In this world of growing food interest and entrepreneurial spirit, the drive to determine your own lifetime career, work for yourself, and potentially build an empire and legacy to be remembered by has, and will continue to, spurn on new edible businesses. Gems are discovered every day as people explore their creative ideas, setting their life’s income around ideas unique, set into decades of tradition, or a combination of the two. And what do these often come out of? Why, nothing more than a person’s love and hobby in making delicious things that people love; or a drive to learn about something else new and then spread it around. This alone has served to launch thousands of new business owners towards success, and BBQ enthusiasts make up a large percentage of this.
That’s right, if you BBQ, love doing it, and make yummy things, you could join these hoards of other business owners just as easily. In fact, BBQ careers offer a wide range of different options and paths that one can explore. All you need is a good smoker, some kickass refined recipes, and a set business plan and you can start considering a life of working for yourself, determining your own schedule, and doing it all while producing something you actually love. Then you can start looking at what particular BBQ business idea best suits you; the following six are usually seen as the most profitable.
Easily the first thought in starting any business, the most famous BBQ anythings throughout the country, besides regional cooking styles, are the restaurants that have made a name for that damn good smoked pork. If done well and successfully, a profitable restaurant can not only set a solid yearly salary, it will stand firm and last for years to come until you either pass it down to family or sell to some buyer for a good load of retirement money.
That said, restaurants are probably one of, if not the, most involved and complicated option here to start up and run towards success. Costs are often enormous, one needs to find and conform to loads of regulations, hire and manage a staff, run the books, and after all that get a strong advertising and marketing strategy out there to pull people in. Unless you’re running a small countertop/corner BBQ joint, where you might only need to hire a couple employees for help, you yourself won’t even be doing the cooking, your JOB is managing restaurant, funds, decisions, making sure the executive chef and front managers keep things in line, etc (this is assuming you’re going into it yourself, otherwise many partnerships start with one person heading the whole kitchen and food everyday while the other focuses on management, accounting, paperwork and relationships).
It’s not easy, none of these truly is, but if you stick it out, do your research, and hit those tastebuds right, customers will be soon returning and you’ll be on the golden road to the rest of your life.
One of the more recent and now very popular and media-focused trends of this day and age, Food Trucks, has helped to spread the culinary visions and tastes of many an upcoming business owner to an audience. These have been highly touted, and criticized/complained over by restaurant owners, for their MUCH lower and easier start-up costs. Buying a truck is only half, if that, as much money as a restaurant space (maybe about the same as small café shops), one often needs a much more limited number of employees to hire and train, and the menus can, and should be, kept much smaller. And they’re trending now, people love them, whether they’re classic Taco Trucks or something odd and strange, complete twists to never-before-thought mobile food concepts. This operation truly allows for you to play with whatever you want, as the receptivity and interest in foods traditional and intriguing come both equally high when it comes to food trucks.
That said, despite what many restaurant owners want us to think, a food truck doesn’t always equal instant success. First off, you WILL need to pay attention to your city’s regulations on the matter, parking requirements/issues, etc; even then trucks in certain cities have to deal with parking tickets no matter what they do. Success also means finding as many different places to park and serve as possible; Lunch on a busy street will only last 2-4 hours at the most, and then you have to leave, take profits in for the day or find a secondary spot for dinner. Not to mention the true key to any truck schedule, getting into as many events/fairs/big gigs as possible. And the costs may be low, but so often is your menu prices; most customers are buying just one thing at a time, none of the large meal bundles, so paying off these costs actually end up taking just as long as a restaurant does.
But despite the work and costs that go into it, if successful many Truck owners have moved on, using the continually rolling in profits from the truck to fund a Restaurant of the same name and theme, operating two businesses at once and raking in money from both sides.
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Catering or Portable Grill Smoker
Something that can be done on the side of any of these other business concepts, plenty of beginning entrepreneurs start off by ditching all those bigger costs for buying restaurant and truck space/equipment and sticking with the smoker, some portable tables, and serving up their neighborhood events. We’d imagine at least half of all catering businesses involve BBQ, the soul food movement really hits home when it comes to community events and involvement! It’s not a city block party or jazz festival with a little corner taken up by fold-out tables, a couple tent coverings, and two big hot smokers and/or giant grills holding/cooking racks of ribs and other meats waiting to be served up for anybody walking up. Not to mention the many outside summer parties, graduations, receptions, and other celebrations that need food hosting that just so happens to usually go towards pulled pork sandwiches, grilled chicken, and other favorite outdoor foods.
Catering offers the best option for those new into the BBQ business to go out and get a proper ‘feel’ for how well they’ll do. Recipes can be tested out and easily switched up as one gets customer’s opinions, one can see how much work is needed to keep business and garner further clients, see how popular they actually are, etc. Not to mention that service is highly simplified, leaving the main effort in just getting the food cooked and ready for the clients. From here one can then make the decision of continuing full-on with catering if they so enjoy that style of business, which can get really profitable once the name gets out there and who-knows how many people are clamoring in the Summer and holidays to have your food at their events; or if they want to take a next step, use some of these gathered funds to support a venture into restauranteuring, food truckery, sauce-manship, or other further avenues.
