelled Hormel to look at ways to expand its line of AUSTIN BLUES® Barbeque. The company spent the last two years experimenting with new hardwood blends, testing rubs and smoking methods to create something truly unique: AUSTIN BLUES® Pecanwood Smoked Barbeque St. Louis Ribs and Pork Shoulder.
Crafted using simple, all natural ingredients and a fundamental slow-smoke preparation method, this is competition-quality barbecue in every sense of the word. Prepared with a savory barbecue rub and slow-smoked over 100% pecanwood, resulting in a rich mahogany color, intense smoke flavor and distinctive exterior bark, this will redefine expectations for fully-cooked barbecue. Visit AUSTIN BLUES® Barbeque here.
This post is sponsored by Hormel Foodservice