North American BBQ industry & cook at home trends that marked 2020
With the year 2020 now behind us, the House of BBQ Experts’ team sat down with Max Good, creator of the Black Swan BBQ sauces and man in charge of finding the best products for the renowned web site, amazingribs.com. He was joined by Max Lavoie, co-founder of House of BBQ Experts, to discuss how their love for the BBQ came to be and how this unusual year impacted the BBQ industry. Both of them being based in different countries, respectively the US and Canada, this interview was also an interesting way to see different perspectives from each side of the border.
So now, without further ado, sit down, relax and enjoy discovering what the two Max had to say about all of this!
Interviewer: What made you fall in love with the world of BBQ?
Max Good: I started enjoying cooking at a very young age. We didn’t do a lot of barbecuing as I was growing up, but we did have an inexpensive charcoal grill. When it came time to cook, I was always the one doing it because people knew I liked to do it. For example, a tell-tale sign that someone can cook is if he knows how to use a knife. I was always willing to try and chop things up, unlike my friends, so that’s why when we would get together to BBQ they would always say “Hey Max! You’re the cook!”. And that’s pretty much how I got started… with my friends asking me to cook for them because I liked doing it and they didn’t. [Laughter.]
Max Lavoie: For me, it all started when I was a kid and hung around the BBQ with my dad. You see, because my parents owned a hardware store, we had two or three BBQs at home as we would always be trying out the new models.
Barbecuing was my family’s only way to cook during the summer. My mom would always ask me to help my father bring the food to the grill, so in a way, I was the official assistant… and the official “I want to try it all” guy.
I must say also that my grandfather was a big fan of smoking fish and that I can still remember the first time I tried smoked salmon… It was delicious! Noticing that the taste of BBQ’d cooked food was different (and way better!) was a revelation for me. It’s what started my love for everything BBQ. Eventually, I also started selling grills at my parents’ hardware store and my love for grilled food and the hardware boomed even more from that moment on!
I: What’s your favorite food on the BBQ?
M G: My buddy Max L’s smoked stuff! Smoke flavor just can’t be beat. You can’t smoke food in the kitchen unless you have a huge ventilation system and well, you can do steak indoors, but it is just so easy to get a good sear on meats that you really want to sear it outdoors with decent equipment. Personally, I tend to go outdoors to cook everything unless I’m not in the mood to battle the weather. Living in the Chicago area, it can get very cold, windy, and humid.
M L: For me, it’s anything beef! