Raichlen’s Barbecue Trend Predictions for 2020
Could it be 2020 already? It seems like just yesterday that 1999 rolled into a new millennium. Of course, back then I had just written my first barbecue book—The Barbecue! Bible—and I didn’t realize I was embarking on a career that would keep me busy and traveling for two decades.
So much has happened in the world of barbecue since then. And so many of my predictions have come true. Multiple grill ownership? According to the HPBA and the market intelligence agency Mintell, 30 percent of Americans grillers own more than 1 grill or smoker; 12 percent, 3 or more. Barbecue where you’d least expect it? (Brooklyn’s Hometown Bar-B-Que just opened a branch in Miami.) The whole meal on the grill? Almost every respectable bar serves smoked cocktails, and grilled desserts are everywhere.
So what‘s in store for 2020? More grilling and smoking and better grilling and smoking, whether at home, at barbecue joints, or in high-end restaurants. And a growing social consciousness that includes concerns about where your food comes from, how it’s raised, and the most eco-friendly way to cook it. Sustainability has become a major concern, leading to more vegan and vegetarian grilling and new ways to harvest and grill seafood. Grill manufacturers continue to raise the bar with new high-performance grills and smokers. Big flavors are bigger than ever. So, here are my predictions for the New Year.
Steven Raichlen’s Barbecue Trend Predictions for 2020
1. American BBQ goes global.
Last June, I had the good fortune to run a mini Barbecue University at a cooking school/store called Barbecue Paradise in Turin, Italy. I couldn’t believe how many of my students competed in American-style barbecue competitions and have opened American-style barbecue restaurants and catering companies across Italy.
I’d like to call out my friend Alfio Sapienza, one of the organizers of the Barbecue Paradise event and a popular caterer specializing in barbecue. (His company is called Brace Toscana.) There’s Blacket in Como, Q-King American Barbecue in Turin, or Angus Beers and BBQ in Cittadella, to name a few. Ditto in other European capitals and around the world, from the Beast in Paris to Red’s True BBQ in London to the Smokin’ Pug American Barbecue in downtown Bangkok. When I was starting out in the food world, Americans traveled to Europe to learn the fine art of cooking. Today, the world’s aspiring pit masters come here.
2. Meatless meat.
Ten years ago, a meatless burger would have been laughed out as impossible. Today, a meatless patty called the Impossible Burger has become a bestseller at such huge food chains as Burger King and White Castle. Earlier this year, another maker of meatless burgers, Beyond Meat, went public: its stock quintupled the first day of trading.
These meatless burgers enjoy enormous popularity among millennials—and an American population concerned about healthy eating and the health of the planet. And they’re actually good, with a meaty, umami rich-flavor that compares favorably to a fast food patty. What’s next? Meatless meatballs and meatloaf? Meatless steak? Actually, all three are in development, as are plant-based seafood alternatives.
3. Pellet grills proliferate.
It used to be that pellet grills were cult cookers, used by a tiny segment of the barbecue community. Today, these sawdust pellet-burning grills are on a tear, with dozens of new manufacturers joining the guard brands like Traeger and Louisiana Grills. Even Weber got in the act, launching a new pellet grilled called SmokeFire.
Performance has improved, too. You can now control your Green Mountain pellet grill from your smartphone. Other pellet grills, like Memphis Pellet Grills, have installed sear stations, overcoming the traditional shortcoming of pellet grills—their actual ability to grill at higher temperatures. Wi-fi connectivity for closely monitoring cook sessions is now common as well.
4. Charcoal returns.
Ever since the introduction in the 1950s of the Arkla , the gas grill has gained in popularity to the point where 64 percent of Americans are gas grillers. But lately, there’s a move back to charcoal. You see it at restaurants, like Asador Etxebarri and Gastronomika in Spain’s Basque Country, in Barcelona’s Enigma, all of whom have installed impressive charcoal grill and ovens from European manufacturer Josper. You see it in high-end charcoal grills, like the Fire Magic Legacy, and in multi-fuel barbecue grills, like the American Muscle Grill and Kalamazoo Hybrid Fire Grill. You see it in new single wood charcoals, like Fogo and Kalamazoos quebracho (a hard, hot-burning charcoal from Latin America) and the maple wood charcoal from Basques.
Charcoal burns hotter and drier than most propane grills and allows you to do such flavor-boosting (and dare I say, theatrical) techniques as smoking, smoke-roasting, and caveman grilling.
