According to the National Restaurant Association’s “State of the Restaurant Industry 2022” report published in January, 77 percent of quick-service restaurants reported not having enough employees to support demand. That’s resulted in 71 percent of quick-service restaurants cutting back on the hours that they are open, while 33 percent have reduced the number of items on their menu.
That probably sounds like bad news for restaurants seeking to offer up authentic barbecue. Barbecue has long been an American staple, but it’s also a craft that requires a lot of labor, space, and know-how. Properly smoking chicken, pork, ribs, or beef requires constant oversight.
But it turns out there are ways to offer authentic barbecue without the pitmaster, pit, or smoker. It’s why operators are turning to AUSTIN BLUES® Smoked Meats, a brand founded by Hormel Foodservice that creates hardwood-smoked meat products ideal for operators dedicated to putting out authentic barbecue without incurring a rash of labor and equipment costs. The various products are smoked low and slow over real hardwood chips, providing a consistent, smoky flavor, and can be finished with virtually any type of trendy sauce or flavor in order for chefs to make wholly unique dishes their customers will love.
“AUSTIN BLUES® Smoked Meats are fully-cooked, ready-to-serve barbecue,” says Nick Jones, business development chef of foodservice at Hormel Foodservice. “It’s a line that is tailor-made to help operators save on labor. Making great barbecue requires space, equipment, and a pitmaster with literally years of knowledge and experience. AUSTIN BLUES® Smoked Meats eliminate the need for smokers or somebody managing the cooking process—all you need is an oven to reheat it and what you get is pitmaster-quality barbecue that will blow guests away and keep them coming back.”
While turnover has always been a thorn in the side of quick-service operators, it has become an even bigger issue during the pandemic. Turnover makes it difficult to train employees to churn out consistent offerings, which is one of the hallmarks of AUSTIN BLUES® Smoked Meats.
“The passion and experience that goes into our product make it as consistent a product as an operator could hope for,” Jones says. “That means our product truly stands out from the competition. The first bite of AUSTIN BLUES® Smoked Meats is just like the last one—it’s always consistently cooked and has that perfectly smoked flavor.”
Datassential reported that, as recently as 2020, 60 percent of restaurant menus included barbecue. The restaurant data company also reported that barbecue brisket grew on menus 51 percent between 2017 and 2021. In other words, from pulled pork nachos to brisket breakfast sandwiches, barbecue is as popular as ever.
“Barbecue is truly American, born out of passion,” Jones says. “It’s one of these cuisines that bring people together and you have all of these regional ways that barbecue is done. We get to celebrate different regions of the country with distinct profiles that people feel like is either their own or something exciting that they’ve heard about but maybe haven’t tried. The great thing about AUSTIN BLUES® Smoked Meats is that they can be finished with different sauces and ingredients to be customized to an operation’s individual needs and make it a trendy play that diners will want to try.”
One of the reasons brisket has grown on menus is because of its versatility. That’s something that can also be said about barbecue ribs, chicken, or pork—each can be used on a variety of dishes across dayparts. Then there is the matter of global flavors, like Korean BBQ and barbacoa, that have turned the barbecue game into an international affair on quick-service menus.
“One of our goals is to inspire chefs to use the product in different ways besides traditional American barbecue,” Jones says. “Working in the industry right now, you want to make sure you can utilize a protein in several areas of your menu. You can take our pulled pork and prepare it carnitas-style and put it into a taco, or on your breakfast menu. That’s a huge win for chefs. They don’t have to add extra labor and equipment to have this super versatile item that works in different dayparts and on different menus.”
Jones notes that AUSTIN BLUES® Smoked Meats come in a variety of different cuts and packaging sizes, so chefs and operators can find the one that’s perfect for their menus.
As Jones alludes to when speaking of the regional pride that surrounds barbecue, there’s a passion amongst barbecue enthusiasts. That means chefs and operators who menu barbecue need to make sure they’re bringing something high quality and authentic-feeling to their diners. This is yet another area where AUSTIN BLUES® Smoked Meats excel, Jones says.
“Again, that goes back to our commitment to slow-smoking our meats the authentic way for hours over real hardwoods,” Jones says. “We have 20 years of experience making these products, perfecting the craft. Great barbecue takes a lot of time, trial and error, and know-how. Using AUSTIN BLUES® Smoked Meats is a way to take all of those factors away to create something consistent and delicious that’s cooked perfectly every single time.”
“Some of our competitors use artificial smoke flavor,” Jones continues. “We believe that great barbecue flavor should never come out of a bottle. That’s why we’ve invested so much time into these products, so that chefs can count on how authentic it tastes.”
For more on AUSTIN BLUES® Smoked Meats visit the company’s landing page.