Are you thinking of adding BBQ to your catering menu? If not, maybe it’s time you did! After all it’s in high demand for outdoor weddings, festivals, company picnics and many more warm-weather events. Get the low down on how to get started with this top ten list of BBQ catering tips.
Get the Right Equipment
Great BBQ is produced with high-quality grills and smokers. You can purchase a grill specifically made for smoking, but most caterers cook meat on a standard outdoor grill and use a smoker box to create a distinct, smoky flavor. Don’t forget to stock up on tongs, BBQ forks, grill scrapers and grill brushes too!
Season Cast Iron Equipment
Before you put anything on a grill with cast iron grates, make sure it’s properly seasoned. Pour some cooking oil onto a paper towel and smear it onto the cast iron surfaces. This will keep your cast-iron in good condition, and it will also keep your meat from sticking to the grid.
Choose the Best Meat
Be as discriminatory as you can when selecting meat for a catered BBQ event. After all, the overall quality of your menu will depend on the overall quality of the ingredients. For pork, look for lean meat that has light pink flesh and firm, cream-colored fat. For grilled steak, many chefs recommend choosing rib-eye, since it has the most marble, which will drip and feed the flames of the grill. Rib-eye steaks will also retain tenderness and flavor if cooked until they are well done.
Get Smoking Early
It can take 4-5 hours to smoke meat. Make sure you begin this process several hours before the food is expected to be ready. To smoke food you have three standard options.
- First, you can invest in a separate portable electric smoker. These are easy to transport, but do require an electrical outlet to operate.
- Your next two options involve turning any covered charcoal or gas grill into a smoker.
- Smoking food on a charcoal grill is easy. First, soak the wood chips in water for an hour. Once soaked, throw the wood chips directly onto the burning coal embers. Be sure to close the lid when cooking to maximize the smoked taste.
- For gas grilling, you can use a separate smoker box or aluminum foil. If using a non-electric smoker box, place it on the grill top, fill it with wood chips and light the nearest burner until it produces smoke. If you don’t have a smoker box, wrap the chips in aluminum foil and poke holes on the top. Put the wood packet directly on the flames. Move the meat to the top grid, and close the lid so the chamber fills with smoke.
Experiment with Multiple Woods for Smoking
Try as many hard woods as you have access to and determine which wood type or combination of woods produces the best flavor to match your BBQ sauce. Popular woods include hickory, mesquite, apple, cherry, apricot, pecan, plum, alder, birch, cedar, peach, lemon, pear, maple and oak. In general, certain woods go best with certain meats. Cherry works well with all meats, and pear works best with poultry and pork, while mesquite works particularly well with beef and vegetables. Never smoke with soft woods or pressure-treated wood, which contains toxic chemicals.
Make it a Saucy Event
Sauce is what differentiates BBQ from other forms of grilling and smoking. To create good barbecue, frequently apply sauce to your meat with a barbecue brush. This will slowly tenderize and infuse the meat with a signature BBQ flavor. If you are at a festival or competition, try selling bottles of your sauce too!
Turn Meat without Stabbing
When you stab meat, it creates passages to the center and forces it to cook too fast. Stabbing also causes the meat to lose its juices and tenderness. Instead, turn the meat with barbecue tongs.
Never Overcook the Meat
The idea that it is best to cook BBQ pork until it falls off the bone is a common misconception. If it falls off the bone on its own, it is overdone. In fact, you should only cook it until it can be pulled off the bone with some resistance.
Keep an Eye on the Temperature
Because BBQ is slow-cooked over several hours and barbecue sauce often turns meats red, it is often difficult to tell when it is done. There are several ways to check if your meat is done. You can use an instant-read meat thermometer to verify that the internal temperature of the meat is 165° F for poultry and 160° F for red meats and pork. You can also use the “touch” method. The firmer the meat, the more cooked it is. However, this is not as reliable as a thermometer, and underdone meats could lead to food-born illnesses, so an instant-read thermometer is usually best.
Think Outside of the Animal Kingdom
Meat isn’t the only thing that tastes great hot off the grill and smothered in BBQ sauce. For your vegetarian guests, offer other food items like grilled chile rellenos, BBQ pineapple and tofu steaks. Meat lovers may also appreciate these tasty treats alongside their pork or chicken.
Because the smoking and grilling of BBQ usually occurs on-site, it can leave many caterers feeling outside of their comfort zone. However, BBQ catering is in high demand, especially during the summer and fall. Adding barbecue to your menu can help increase your profits, as long as it is done right.
Illustrations by the talented Roman Martinez for FSW