Amazing American BBQ in Five Simple Steps

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American BBQ is booming. UK diners can’t get enough of BBQ chicken, baby back ribs, brisket and pulled pork and this is reflected in barbecue becoming the UK’s fastest growing restaurant sector. As the UK celebrates National BBQ week, could this summer be the time you help your diners discover why BBQ food is so popular?

The bad news is that it’s easy to get BBQ wrong. Jon Finch is co-founder of the world-renowned
Grillstock Festival, a self-proclaimed ‘full blown weekend of meat, music and mayhem’. Having judged competition BBQ for years and established a number of successful barbecue restaurants, Jon suggests that cooking good American BBQ starts with answering these five basic questions.

1. How do I BBQ meat?

The key to producing delicious, tender, flavourful BBQ is taking the time to cook meat so that it is tender but juicy. American BBQ revolves around smoking meat gradually for hours at a time, with ‘low and slow’ cooking producing uniquely smoky, tasty food. It’s therefore important to take your time, to season your meat attentively and to give it chance to cook in the traditionally painstaking American way.

2. What’s the best meat to barbecue?

Quality is vital. Whether you want to charcoal grill burgers or slow cook brisket, if your meat is going to take centre stage, you need it to be worth it! The best barbecue meat usually has a high fat content, allowing for it to stay moist and succulent in the long, tender cooking processes. As Jon highlights:

“In the style of cooking we specialise in, if you don’t have high fat content in the meat and you stick a lean piece of steak in a smoker for 14 hours, you end up with a bit of shoe leather.”

As such, taking time to find quality butchers who can supply the perfect fatty meats for BBQ cooking could make all of the difference.

3. Which BBQ is most popular?

As you may have spotted, there’s one BBQ food which has become an ever-present on UK menus... Having started out serving only pulled pork sandwiches; Jon is passionate about how important the meat is for barbecue restaurants:

“Pulled pork is, always has been and always will be a staple of BBQ. It’s a rite of passage for any BBQ restaurant to be able to serve decent pulled pork.”

Pulled pork is also relatively affordable, simple to eat and extremely popular with diners. What’s more, if you already offer sandwiches or burgers to diners, it is easy to integrate pulled pork into your menu.

4. What makes good vegetarian BBQ?

Inescapably, barbecue food has always been closely associated with cooking meat. Most vegetarian substitutes are unsuited to long and slow barbecue processes, whilst it is very easy to contaminate vegetarian food within barbeque pits or grills. Obviously, however, it is still important to offer vegetarian options, so what can you do?

Jon’s suggestion is to reject the idea of veggie options as a meat substitute:

“I think you need to come at it differently and have foods on the menu that complement the meat dishes on your menu but are not trying to be BBQ meat.”

As such, don’t get too absorbed in offering like-for-like substitutes to vegetarian diners. Rather, focus on giving them a uniquely tasty dining experience by creating decadent veggie treats such as falafel patties or dressed halloumi and combining this with your usual delicious condiments and sides.

5. What should I serve with BBQ?

Whilst your BBQ meats are undoubtedly the star of the show, choosing the right sides and accompaniments gives diners an even more incredible dining experience. Pickles and 'slaws are popular ways to contrast the decadent richness of BBQ cooking, but Grillstock also focus on using the right BBQ sauce to showcase their meat:

“I actually personally prefer something which is vinegar based, I like something with some heat and some tang from the vinegar which cuts through the meat.”

Jon’s recommendation is a less sweet and gloopy sauce such as a Carolina BBQ sauce. Creating a complete and well-rounded barbecue dining experience also means thinking carefully about what diners are drinking.

Obviously, you need to offer a full and varied drinks menu to cater for different tastes, but there’s one key beverage which Jon feels is particularly suitable:

“I recommend a hoppy, bright and citrusy IPA. Pale ales work perfectly with BBQ because it cuts through, whereas if you have something too rich with BBQ it can be too much.”

Given that bottled IPA is non-perishable and craft beers are continuing to grow rapidly in popularity, why not pair your barbecue food with a range of interesting American IPAs.

Grillstock is an annual festival of food and music held in Bristol, attracting the world’s finest competition BBQ teams along with a variety of the finest BBQ traders and exhibitors. For information and tickets, visit www.grillstock.co.uk/festival

By Oliver Bernard

My years of experience working in pubs and restaurants means I am always interested in the latest industry trends. If I’m not exploring interesting new eateries, I’m trying to mimic them at home!


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