Written by: J. Vigotsky
With Memorial Day Weekend only days away, the official start of barbecue season is upon us. While many people savor the opportunity to fire up a grill and cook for their friends or family, others aren’t quite as eager. Consequently, catering BBQs is a great way to expand your restaurant’s scope while attracting new customers. With summer holidays and graduation parties fast approaching, many people will be looking to have their events catered for optimal convenience. Keep reading for an idea of how to properly run a BBQ catering business.
What foods do you plan to offer on your BBQ catering menu? The staples of a barbecue include but are not limited to chicken, pork, beef, sausage, turkey, fish, hot dogs, beans, corn, peppers, and onions. Between the sauces, marinades, preparation styles, and cooking methods, there is no shortage of unique ways to express your culinary mastery through barbecue.
Barbecue is an all-encompassing term that includes cooking methods like smoking, roasting, and braising. Smoking—the classic way to barbecue—consists of cooking food at low temperatures (240°F-280°F) for extended periods of time. Utilizing burning wood or other materials to flavor, cook, brown, or preserve food, smoking can take several hours to properly cook meat. Another popular cooking technique is roasting, which can be done in a convection oven or smoke pit. Braising is the third type of barbecuing method. While a braising pan will do a great job at braising meat and giving it at an extra juicy taste, a charbroiler grill is your best bet for barbecue-braising. These grills allow you to lightly grill the meat with dry heat before braising it in a pot at low heat for several hours.
Barbecue Styles by Region
Before one decides to enter the realm of professional barbecuing, it’s important to learn about the most popular barbecue styles throughout the United States. Depending on the location of your restaurant, you’ll want to customize your cooking according to local preferences. The four types of regional barbecue styles are Carolina, Memphis, Texas, and Kansas City. Each style features different meats, cooking methods, and sauces. Carolina-style barbecue emphasizes smoked pork that’s topped with peppery vinegar sauce or a “Carolina Gold” sauce that’s made with mustard. Often times, the pork will be seasoned with spicy rub prior to being cooked.
Memphis barbecue focuses on ribs and barbecue sandwiches. Memphis ribs are prepared ‘dry’ or ‘wet’. While dry ribs are seasoned with dry rub, wet ribs are coated with mouth-watering sauce both before and after cooking. Featuring chopped or pulled pork, Memphis-style barbecue sandwiches are simple yet delicious creations that only require buns, cole slaw, and flavorful sauce.
Don’t mess with Texas! Texas barbecue is so serious that the style has four unique sub-styles: East Texas, Central Texas, West Texas, and South Texas. Common Texas barbecue meals include beef, ribs, and sausage that are flavored with mesquite and topped with a thick, tomato-based sauce.
Finally, Kansas City barbecue places an emphasis on a wide range of meats—including beef, pork, and lamb—that are traditionally smoked for long periods of time. But Kansas City barbecue is perhaps best known for its thick sauce that is usually served on the side. Incorporating vinegar as well as spicy and sweet flavors, Kansas City barbecue sauce also sometimes includes molasses that makes it extra thick and tasty.
Equipment and Accessories are Key
You won’t get far as a caterer without the proper equipment. Outdoor grills are the traditional choice, but they may not provide enough cooking surface area. Something like a Mongolian BBQ range is much larger and ideal for Asian restaurants. Other cooking options include charbroilers, braising pans, rotisserie ovens, smokehouses / pig roasters, and smoker ovens.
Accessories are also necessary to ensure your equipment functions properly. Be sure to stock up on items like grill cleaners and scrapers. Turners make it easy to flip burgers, while tongs enable you to grab nearly any type of food. Commercial meat tenderizers help improve food prep efficiency, and probe thermometers enable you to confirm the inside of your meat is an ideal temperature.
If you’re cooking food in a commercial kitchen rather than on-site, invest in quality storage & transport equipment. Items like insulated food carriers are especially important when traveling long distances to cater events because they can help ensure the quality of your food does not suffer during transportation. Food holding and warming equipment is ideal if you’re hosting a large event. Holding cabinets and drawer warmers keep food hot while it’s waiting to be served, and induction buffet tables provide an elegant way to keep food hot after it’s been served.
Commonly Catered Events
If you want to attract catering opportunities, it’s important to market yourself to the right clientele. This means identifying who is likely to have a party or event catered and letting them know your business can do the job. For starters, it’s not uncommon for school events and graduation parties to be catered. Appeal to the people who are involved in the planning of these events by advertising in school yearbooks and sponsoring school activities.
Other catering opportunities include tailgates before professional and college sporting events, weddings, business events, little league celebrations, and more. There’s no shortage of large events that need catering, so identify a few local options and appeal to the people in charge.
Utilize social media as well as your restaurant to inform the public that you’re now offering catering services. It takes time for word to spread, so don’t expect business to boom right away. Stay patient and leverage whatever catering jobs you’re given by doing an A+ job. This will not only ensure repeat business down the line, but it can also convince people attending the party to use your restaurant for their own catering.
Delivering on Time
Nobody is less accepting of tardiness than hungry paying customers, so make sure that you always serve food on time. This idea becomes even more important as the crowd you’re catering for grows in size. You do not want to incur the wrath of 100+ hungry people. By getting on their bad sides, you run the risk of them badmouthing your business to their friends and family—who will then avoid your restaurant and catering business at all costs. So always deliver on time!
Catering barbecues isn’t easy, and it can certainly complicate a business plan. But if your restaurant has room to grow and you feel it’s up to the task, catering throughout the summer is a great way to bring in more business and attract new customers. Just make sure you have the proper menu and equipment before you start offering to cater events.