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National Restaurant Association - How to keep barbecue safe and delicious

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How to keep barbecue safe and delicious

Flavorful, mouthwatering barbecue is a tasty, craveable helping of Americana. According to the National Restaurant Association 2017 “What’s Hot” chefs’ survey, barbecue is the fifth most popular perennial menu item. Many cuts of meat come in slab form, lending themselves to lengthy cook times and large crowds who’d rather leave the cooking to the professionals. For your restaurant, hot-holding these meats can be a delicate dance; you don’t want to lose the proteins your pitmaster labored over for hours due to food safety concerns, but you also don’t want the meat’s tenderness to deteriorate under too-high temperatures.

Food code requires a hot-holding temperature of 135 F or higher for meats. To keep meat juicy and simultaneously out of the temperature danger zone, ServSafe recommends checking the temperature of the protein in your NSF-approved hot-holding unit at least every four hours with a digital thermometer. Maintaining a higher-than-necessary holding temperature can lead to dried-out protein.

You can also consider using hot-holding units that emit moisture, which are known as controlled vapor units. If you would like to incorporate moisture into units that do not self-emit, you can place a small container of water into the unit to create a similar effect.

Danny Haberman, owner of Pok-e-Jo’s, a five-unit barbecue chain in the Austin, Texas area, has perfected his recipes as well as cooking and holding methods over the course of 30 years. In addition to frequently checking meat temperatures manually, he selected CVAPs outfitted with temperature dials to safely hot-hold his businesses’ menu items. All Pok-e-Jo's pitmasters can reference clearly written company procedures, so product remains consistent.

Producing just enough meat for the demand, he keeps close tabs on his locations’ catering and in-store sales cycles.

“We’re able to time our chicken, pork and turkey orders within a two- to three-hour window. We cook these items three to four times a day so we always offer fresh, flavorful product,” Haberman says. “Anything that’s gone past its service time is discarded.”

His team wraps ribs in food-grade foil before hot-holding. As the meat rests, it starts to pull away from the bone, creating a tender bite.

After smoking dry-rubbed brisket over real mesquite wood in a pit, staff rests the meat in a CVAP unit for at least six hours at or above 135 F. “We tend to lose a little bit of the smoke flavor due to the humidity in the unit, so 30 minutes before carving, we put it back in the pit.” They carve-to-order, preventing moisture loss.

At Sonny’s BBQ, a 120-unit Southeast chain based in Winter Park, Florida, employees smoke the dry-rubbed brisket, then let it rest, waiting until the temperature reaches 145 F before wrapping it in food-grade plastic wrap and placing it in the CVAP unit, where it remains until it’s ready to be served.

“To ensure our barbecue tastes great and remains safe for customers, we have an employee operations manual that outlines procedures, traveling pitmasters that check on each location and a pitmaster academy where we go over topics like hot-holding, butchering and making rubs and sauces,” says Paul Clunan, Sonny’s BBQ director of operations.

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