Why outdoor eating is an outsized opportunity for indies

10 August 2021, 07:23 AM
  • Sally-Jayne Wright breaks down the outdoor cooking trend and how independents can make it their own
Why outdoor eating is an outsized opportunity for indies

Expert Marcus Bawdon of CountryWoodSmoke, who has written two books on outdoor cooking and edits a BBQ magazine, launched a BBQ school this spring. Though he’s been teaching people to grill from his Devon home for six years, he’s been “inundated with interest” since the pandemic.

Daylesford Organic proved remarkably in-trend when in May, at their destination farm shop in the Cotswolds, they launched an “experiential retail space dedicated to outdoor living”. A selection of Weber barbecues awaits visitors, plus a new range of garden furniture.

What’s behind the trend?

As we took to our gardens during lockdown so there was a surge of demand for Kamado-style grills, gas barbies and wood-fired pizza ovens. To show off new skills – and also to justify outlay on new equipment – we’re cooking outside even on cooler days and school nights. With restaurant tables harder to book, and many of us still anxious about Covid, it’s the default way to socialise.

So cremated drumsticks and crumbly chickpea burgers, then?

We are more aspirational than that. When Marcus showcased his new BBQ school to journalists this month, his menu included: plank-cooked salmon, smoke-roasted beef with salad, horseradish cream and dirty bone marrow bread, an abundance of grilled veg with chimichurri, pulled fennel with slaw and grilled peaches with honey and thyme.

Wow. That sounds good. Which cuts of meat are trending?

Simon Maynard, head butcher at Macknade Food Hall in Faversham, Kent reports, “There’s been a shift to larger joints and slow cooking methods. Pulled pork, slow-cooked chuck, butterflied leg of lamb and shoulder. The type of barbecue used has also evolved with the (ceramic) Kamado style trending. In line with our ethos, we also supply cuts that are still considered unusual, such as flat iron, skirt and pork rib eye steaks from the shoulder.”

Marcus adds that large tomahawk steaks are in, plus ribs and brisket cooked American smokehouse-style.

Any other trends?

Ethical meat. Simon says, “Beef is a big topic of conversation right now. Not only the environmental effects of commercial beef farming but also what the animals are fed and how much grain as a percentage of their diet. We work closely with Pasture For Life (the only certification scheme for 100% grass fed meat) to ensure our meat is reared using sustainable farming methods.”

Marcus agrees that local, sustainable meat tastes far better than its industrially produced counterpart.

What opportunities do you see?

Fire up customers’ imaginations with themed BBQ promos; mains, sides, desserts and even drinks and sauces as a package. Food producer Mandira’s Kitchen offers an Indian vegetarian BBQ box which includes marinated cauliflower and aubergine, paneer skewers, and mango and cardamom gelato. Your ideas could range from Korean, Caribbean, vegetarian and Mexican to Middle Eastern, Deep South USA and German.

German? Does that mean bratwurst, viennas and frankfurters?

Why not? Try The Sausage Man, a Dartford wholesaler who also supplies artisan German breads, beers, sauerkraut and outstanding mustards. To complement those sausages, offer potato salad and slaw from your deli and Vadasz award-winning ferments and pickles.

We sell our own Louisiana-style BBQ rub. It smells fantastic!

Great idea. We like Hunter & Gather Barbecue smoky sauce or for a touch of luxury, Truffle Hunter’s sweet and smoky Black Truffle BBQ Sauce.

I read sales of vegan and veggie food were up 80% at Waitrose one hot weekend last year. Does that mean soya burgers?

Fake meats have improved. Last year, a vegan sausage burger made by Moving Mountains won a three star Great Taste Award. Their sausages scooped two stars. As for beef burgers, the Beyond Meat ones are “just extraordinary” and “seriously passable”, reports vegan food expert, Arianna Halshaw. Study labels; many products contain wheat gluten unsuitable for coeliac customers. Some contain egg white so may offend hardcore vegans.

What can we offer that everyone can eat?

Fruit skewers and prepared veg. Not just corn on the cob but chargrilled spring greens, broccoli and courgettes in your house marinade.

What else can indies sell to make the most of the trend?

• Portable wood-fired pizza ovens such as the Ooni Fyra, table-top grills and digital meat thermometers such as the Meater Plus to reassure diners meat is safe and not overcooked
• Face-to-face or Zoom BBQ classes
• Ready-made sourdough pizza dough and pizza ‘fixings’, pizza wheels and other accessories
• Coal chimneys, tongs, brushes, fire gloves, oak and hickory chips

Will outdoor cooking continue to trend?

Marcus expects the outdoor cooking scene to see huge growth over the next few years, with many people building outdoor kitchens and sheds for all-weather cookouts. Argentine open fire and hearth cooking is the Next Big Thing.

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