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Smokin’ Good Eating

Barbecue is the quintessential American comfort food, and even though regional lines are often drawn around cooking and sauce styles, its appeal knows no boundaries. Recent consumer research from Chicago-based Datassential suggests that more than one-third of consumers have eaten barbecue or barbecue-sauced foods within the past week, and only 4 percent of consumers say they never eat barbecue.

Most grocerants’ prepared food programs include some barbecue influences, but experts see the case for going even further into barbecue styles to show culinary range and variety. In fact, barbecue has the power to reach customers beyond your doors.

“Set up a smoker in your parking lot,” encourages Chef Charlie Baggs, founder of Chicago-based Charlie Baggs Culinary Innovations. “This is a restaurant trick that sends that great aroma miles away, and it really draws people in.”

Inside the store, use the comfort and familiarity of barbecue to entice shoppers to try more. Linda Orrison, co-owner of The Shed BBQ & Blues Joint in Ocean Springs, Miss., and president of the National Barbecue Association, a Naperville, Ill.-based trade organization, points out that while some people argue the superiority of smoking vs. grilling or sauces vs. soaks, her group takes an inclusive view.

“Barbecue is the original form of cooking, and it evolved based on easily sourced, local ingredients,” Orrison says. Every region around the globe, she adds, has a distinctive form of barbecue dictated by the local wood used for smoking, the proteins and even barbecue seasoning. This global view of barbecue means a prepared food program can feature some traditional standards–like Texas dry-rubbed ribs and South Carolina pulled pork with swamp sauce–and also showcase a weekly or monthly special, like Korean-style barbecue beef with kimchi.

“If you have a wood that is local to your regions, use that,” says Orrison. “Some chefs are using hay to smoke vegetables. People want to know more about the food they are eating, and these details help convey the farm-to-fork wholesomeness of barbecued and smoked meats.”

Grocerant-Ready Ideas:

  • Outside smokers that entice customers with barbecue aroma
  • Showcasing local wood for the smoker, house-made sauces and scratch-made sides
  • Smoked or pulled meats in wraps, sandwiches and rice bowls
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