The Barbecue Revolution

Article from Catersource Magazine. March / April 2013

By: Deborah Carver

The barbecue evolution can appeal to every clients sensibility.

What’s the best way to barbecue? Do you like to serve pork ribs dry or drenched in sauce? When is it actually barbecue and when is it just plain grilling? How far can you take smoked flavors? Should you incorporate the meat into a well-rounded small plate or just serve with beans and slaw? Which region does it best,which global styles are the tastiest and what is the “classic” barbecue way?

Fortunately, however you respond to the barbecue deposition, “There’s no such thing as a bad barbecue, There’s ok barbecue,but as long as you keep it simple and good, you can’t screw it up,” says Executive Chef Ernest Servantes, with Sodexo at Texas Lutheran University in Sequin, TX. Even so, Servantes says, “Our barbecue standards are pretty high because not only are we a university, be we’re also from Texas, so our guests are used to eating a lot of barbecue. Right off the bat we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

With smoky flavors and international fusion barbecue is becoming more popular, an increasing number of clients are booking outdoor events. Ribs, brisket an pulled pork served in an outdoor setting are the latest comfort foods to undergo an upscale renovation.

“The general public believes that barbecue is a messy, outdoor, super casual food,” says Mark Rogers of Smoke and Spice in Homestead, Fl. “We’re trying to approach it inn a more artistic for, with gourmet flavors and trying to provide it in a nice, clean manner.” Specializing in elevated presentations of indoor and outdoor barbecue events, Smoke and Spice currently sees about 60% corporate business and 40% social catering, with a growing amount of weddings in 2013.

Whatever the client requests, these caterers know how to create flavorful dishes that incorporate traditional ideas with creative new twists.

Back to Basics But barbecue styles have been intermixing for years, there’s an American regional backbone to many preferences. According to Barry Miles, Corporate Executive Chef for Kraft Foodservice:

*The Carolinas and the Northwest usually use sauces that are vinegar-based or incorporate mustard. “You rarely ever see a dark red sauce,” Miles say’s, “and meats are often chicken and pork opposed to beef.”

*Texas, he notes, relies on hotter, spicier flavors as well as thick sauces that frequently incorporate brown sugar.

*In the Southwest, he says, “they’ll use more rubs and incorporate hot peppers.”

*Whereas in Florida and Hawaii, there are more fruit juices and incorporation of a lot of citrus to make the menu a little sweeter.

*Finally, inn the Midwest, barbecue tends to incorporate more tomato or molasses-based sauces.

Additionally, international styles are increasingly popular, as fusion makes its way to barbecue. Marinated meats grilled tableside comprises Korean barbecue, while Argentine asado incorporates beef grilled over an open flame, accompanied by a chimichurri sauce, says Servantes. He even incorporates Moroccan-style spices on more traditional barbecue meats, like pork, to add international flair.

Kristen Ledyard, owner of John’s Angels Catering in Whitefish Mt, is classically trained in barbecue in the U.S. South and Jamaica, and she incorporates much of that tradition into her events out west. She uses a variety of woods, including applewood, cherry, mesquite and hickory for whole-hog barbecue in a wood-pellet fired grill. The effect, she explains, “is between the smoker and the actual grill.” When grilling a roast, she says, “I use a dry rub on the top where the fat cap is. You don’t want to rub it too much, but you want to create a little bit of a crust with classic flavors like garlic and onion powder, maybe a little cayenne.”

Flavored with Jamaican seasoning as well, the meat gathers a little bit of spice and classic flavors.

With such a variety of styles available at your fingertips, if you really want to show off your expertise, Miles suggests, “You could do a tour of across the United States or the world of barbecue. “No matter the event, regional and global flavor preferences can be mixed and mingled to create an ever-changing playbook of tasters.