5. Kamados go upscale.
Thanks to the Big Green Egg, the ovoid ceramic cookers known as kamados have become some of America’s favorite cookers. Now, the super-premium grill manufacturer, Kalamazoo, has gotten into the act, launching a high design kamado called the Shokunin. Named for the Japanese word for “master” or “artisan,” the Shokunan is fabricated from stainless steel, not ceramic, and is supported by an attractive ipe wood frame. Multi-level grill grates accommodate barbecuing/smoking, smoke-roasting, and searing.
6. Vegan charcuterie.
Shiitake “bacon.” Radish “prosciutto.” Watermelon “ham.” Once primarily derived from pork, charcuterie (French for “cured and smoked meats”) has gone vegan, with fruits and vegetables standing in for hog bellies and hams. Fancy Radish in Washington, D.C., for example, serves a stunning meatless charcuterie platter popular with vegans and carnivores alike. (Its sister restaurant, V Street in Philadelphia, pioneered a mushroom and seitan “cheesesteak” with rutabaga-based cheese “whiz” superior to many of the beef versions.) Jeremy Umansky of the decidedly meat-centric Larder delicatessen in Cleveland, serves koji-cured carrots and a killer burdock root snack sticks. (Koji is an Asian curing mold—a spore—grown on rice or barley that’s traditionally used to ferment sake or miso.) Will Horowitz, who rocked the blogsphere with his watermelon ham and cantaloupe burger at his Manhattan restaurant, Duck’s Eatery, recently launched a carrot hotdog at the vegan fast food chain By Chloe. Look for more vegan cured and smoked “meats” in the coming year and coming decade.
7. Wagyu goes mainstream.
It used to be that that America’s premier beef was Certified Angus Beef. CAB still enjoys great popularity and street cred, but there’s a new steer on the block, whose ancestors hail from Japan—the wagyu. Prized for its gentle disposition and the generous marbling of its meat, wagyu is a prince among steers, with lush-textured, buttery-rich tasting meat. Wagyu produces some of the world’s most richly marbled and exclusive meat, like Kobe beef and Saga from Japan. (But while all Kobe beef comes from wagyu steers, the vast majority of wagyu is not Kobe. Only a handful of restaurants in North America are allowed to sell Kobe beef, so unless you’re paying upwards of $50 per ounce, you’re probably not getting Kobe.) Today, many small farms in the U.S. raise wagyu beef—each with its own unique flavor. Look for it online from Crowdcow.com, Debragga.com, Wagyushop.com, and others.
8. Eco-friendly insulated coolers.
When we tape my Project Fire TV shows and when I test recipes at home, a lot of our specialty meats and seafoods arrive by mail order. I used to be distressed to no end by the Styrofoam coolers used for shipping. These days, there’s a new cooler on the block, made from biodegradable cornstarch by a company called Green Cell; it’s completely eco-friendly. Crowdcow and D’Artagnan use it—and I hope a lot more companies will follow suit. Recyclable? I buried one container in the garden. Another one I dissolved in the pool. One of my New Year’s resolutions? Banish Styrofoam from my food supply.
9. Grills in super high-end restaurants.
When Kyle and Katina Connaughton opened their refined wine country restaurant SingleThread in Healdsburg, California, they made a wood-burning grill the focal point of their kitchen. They recently received their third coveted Michelin star. At San Francisco’s high-end steakhouse, Niku, the extraordinary A5 steaks from Japan (not to mention their dry-aged domestic beef) come grilled over blazing hardwood. The premier wood-burning grill company, Grillworks, is installing its grills in high-end restaurants from Los Angeles to Toronto to London.
Could it be that the high-tech immersion circulators and sous vide machines that characterized so much restaurant cooking in the last decade are finally giving way to the most primal and best tool for cooking of all: the wood burning grill? It’s about time!
10. Eat less meat (maybe), but eat better meat.
Gloucester Old Spot. Red Wattle. Ancient White Park. Plymouth Rock. Not familiar to you? Hopefully, they will be. These are so-called “heritage breeds”—just a few of the endangered species threatened by changes in animal husbandry in the last 50 years. They are representative of the animals your great-grandparents might have raised—naturally bred, pasture fed, humanely treated.
On the leading edge of the movement to restore these breeds to our tables is the Livestock Conservancy. Headquartered in Pittsboro, NC, the Conservancy was founded in 1977 and works to protect some 150 breeds of cattle, swine, goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, etc. Heritage meats are different from those that are factory-farmed, offering superior flavor and texture. Yes, you’ll pay more for them per pound as they cost more to raise (and often take significantly longer to reach market weight), but reducing our consumption of animal products is better for us and for the biodiversity of the planet. Begin by searching out local sources (farmers’ markets are often a place to start). For a zip code-specific online directory for sources, click here.