Steven Raichlen’s Barbecue Trends for 2024
Time flies when you’re having fun, goes the saying. I can’t believe that 25 years have elapsed since the publication of my book, The Barbecue! Bible. In that time, we’ve seen many barbecue trends come and go. Some have been fleeting (remember the pig wing or pork shooter?). Others have become an indelible part of America’s culinary landscape (how about planked salmon or beer can chicken?). But all remind us that grilling and smoking aren’t just cooking techniques—they’re a passion and a way of life.
So as I look into my barbecue crystal ball, here are 10 trends I see for 2024.
It was only a matter of time before a new generation of ethnic chefs turned their attention to traditional American barbecue. If you watched Episode 2, East Meets West, of my Planet Barbecue TV series, you witnessed a new sort of Texas barbecue—a dish called Good Luck Cluck, featuring smoky barbecued chicken in traditional Thai yellow curry. It’s just one specialty at Curry Boys BBQ in San Antonio, where Texas barbecue meets fiery Thai cuisine. Or the popular Korean short rib tacos served from L.A.’s Kogi BBQ truck. Tandoori chicken burgers. Or the bulgogi cheesesteak on the menu at Fusion Barbecue in Huntsville, Alabama. As barbecue moves into its latest phase (first came regional American barbecue, then regional American barbecue outside the regions where it originated), in the coming year, we’ll see more ethnic meets American barbecue fusion.
Never mind the Golden Tomahawk—a gold leaf-decked steak served at the Salt Bae restaurant in Miami for $1000 a pop. A simple beef rib at one of my favorite Brooklyn barbecue joints—Hometown Bar-B-Que—can go for as much as $56, depending on the market price. We’ve all suffered the consequences of soaring food prices brought on by historic post-Covid inflation. And pitmasters have had no choice but to pass those costs onto consumers. Skyrocketing prices have led barbecue restaurant owners to charge more for the traditional brisket and ribs and turn to less expensive meat cuts, like sausage and chicken leg quarters. Let’s hope 2024 brings these insane prices down to earth.
2023 has been a year of uncommon catastrophe, with full blown wars in Ukraine and the Middle East and political turmoil in Taiwan and Venezuela. Closer to home, we’ve witnessed unprecedented natural disasters, from flooding in California, tornadoes in the South and Central U.S., and the deadly fires in Lahaina, Hawaii. And everywhere disaster has struck you’ll find Operation BBQ Relief as well as World Central Kitchen. The former mobilizes volunteer pitmasters across the country to cook for people who lack food, power, and shelter. (Hey, competition barbecuers are used to cooking in fields with little or no infrastructure.) World Kitchen, founded by Spanish superstar chef and humanitarian Jose Andrés, has served over 300 million meals since its founding—many in war zones. So please consider contributing to both organizations.
First, came asado from Argentina, with its oversize wood-fire grilled meats and garlicky vinegary chimichurri. Then came sate from Southeast Asia—kebabs so small, you might eat 20 at a single seating, with a sweet-salty peanut sauce to go with them. In our insatiable hunger for new barbecue flavors, we now turn now to the latest continent—which is actually the most ancient—Africa—for it was here that our human ancestors first mastered the art of cooking meat over fire. Typical African barbecue? Got you stumped? You won’t be in the coming year. Get ready for suya—fiery beef kebabs flavored with peanut powder, cayenne, ginger, and hot paprika. (You can buy the premade spice mixture online.) Or stick meat—Nigerian kebabs flavored with bouillon cubes and hot peppers. Or Yassa—Senegal’s mustard and onion marinade applied with equally satisfying results to chicken and seafood. Or monkey gland sauce—a fruity barbecue sauce from South Africa (happily, no primates are harmed in its preparation). Look for these recipes in my books The Barbecue! Bible and Planet Barbecue, or here on the website. And look for more African-inspired grilling next year as our knowledge—and passion—for Planet Barbecue grows.
