Going up in smoke: running a barbecue

By Laurie Macdonald

- Last updated on GMT

The Big Green Egg is a great BBQ at any size
The Big Green Egg is a great BBQ at any size

Related tags Barbecue

With the busy summer period in full swing, barbecues are all the rage in pub gardens up and down the country. A range of new options are aimings to make barbecue a year round event instead of seasonal - and give your food offering a smoky new flavour. Laurie MacDonald delves into the world of all things grilled.

While barbecue is by no means a new trend in pubs, the traditional idea of a summer barbie in the garden is giving way to some more innovative offerings.

American style

Korean BBQ

Korean food has been tipped by many to be the next big eastern food trend. Korean bbq brings a very different flavour from traditional bbq and can offer a great unique selling point for pubs looking to do something different for their food offering.
Tabletop grills such as those at the Old Justice in Bermondsey are an essential part of the Korean BBQ experience. Products like the Social Grill from Lakeland can create an exciting tabletop grilling experience that will leave customers engaged and will bring more business through word of mouth., while not breaking the bank. 
Although operators like The Old Justice have brought a new life to the barbecue concept, the value of the traditional barbeque is not in question. Pubs with large beer gardens can profit hugely by offering a barbeque option for outdoor diners in the warm summer months. There is a huge range of options for venues looking to have a barbeque option, from portable offerings like Alfresco Concept’s Big Green Egg to large scale built in options.

For this style of catering smoking meat is a huge part of the challenge. Customers will expect excellent quality smoked meats, and although you may have the freshest leanest produce and the most talented chefs, without the right equipment your offering will never reach its potential.

The American BBQ Company imports specialist barbeque equipment from the United States. Pit Boss (and managing director) Nick Kelvin is passionate about barbeque food, and the processes involved.

Speaking from one of his frequent research trips to the US, he said: “Barbecue is cooking low and slow, creating really moist succulent flavoursome foods, it’s the genuine southern states American cuisine.

“There are a few things a publican thinking of getting into barbeques should be thinking about.

“The first thing is ease of use, whatever equipment they get, there should be no specialist skill or any special training involved in using it. They want a piece of equipment that will allow them to focus on the foods rather than running that machine.

“We focus on smokers, not grilling and there is a fundamental difference between the two, smoking is very much on trend and it doesn’t have to be exclusive to barbecue restaurants, anyone can do it with the right equipment.

Running costs

“There are a number of models designed specifically for the catering trade and back yard smokers which are primarily for domestic use but are often used by the pub trade outside, we have a number of pub clients using this kind of smoker. When looking at these you must bear in mind these are designed for domestic use so the warranty may not cover them, so make sure wherever you’re buying from make sure they’re giving you the support that you need.

“Focusing on the commercial machines, it’s very important to factor in the running costs of the equipment, not just the capital costs. You could be looking at a smoke that has a capital; cost of £2,500 but it’s running costs are only £80 whereas there are other machines that only cost a couple of hundred but if you use them regularly for six months you’ll have run in £2,500 in fuel costs.

“You have to be very careful if you’re doing long smokes, so if you do pulled pork you’re cooking for up to 16 hours every day you want a machine that is capable and low cost.”

Smart Smoking

SM070_New_Door Open_WEB
The SM070 is Nick Kelvin's recommendation

Kelvin warns potential ‘pit bosses’ to think long term rather than just considering the initial capital costs of equipment.

“The smart smokers, and the SM070 is the one we sell most to pubs, if you have your own wood it’s just going to cost you electricity, or if you want to buy barbecue pellets an entire load might only cost you 20p.

“You can use fruit woods to give a sweeter flavour for pork, mesquite for an authentic Texan flavour in more robust meat like beef or lamb, hickory works for almost anything.

“The smartsmokers come with everything you need so you can cook to constant temperature which is very important, so when it reaches the correct temperature or time it switches to a hold mode so you don’t have to come in early to switch it off or turn the temperature down, the machine will do it for you.

“You can also do cold smoking, so if you want to cold smoke cheese or nuts then you can do that, so you should also think about is the machine flexible enough to do a wide range of menus, while not taking up too much space, the SM070 is the size of an under counter fridge.

“A lot of people call us and ask about machines that are far too large for their needs, it’s not just about space but also not over speccing. We always point people towards a machine that won’t cost too much to run. Go for the one that meets your needs. “

Quality over quantity

Simon Frost, chair of the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association agrees that quality is the key concern when investing in barbecue equipment.


He says: “While there are plenty of barbecues around, buyers need to be careful that the selected model carries the CE mark. A CE mark indicates that a product has met EU safety requirements.  It’s a mandatory requirement on gas catering equipment sold in the EU so if it doesn’t have the CE mark, it’s not legal for you to use. 

“Be sure to look after barbecues and grills.  Look for models that have removable components, making them far easier to clean.  Follow the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions.  Make sure the equipment is regularly serviced by a professional engineer.

“If possible, site the grill or barbecue where customers can see chefs cooking the food – it has great visual appeal.  The aroma created by grilled food is a big attraction, too. 

“Grilling or barbecuing adds flavour to food, not only from charcoal or woodchips.  As the fat from meat being grilled falls onto the heat source, it carbonises and gives off smoke that creates part of the special flavour and appearance.  Appearance is attractive, too: the grill bars sear food, giving the classic barbecued look.” 

Year-round menu

The barbecue trend is going from strength to strength and customers are coming to see barbecues as an attractive cuisine that complements British pub culture.

Data from Google shows that up until 2014 searches for pub’s with a barbecue offering peaked over the summer months and fell to almost nothing over winter. Last year though, results stayed at almost 40% of the summer volume, showing that although bbq is still a summer event, it can still make money in the cold months of winter, and it doesn’t have to cost the earth.

Heather Beattie, product brand manager for Nisbets Plc says that offering something different to your usual food offering is a key way to bring in more customers.

GL179 bbq
The GL179, Heather Beattie's BBQ of choice

"Whilst many publicans may  decide to simply bring their indoor menu outside, with the right equipment creating an ‘al fresco’ menu for the summer season can really add to your customers’ dining experience." 

She adds the LPG Buffalo Barbecue Griddle (GL179) is an ideal starting point for publican’s looking to get into barbecue food.

“There’s no need for anything complicated, a simple barbecue is sure to prove popular. Quick, easy and delicious, barbecues are a great way for publicans to cater for large amounts of people in a single sitting, as well as creating a vibrant and social atmosphere.”

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