As lockdown eases and a summer feast of showdown sports events beckons, the outdoor cookout will be very much in. Anne Bruce finds the hottest barbecue options for operators.
The year 2021 is surely set to be the year of the barbecue, with the tail-end of Covid making the heated outdoor terrace the place to be, and a series of sports fixtures to catch up on. Whether guests want to enjoy a relaxed outdoor vibe in lieu of an overseas holiday or to celebrate the Tokyo Olympics or the Euro 2020 football tournament, barbecue is the only cuisine that can really hit the spot.
So as everyone finally gets to go out out, what's the drill for the grill? What juicy barbecue foods and flavours have diners been drooling at the thought of over the past few months? And for the operator, playing catch-up on last year, how do you ensure that your barbecue is cost-effective and that your profits start piling up quicker than you can say burger bun?
The meat of the matter
The first decision is what you're going to be putting onto the barbecue. Most people will be expecting something sizzling and meaty, so carrying a creative barbecue range of meat will set you apart, says Zoe Davidson, commercial director at Fairfax Meadow.
"This year we have certainly seen a surge in requests for barbecue products," she says. "Brilliant burgers and sizzling sausages have always been barbecue essentials, but over the past few years koftas, meatballs and value-added meats have also increased in demand." One of the latest products to be launched by Fairfax is a quality doner kebab-style kofta, as it rings in new trends.
Barbecue steak offers a great opportunity for restaurants to maximise their mark-up while offering diners the professionally cooked treat they've been longing for, says Neil McCole, sales director of Campbell Brothers in Edinburgh. He says: "We have a barbecue onsite, and each product is tested by our development chef to ensure it passes the grill test. We have a great collection of steaks – from entry level to prime cuts of beef dry-aged in our new Himalayan salt chamber, which draws moisture from the meat and helps to intensify the flavour."
A range of kebabs on skewers allows easy grilling, with lamb kofta and chicken being popular choices, McCole says. Pork belly squares and the Campbells' gourmet burger remain firm favourites. A classic burger is the obvious and simple choice for a barbecue, which can be pimped up with sauces and extras to increase margins, and offer a veggie patty alternative.
Offering barbecue meat-free options is no longer an optional extra in 2021. With the continued shift towards plant-based eating, operators can test-drive new veggie and vegan options on the barbecue this year.
Jade Dodds, sales director at Meatless Farm, says: "The plant-based offering to foodservice continues to grow exponentially, with options that are cost-effective, require no special training and store well – and, just as importantly, deliver on taste and texture."
One way operators can add value is with a "meatless swap", she says. "You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Try looking at the option to go meatless on key menu items like burgers, hot dogs and kofta kebabs. This is particularly useful if you're operating with a limited menu or staff while reopening."
Rocky Page, foodservice and industrial controller at Eurilait, explains that for vegetarian consumers, cheese can be an important source of protein. Eurilait's Alfresco range includes European cuisine-influenced dishes, aiming to offer the casual, relaxed dining experience that so many have been missing, he says. "The rise of cheese as the hero ingredient is evident, and the increasing popularity of continental cheeses is apparent."
Top it off
Whatever your choice of protein, it can be elevated with extra toppings, sauces and marinades, which can also add value, says Alison Smith, product developer for Mars Food Europe. She suggests chilli dogs for a spicy twist on a classic:
"To do this, simply pour warmed chilli con carne sauce onto your barbecued sausage, and top it off with sour cream, jalapeños and Uncle Ben's Professional Mexican Chunky Salsa."
Katsu curry sauce is another versatile flavour that can be incorporated into a barbecue menu for a mild marinade for chargrilled chicken burgers, she adds.
With consumers still facing unpredictable travel restrictions, world flavours are very much in demand for the barbecue.
McCormick Flavour Solutions has identified key flavours for 2021 that chefs can draw on for barbecue menus. Named chilli varieties such as aji amarillo, guajillo, tien tsin and chile de árbol are its hot tip. These can be used to add value on menus, giving a unique level of heat and distinctive flavour in a marinade or condiment.
Heat plus tang, where tangy contrasts heat in sauces and seasonings, is also on trend, McCormick suggests. Examples include fruity and spicy chamoy sauce from Mexico and chilli-based sambal sauce from southeast Asia. Another featured trend from McCormick is sweet pepper, where the bite of pepper is tempered by sweet ingredients such as syrups and fruits in marinades and relishes.