Note that this particular strategy, if going on the catering route solely, requires a lot of marketing, advertising, and getting your name out in order to develop enough regular customers and, as such, clout to get into events to thus be gathering enough consistent and confident cash flow month to month.
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BBQ contests have stretched so much in popularity, developing such a following in both fans and competitors that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of these events popping up throughout the country every single year, from small town/state cook-offs to big Nationals. And there’s enough teams set up through the country as evidence of how well one can do. Many a BBQ enthusiast has made their name known through their booths, collecting ribbon after ribbon, medal after medal, and trophy after trophy to the display at the following events, bringing in the long lines of people hankering for a hunk of their choice rib, chicken, brisket, whole-hog-pulle-pork, and whatever else.
There’s often multiple categories to cook in, and thus multiple chances to place and earn some fame and advertising. Having a team of individuals working towards a goal, a big ass bunch of pig that needs to be bought and prepared, bigger (often custom) smokers to accommodate it all, and a whole couple day’s worth of work at each for prep and cooking is all that’s required. If this is an avenue that suits you best, working the crowds and judges while simply putting your food forward to be judged on its own merits, this can easily be the most fun route to explore down.
Note that, unless one REALLY gets into it and makes the big leagues, hitting-every-competition-possible situation where you’re often placing and getting continued money back, this isn’t necessarily a business path you HAVE to (or should) focus on solely. Many competitors have catering or other BBQ businesses, doing the competitions on the side.
It may not involve smoking (though it really SHOULD for some of the ingredients, am I right?), but many will argue that it’s not really BBQ without having that good sauce on the side. And many a people do make their life out of simply cooking, stirring, and blending signature flavors and mixes together, putting it in a bottle, slapping a label on it and sending off to whatever store or other business sells it, or trudging off to the nearest Farmer’s Market.
Which is likely how you’re going to have to start off, if starting off purely on the sauce trajectory (some people get into it after their BBQ restaurant/truck/catering develops such a following around the sauce that they move to sell it). It’s a distinctly different job on your part; making the sauce is easy, just need to find a facility/shared kitchen to work out of (sorry, can’t do this at home if selling professionally, health departments don’t like that kind of thing), and then it’s all about marketing. Getting out to markets with samples to earn some everyday wages, trekking off to different stores and BBQ joints to get them interested in stocking your product.
Like anything, it can be a definite challenge in the beginning, especially as you set up your sales strategy and get used to the lingo (but then again you’re already probably good at talking about your delicious sauce and why people should love and use it), but once getting over the hump, things start selling, and a tidal wave of opportunities, re-orders, and new store spaces open up as more and more people buy, the data of which you use as further incentive for others to stock your product.
And if you can get a Backer early on people willing to invest in your sauce and get you onto store shelves, then even faster can this reality hit. At which point, all you need to worry about is how the heck you’re going to make all that sauce so fast!
Sometimes we just want to get our face and recipes out there! Serving food is all good, but being able to pass our favorite recipes to as many people as possible, teaching the fine art of smoked meat, complex rubs, and richly tangy sauces (and maybe some unique flavor twists) is just more satisfying. Not to mention we’d all love a little fame right?
Well plenty of people have made a name and career for themselves not through physical service, but implementing themselves in media sources. We see this most clearly with celebrity chefs on TV along with owners of certain BBQ joints featured heavily on TV specials (and even competitions), a lofty goal to pursue, but not impossible; it starts with making appearances and helping with local events, benefits, tv stations, etc, and with luck can move up even higher as others take interest and ‘discover’ you. Though that’s not the only cause of ‘celebrity’ status; the interest and success in personal life and recipe blogs, which many make a living on with the cooperation of advertising when they have enough followers and people visiting on a regular basis, has swept the world in recent years.
And don’t forget books; Cookbooks, biographies/stories of your life in cooking (with some philosophy, history, or other interesting things thrown in), or some other food-related write-ups form a great way to get your face on the back of a cover and out onto store shelves both state and nation-wide. The more of any of these appearances, blog articles, and books one gets out, the higher the chance that pursuing a career in pop social media food culture is more than just a dream.
For those looking to pursue this strategy, note that, as one can imagine, this has the lowest chances of success; luck can be as much of a part as the time, effort, and quality put into these projects (how often does this happen to those not even pursuing it, but have it happen on the side through the success and interest in their other BBQ business). As such, it’s advised that one not start off by dropping all other cash incomes and pursuing straight-forward with the expectation of making it big.
Start small, make sure you’re making income through some other job, perhaps one of the above BBQ ideas, while writing up recipes for a book or articles for a blog in your free time. Only as things get rolling, followers start climbing to high triple digits, a project is successfully published and receiving reviews, etc, can one consider pushing away more and more time from other duties to put as much hard work and effort into building yourself up as a quality figure/BBQ resource while also reaching out to grab as much different social and other media sources’ attention as possible.
Though truly, the same advice can be said for any business, BBQ or otherwise. True success is often determined by putting every second and ounce of your time and effort into it, and once a business plan and funding is set they can and should do that. But this is a big decision, don’t immediately sink every ounce of your cash, quit your job, and other crazy things the moment you get the idea. Make sure to take time for planning things out, researching what needs to be done, ensuring that this is something you CAN make your living on, but more importantly it’s something you WANT to do. Once those are truly figured out, well then there’s nothing else that needs discussing now is there? Good luck out there!