FEATURE: How can operators equip themselves to win the outdoor cooking battle?

The market for outdoor cooking and commercial barbecue equipment is rapidly evolving, but operators need to be clued up to profit from the boom. FEJ asked a number of category experts to outline where the real opportunities lie.

Outdoor catering has become big business for foodservice operators. To what extent has the market evolved?

Ben Forte, global marketing manager, Grakka: The outdoor catering market is going from strength to strength. An area that has boomed in the last couple of years is the American low and slow-style cooking, giving us amazing smoked brisket, ribs and pulled pork. We are also seeing a real growth in restaurants wanting to produce their own smoked foods simply and reliably with consistent results, which is creating a big growth in not just charcoal BBQ smokers but also electric.

Steve Morris, sales director, Jestic: The nation’s love of outdoor dining is evident, particularly during the summer months. This affection for al fresco dining is something that foodservices operators can really make the most of, particularly as more manufacturers are designing equipment capable of being operated outside, or even exclusively designed for outdoor dining. Take Josper for example — we have worked with a number of operators to install equipment on outdoor terraces and for use at outdoor events throughout the summer.

Mark Challinor, general manager, Cinders Barbecues: A quality burger remains a crowd-pleaser, however catering for constantly changing customer tastes we find that increasingly popular for barbecues are a wider range of flavor influences such as Mediterranean spiced kebabs, marinated Indian-style tikka meats, Caribbean jerk chicken and seafood. There’s also a big demand for oriental flavours.

How have you expanded your range of commercial BBQ equipment to meet customer demand?

Ray Hall, general manager, RH Hall: The Crown Verity range of professional barbecue systems contains a model for every user, from light usage with restricted space right up to the largest catering event. There is even a charcoal model for real barbecue enthusiasts. In addition, our bespoke solutions division can work with venues to create the ultimate outdoor kitchen by combining a Crown Verity barbecue with refrigeration, prep areas and bar equipment. We can also develop custom-branded panels, creating an eye-catching area that is sure to bring in extra customers.

Mark Challinor: The supportive grill top of a Cinders Barbecue lends itself to a variety of food types — meats stay juicy and delicate items like fish and fruits can be cooked with ease. The optional flat griddle can provide a separate cooking surface for vegetarian options too. The pan support accessory is proving popular as prepared food can be brought from the kitchen to be held and served as side dishes to accompany the barbecue favourites.

Ben Forte: Latest innovations in charcoal grill/smokers and Kamado Joe ceramic grill developments have given great benefits to both home and commercial customers. They have added new features to make it even easier to use, such as a new breakthrough hinge which reduces the dome weight so you can lift it with a finger and stop it wherever you want. The latest product we have in the electric smoker range is the all new Bradley smart smoker, featuring innovative iSmoke technology, enabling you to connect to and control the smoker from Bluetooth-enabled smartphones and tablets in real-time, putting the chef in complete control.

First and foremost, professional caterers should ensure that they are purchasing truly commercial equipment. Many domestic barbecues look the part, but will not last or be able to recover quickly during a busy service”

What outdoor cooking trends do you expect to be big this summer? Are there any new accessories or developments that you expect to shape the market?

Mark Challinor: New from Cinders Barbecues is the portable StreetWok LP20, which brings kitchen-speed Asian cooking to the great outdoors with innovative technology, solving problems of noise and skill levels inherent in traditional wok burners. We predict the compact power of their new product will also enable popular stir-fry cooking to find its way into beer gardens next to the ubiquitous barbecue and onto hotel patios as the themed component of a memorable occasion.

Ray Hall: Diverse outdoor menus are sure to continue to be a trend in the coming months and operators should ensure that they have the right equipment to allow them to be creative and draw customers away from the competition. The Crown Verity range is hugely versatile, with a range of optional accessories that can be added at any time to enhance and develop a changing menu. Items such as griddles, rotisseries and grill pans can all be fitted to the MCB range, working alongside the traditional barbecue burners to create a perfect outdoor cooking suite for any chef.

Steve Morris: Along with the love of eating outdoors, the nation’s appetite for international cuisines is showing no sign of letting up. Operators can make the most of their alfresco offering throughout the summer by theming their menus to suit. Take pizza for example. Quick and easy to produce, authentic Italian pizza, cooked in an artisan pizza oven, such as those in the Alfa Pro range, is the perfect choice for an outdoor, summer menu. What’s more, by its very nature pizza can be made in any number of varieties and with an endless number of toppings to ensure there is something to suit the tastes of almost any customer.

When buying or specifying outdoor cooking equipment, should operators approach it in the same way they do indoor kitchen equipment? Or are there specific things they should bear in mind to ensure they invest in the most suitable equipment?

Ray Hall: For any outdoor cooking set-up, the most important piece of equipment to get right is the barbecue itself! First and foremost, caterers should ensure that they are purchasing truly commercial equipment. Many domestic barbecues look the part, but will not last or be able to recover quickly during a busy service. Look for a barbecue that uses commercial grade stainless steel (be wary that many domestic models use stainless steel but are of light duty construction) and also check out the grid racks — stainless steel works much better than coated ones that invariably chip and flake off in time. Look for good portability as many barbecues have poorly-constructed wheels. Importantly, ensure the product comes with a full commercial warranty.

Steve Morris: Installing and using outdoor cooking equipment can present its own challenges. Although certain considerations are eliminated, such as ventilation, other factors, particularly around fuel choice and storage, can influence a decision. Operators need to consider everything from how they store the chosen fuel source to how they move it in order to comply with strict legislation and regulation. With gas especially, the establishment must be able to demonstrate ‘Gas Safe Approval’ whether using a fixed gas supply or the more common choice of LPG within an outdoor environment. Regardless of the fuel supply chosen, it is also essential to make sure that a plentiful supply is maintained, particularly during peak trading periods, such as bank holidays, where a period of good weather could see a huge flow of custom, largely when combined with an outdoor food offering.

Ben Forte: The approach to buying outdoor equipment is very similar to indoor equipment. If the equipment is being stored outside then think about the build quality of equipment and also about the storage of it — should it be under a cover? Finally, look at the running costs of what you decide to go with — how long does the charcoal burn for, how much electricity do electric smokers use. These all need to be taken into consideration.

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