Are you dreaming of starting a part-time barbecue business but don't have the cash or time to pull it off right now?
Or perhaps you've figured out how to cook amazing barbecue and now you're hearing things like, "you should do this for a business" or "would you cook for us at our family get-together?" but all you've got is backyard toys like a small charcoal grill and offset smoker?
In 2014 I had the privilege of cooking for two different local businesses. Since I'm just a backyarder, my equipment is small, and the kitchen I was using in our rented apartment was crowded. In spite of that, I was able to make a decent chunk of cash without investing in any more equipment.
This article is not about setting up in the town square every weekend to sell barbecue plates, although that could be a lot of fun and quite profitable. In my case, the clients were just paying me to cook their meat, which meant less commitment and work on my part. They provided the meat, prepared the sides, served the food, and cleaned up afterward, so all I had to do was help plan the meat menu, make sure the meat arrived on time, and cook the meat.
You should check with your local health department to make sure you are in compliance, but don’t get intimidated with the details. Even on a small scale, cooking for profit can be a great way to make some extra money, donate to charities, or simply fund your barbecue lifestyle.
Tips on getting started with cooking for profit:
1. Master the skill of cooking amazing barbecue. I’m gonna take for granted you have a decent smoker of some sort that will hold a consistent temperature and a fair amount of meat. Chances are you have some experience running it, but if you need help polishing your skills, study the recipes and tips in StoryQue magazine or a credible source online. The goal is to get so good at cooking barbecue that you get comments like, “You should cook for a business!”
Your cooking skills will help to sell your services. Because of other obligations in my business, I’m not sure when I’ll do more cooking for profit; but just these two events have brought me more people who want me to cook for their family gatherings or events. The key to selling your cooking is to master the skill of amazing barbecue.
2. Have friends that don’t know how (or like) to cook. This is pretty easy, actually. Most people’s everyday relationships are not centered on barbecue, but on community, family, business, etc. Everyone likes to eat, but not everyone knows how to make really good barbecue. These are great opportunities for you to shine.
3. Start with just the meat. Let your client provide all the sides and be responsible for serving and cleaning up the party. This is a simple way to cut out a ton of work on your part, while still making some decent cash and just focusing on what you are really good at---cooking barbecue. You can deliver the meat or have the client pick it up at your house, but either way, you pull or slice the meat and just provide instructions for heating it or keeping it warm.
4. Step it up a bit. In other words, you’ve just gotta do what you’ve done for a few people many times before, but on a slightly larger scale. Cooking for 100 people is not that different from cooking a Memorial Day feast for 10 people with leftovers—it just involves a little more meat and more pressure to get it done at a certain time.
5. Don’t over-extend yourself. Your smoker can only hold a certain amount of meat and your grill can only cook so much in one batch. It really comes down to having a plan. Figure out the amount of people you are cooking for, how much your equipment can handle, and how long each thing will take to cook.
The businesses I cooked for are both run by friends of mine. One was an employee company picnic and the other was an open house for the public.
The last event I cooked for was for an open house at Shawnee Structures in Bedford, a business that builds storage buildings and sells cabins, play sets, pavilions, and other outdoor structures. The event was on Friday and Saturday.
On Thursday I smoked and pulled 12 Boston butts on my Meadow Creek SQ36 offset smoker at my house. The smoker was overloaded and the air couldn’t circulate right, so that was a mistake. It really can only hold 10 large Boston butts. The cooking lagged so badly, I ended up finishing one in the kitchen stove so I could spread things out in the smoker. The key take-away is to know your smoker and how much it can handle. You’ll just make life hard on yourself if you don’t.
On Friday I smoked 10 pounds of sausage and 3 racks of ribs on-site. (The ribs were for the owners and employees). I also grilled a couple batches of chicken leg quarters on my Meadow Creek BBQ26S chicken cooker. The next day I grilled a couple more batches of chicken. They warmed the meat in a crock pot and electric roaster.
The previous event I cooked was an employee picnic for Fisher’s Country Store. That time we smoked a few butts, whole chickens, and some sausage. We pulled the butts and chicken and sliced the sausage; since it was finished around eating time, I just put the meat in a couple of electric roasters to keep it warm. There were roughly 75 people there that night, and my SQ36 could easily handle that size of crowd.
Here are some pictures of the cook I did for Shawnee Structures:
If you're wishing you could get around the constraints of small equipment, time, and cash to start cooking for profit, I hope this article has inspired you to think creatively and find small ways to cook for profit and keep working toward your dreams!
Disclaimer: Doing what I say might be dangerous. I can’t be responsible for any money you might lose, laws you might disobey, or people you might hurt following my advice. This is not legal advice. Please check local food regulations to make sure you are in compliance.