From succulent rotisserie chicken to saucy ribs and brisket, Canadians are chowing down more than ever on delicious barbecued and smoked meats prepared with some southern flair.
North American manufacturers of barbecue, smoking and rotisserie equipment are always eager to stay on top of this consumer trend for smoky barbecue flavours. Canadian Restaurant & Foodservice News recently reached out to several prominent suppliers to see what’s cooking in the tasty world of barbecue.
Claudio Baldinelli, Vice President of Sales-Canada, Alto-Shaam
Regina Bookout, Marketing Manager, Cookshack
Bob D’Ambrosio, General Manager, Kendale Products
What are some of the top trends for commercial rotisserie, smoking and barbecue equipment for 2016?
Claudio Baldinelli: Smoking and barbecue will remain a hot growing trend in 2016. Technomic, a foodservice research firm, is predicting that smoked food will be a top trend this year as more people discover the different tastes that smoking provides. We will see more variety in smoking as more chefs experiment with hot and cold smoking. Smoking won’t be limited to brisket – we will see more smoked cheeses, chocolates, fruits, vegetables, and even spices.
RB: The number one thing that chefs and pitmasters tell us is important is equipment that allows the operator to have a consistent product without having to babysit the smoker. With the rising costs of labour, it is important to have equipment that is easy to operate and is dependable. Cookshack commercial smokers can be programmed with cooking times and temperatures of favourite recipes, so the operator just needs to load the smoker, turn it on and push one button.
Bob D’Ambrosio: Smoking is a new flavour profile for a lot of people. Although most people are familiar with barbecue and rotisserie chicken, as soon as you put a piece of wood in there you are opening up a whole new world of flavour for everybody. It seems to be a flavour that has really taken off during the last five years or so. There is also a lot more automation being built into the higher-end equipment. That means you are taking the need for some skill out of the operations equation; it is going to allow people to explore their creativity more and not worry so much about the technicalities of getting the job done right.
What are the key factors driving innovation in equipment design and why?
CB: There are more options now than ever before to add smoke to a menu. Not every restaurant has room to add a giant pit smoker. But combi-ovens and cook-and-hold ovens with real wood smoking capabilities fit in a much smaller footprint, are versatile and even have the option smoke hot or cold. Delicate foods, like cheese and seafood, can be smoked cold to add a different flavour to menus without adding fats, sugars or salts.
RB: Intelligence with controllers that have the ability to capture cooking time and temperatures to comply with local health codes. The new IQ5 Controllers on all Cookshack commercial smokers allow you to plug in a USB drive and capture cooking data for over 500 hours. The digital controllers also offer three-stage cooking and programmable presets.
BD: Everybody is after originality and differentiation from the rest of the crowd. Our smokers are all digitally controlled so you can just set it and forget it. All of the fun variables are up to the chef or operator. You choose the sauce, the wood, the seasonings and the meat. With all of this new innovation, quality is going to go up across the board thanks to the dependability.
What are some of the developments in terms of energy efficiency and other environmental concerns?
CB: Ovens that are energy efficient are becoming more and more of a need in the foodservice industry. In addition to the initial investment, operators are concerned about the cost of operations. That’s why we’ve developed our low-temperature cook-and-hold smoker oven because it has an extremely low electricity usage. Several Alto-Shaam combi-ovens are ENERGY STAR® rated as a way to show operators that these ovens are energy efficient as they are looking to quantify their return on investment.
RB: The use of food-grade wood burning pellets instead of traditional logs. They are environmentally friendly because they are made from the by-product of shavings from wood mills. They produce less ash that makes clean up easier and creates less landfill waste. Units that do not rely on natural or propane gas like Fast Eddy’s™ by Cookshack Commercial Pellet Smokers but use only a small amount of electricity to operate the auger and controller are also environmentally friendly.
BD: The quality of the build on these machines is such that temperature is regulated so closely and energy is conserved, especially in the form of heat. In these terms, you are going to be using a lot less electricity. With the barbecues that burn real wood, you aren’t going to use more than two logs in an entire 14-hour cook cycle because of the high-quality insulation and construction and digital control.
What are some creative ways chefs can use this equipment to develop new recipes and menu items?
CB: Experiment and don’t be afraid to push boundaries. Test your new dishes out on the staff – and they will let you know what they think. You can smoke so many different things – cheese, salts, chocolates, pasta, rice, spices, peppers, fruits, seafood, and spices to name a few. We are seeing more and more smoked items on restaurant menus. The beauty of smoking is you can create new, unique dishes by just taking a creative twist on your already popular menu items.
RB: One of the trends we see is using smoke (low and slow cooking) vs. barbecue (hot and fast) in many non-barbecue types of establishments. All types of non-traditional foods are being smoked to layer flavours, such as smoking caviar, salt, spices, nuts, butter, soups, and desserts. Also, using a variety of hardwoods to mimic regional barbecue flavour profiles is easy to do with the abundance of different pellet and wood chunk varieties. Another trend is restaurants making their bacon and sausages instead of purchasing it. Artisan charcuterie is big for bar food and appetizers at upscale establishments.
BD: Stepping outside the kitchen, these units are built so you can actually put them on display and attract customers that way. The equipment becomes part of the restaurant’s ambience. Creativity in restaurant design can now be focused on a piece of kitchen equipment. We have a lot of clients in Toronto that are showcasing this equipment in their restaurant and are working with them all day long. It’s really a nice connection between the customer and the food.
What best practices can operators follow to get the most from their equipment?
CB: When using an Alto-Shaam combi-oven with smoking capabilities, it’s easy to use the oven for multiple functions. After running a smoking program, use the automatic cleaning cycle to ensure there will be no flavour transfer in your next cooking load. That way you can use the oven to smoke meat and then cook rice or other grains. Follow all manufacturer recommendations in the manual for operation and care, as well as follow a routine maintenance schedule to get the maximum return out of your oven.
RB: Keep the flue clean (depending on your smoker type, every six months) Keep the wood source clean, rodent free, and dry. Using food-grade wood pellets make this much easier than racks of wood. Add a deeper, smoke flavour to your food using a three-stage cooking method.
BD: Preventive maintenance is one of our favourite terms. Take care of your machine day to day and you are less likely to run into equipment emergencies at 8 pm on a Saturday.
What should chefs and operators keep in mind when selecting new smoking and barbecue equipment?
CB: Before making an investment, think of the full picture and consider all of your needs before making a purchase. Test equipment out and see how it performs in both hot and cold smoking. Consider if you need a dedicated smoker or if you would prefer a more versatile oven that will smoke, bake, steam, roast, dehydrate and more.
RB: Make sure the equipment is commercially rated and listed with NSF, ETL, USDA, and Warnock-Hershey. Make sure you purchase a unit that smokes more than you expect or make sure you have room for expansion in the current location that you have.
BD: We always recommend you look for high-quality stainless steel construction. You want to make sure that the components are sourced and the units built in North America. Also, a very important factor is making sure your supplier offers proper support after you buy the unit. It’s easy to pick up a smoker on Ebay from some guy in Texas but when it breaks down, who are you going to call? You want to buy the equipment from a company that can fix the machine itself and stocks all the parts you could possibly need.