One on-trend hot sauce for dipping, dunking, marinating or brushing over barbecue foods is Big Wave Brands' vegan Aloha Hot Sauce, made using pineapple, ginger and scotch bonnet chilli.
McCormick's 2021 flavour forecast also says that the desire for hyperlocal speciality tastes from around the globe has increased.
Davidson agrees. She says Fairfax Meadow has seen eclectic world flavours boom in popularity. "Where we have always carried a range of traditional flavour profiles, such as lamb, mint and rosemary, we are now developing koftas, burgers and marinated meats, including flavour influences from Morocco, the Caribbean, the Middle East and beyond."
The Flava People expects core flavour trends to continue in popularity in 2021, says Ali O'Brien, commercial director. Increased experimentation with more global cuisines is also on the cards, especially with the Euros and Olympics events this summer.
Research from Lantmännen Unibake suggests that 75% of consumers enjoy experimenting with products from different cultures and countries, with Paulina Gorska, marketing manager, highlighting the popularity of American and Korean barbecue, Argentinian chimichurri, and Mediterranean cuisines.
Lantmännen Unibake's February 2021 study also points to the importance of the bread carrier for your barbecue blowout. Some 70% of consumers consider a gourmet bun to be a key characteristic of the burger. The right bun can also make a burger highly Instagrammable. What's more, consumers are willing to pay up to £1.35 more for their burger if it is in a gourmet bun, Gorska says.
Scott Oakes, commercial manager at St Pierre Groupe, recommends brioche, as its rich and buttery nature complements a wide range of barbecue flavours, with a signature glaze finish for added visual appeal.
One of the biggest challenges when serving barbecue is forecasting demand as well as the weather, he adds. The industry wastes a phenomenal amount of bread, which it can ill afford to do under current circumstances.
St Pierre Groupe's range of brioche burger buns come with a 45-day shelf life. And its Baker Street range of hot dog rolls has a minimum 35-day shelf life, helping reduce wastage and free up freezer space.
Tools of the trade
With reports of bumper bookings from 12 April as lockdown eases, barbecue equipment also needs to be able to take the strain in 2021.
By investing in top-quality equipment, rather than cheaper, domestic-targeted kit, venues can differentiate themselves and provide a barbecue experience that cannot be replicated at home, says Justin Cadbury, chairman and chief executive of Synergy Grill Technology.
Steve Morris, sales director at Jestic Foodservice, agrees. A Mibrasa charcoal oven can bring the deep rich flavours distinct to charcoal-fired cooking to all types of ingredients including meat, fish, vegetables, seafood and desserts, and the company says it consumes 40% less charcoal than an open grill.
Many operators will be working in new outdoor settings, so they will want their equipment to be on their side. Selecting a menu that performs well, is quick and easy to prepare, yet offers on-trend twists, is the other biggie for barbecue success.
Then all that's left to do is check the diary and plan your schedule. Between the Euros' kick-off on 11 June and the Tokyo Olympics' closing ceremony on 8 August, barbecue should be in business pretty much non-stop.
Daniel Farrow, the owner of the Gatherers, a restaurant and bar in Norwich, is planning a new outdoor barbecue menu. "We will have a traditional charcoal barbecue setup and be offering a range of burgers, hot dogs and potentially even pizzas. Throughout lockdown we renovated the garden, and it's now looking glorious.
"When it comes to equipment, we are keeping it traditional and putting together a casual barbecue menu. For that we will utilise the flavour you get from a charcoal barbecue. Capacity is also important, so we've increased our outdoor seating. We will need a good-sized grill to cope with demand.
"There's less concern when using an outside barbecue, as it's completely different from our indoor kitchen space, where we have a huge range of different equipment to execute a much wider menu."
The Flava Peoplewww.theflavapeople.com
Mars Food Europewww.aimiafoods.com
McCormick Flavour Solutionswww.mccormickflavoursolutions.co.uk
Spirit of Aloha 65www.aloha65.com
St Pierre Groupewww.stpierregroupe.com
Synergy Grill Technologywww.synergygrill.com
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