How caterers keep it low and slow:
When using less expensive cuts of meat, caterers often elevate the barbecue experience with the right equipment: “The barbecue equipment has just the same importance as the linens on your table. When guests walk in, they’re going to smell the aromas and see a bunch of wood burning grills and fire going, they’re going to love it,” say’s Servantes, who showcases his smokers at his events.

Roger’s, who competes in barbecue competitions as well as running his company, speaks reverently of his equipment: “Our main pieces are thes big hickory pit smokers. We have one in our kitchen, and we have aother one that’s in a stainless steel trailer that we’ll take to festivals to promote our catering business.” He also emphasizes the importance of chosen smoking material: almost exclusively pecanwood, brought in from Alabama.

In addition to the smoker, Ledyard says, “Your most important item is a hotbox. When you take the prime rib or beef and cook it to 145, then you put it in the hotbox to rest in its own juices. It actually prevents it from overcooking; it will go up only by about 5 degrees and last for up to four hours.

The Final ingredient: DRAMA

Innovative presentations don’t have to add a high cost to outdoor grilling events. When creating whole-hog barbeques, Ledyard makes sure to open the smoker a couple of times during the event so guests ca see the pig roasting. Once the roast is finished, she says, “We bring down to the table and put edible orchids around it, and we let guests take their picture next to the pig. It’s going to take at leas thalf an hour for that hot to cool down enough to pull it, so they can enjoy it while it is cooling. Then we take it to the back, pull it and serve it in chafing dishes.”

During more intimate events, like a pork tasting dinner, Ledyard has been known to experiment wiith barbecue and smoked flavors. “I’ll use just a little bit of molecular gastronomy,” Ledyard says. “I’ll take malto-dextrin, where you can take any fat and turn it into crumbles, and create bacon crumbles. When you eat it, it turns back into liquid in your mouth. “Even though faux bacon is a treat to create, she maintains that she is wholly opposed to liquid smoke.

At the Harmony at Hard Rock party at our recet Conference & Tradeshow, Cadee Nagy decided to evoke the smoke of the rock n roll 1960s-only withou conrolled substances, an with help from some contemporary equipment. “We have a hand-held smoking gun from Chef Rubber, “says Nagy. “We’ve packed the gun with different smoking agents add herbs, and the gun shoots the smoke inside of a clear plastic sphere. The smoke will then sit inside of these spheres and the guests will open it up and have this smoking experience.” Smoked ‘magic’ mushrooms were combined with smoked meats to create an all around groovy multy-sensory experience, returning to the culinary meaning of herbal smoke.

Rogers emphasizes presentation as a key to his company’s decade of success in the south Florida market. “We started as an ultra-casual barbecue catering company in 2003. Quickly, we realized that everybody could do that. The cooking and the food were exciting, but no the presentation.” Now he focuses on creating innovative stations, bold flavors and exciting presentations to up the ante. A resent presentation includes a blue cheese-stuffed risotto cake, filled with pulled beef brisket and caramelized onions, then topped with a demiglaze sauce with microgreens on top. He emphasizes, “Making barbecue look better makes it more valuable.”

“I’ve been smoking foods for years and years,” says Nagy. He still smokes most meats and other ingredients in-house, behind the scenes. But the site of the event is a different story: “With the advent of the handheld smoking gun, it’s opened up a lot of new doors for putting some more theatrics into smoking at upscale events.”

But in the end, as in all great events, good barbecue comes down to knowing how your customers will like their smoke.

“Sometimes it’s easy to say, ‘Yeah Yeah’ and move on,” says Rogers, “but we’ve learned to really sit down and get the client’s vision on what they’re trying to achieve. And we always bring artistic presentation and first-class service.”

And while it’s on the up-and-up for 2013, reinventing your barbecue game can never get old, says Servantes, “Barbecue and grilling are like a classic Led Zeppelin album. Your kids can hear it when they’re 13 and they’re just as excited about it as you where when you were 13-classics do not go away. They might fade out but they’re going to come back.”

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