The hottest outdoor cooking device of 2024 won’t be a grill at all—but a griddle. An oversize standing griddle mounted in a cart that looks like a gas super-grill. With multiple propane burners and knobs to control the heat. Blackstone paved the way for these outdoor griddles with its classic model—launched in 2008. But it took outdoor cooking behemoths—Weber and Traeger—to push the griddle into the barbecue mainstream. Dozens of grill companies are following suit. So what’s the big deal about griddles? First, they let you cook a lot of dishes outdoors that aren’t practical on a grill. Like bacon, eggs, pancakes, and other breakfast fare. Like cheesesteaks and smash-burgers, and yes, even crepes for dessert. Does it still feel like cheating? Check out my SR Signature griddle, which you position on your charcoal or gas grill.
There’s another grill category that will only get hotter in the coming year, and it, too, lacks the one feature that defines grilling for most of us: open fire. But that hasn’t stopped record numbers of Americans from snapping up Traeger Timberlines, Weber SmokeFires, and other high-end pellet grills. In large part, their appeal comes from their ease of use, including push button ignition and set it and forget it heat control. But the new generation of pellet grills now get hot enough to sear steaks, and you can control them from your smartphone. Still missing open flame? The Memphis Wood Fire Grill actually has it; it’s called IntelliBurn Technology, and it’s capable of three levels of flame. Simply lift the heat diffuser plate and you’re grilling over an open wood pellet fire.
When our barbecuebible.com test kitchen director Steve Nestor and his wife Karen traveled to Austin to eat at Franklin Barbecue, they met a group of guys from Seattle who organized their whole Texas trip around visiting barbecue restaurants. When I traveled to countries as far flung as Italy, India, and Indonesia, the Leaning Tower, Taj Mahal, and temples of Bali took a back seat to bistecca alla Fiorentina, tandoori, and babi guling. Which is to say that for more and more of us, barbecue isn’t just what we eat when we travel—it’s the reason we travel. Look for more barbecue drive tours and travel in 2024, including one sponsored by Taste of Kansas City Food Tours.
The last few years saw the rise of plant-based meats, such as Impossible Burgers and Beyond Meat. It may have seemed that real meat—the kind that comes from four-footed beasts—was headed for extinction. Well, according to CoBank, a national cooperative bank serving industry, plant-based meats are on the decline–or at least, in trouble. Forbes magazine recently reported Beyond Meat’s stock has dropped from a stratospheric $200 in 2019 to about $9 in early December, with a 52-week range of $5.58 to $22.87.
One reason may be that these plant-based meats turn out to be highly processed, while real meat is, well, real meat. What’s next—plant-based seafood? We just heard about carrot “lox.”
2024 marks the 50th anniversary of the Big Green Egg, that verdant, rotund, mercifully low-tech ceramic grill that introduced America and the world to kamado-style cookers. Launched by Atlanta-based entrepreneur Ed Fischer in 1974, the Big Green Egg still burns charcoal, and it’s unique venting system allows you to go from low heat for barbecuing briskets and pork shoulders to high heat for searing steaks, and every cooking temperature in between. The thick ceramic walls hold in heat—even during a winter snowstorm, while the trademark felt seal between the firebox and dome lid keeps your turkey as moist as you can wish for. And it does this without a single micro-chip or cell phone interface. Look for Egg-stravagent celebrations this year, as Big Green Egg moves into its next demi-century.
You don’t need a degree in computer science to know that AI (Artificial Intelligence) was the hottest development in technology last year. Its consequences are being felt and no doubt will dramatically shape all spheres of human activity in the coming year. So what does it mean for barbecue. We asked ChatGPT to come up with a barbecue recipe (See Below).
Just for fun, we generated an AI recipe. We typed in ChatGPT, “Create a Barbecue Recipe” to see what it would come up with? Not too bad? But what do YOU think?
So all you grill masters and pit masters out there: don’t quit your day jobs.
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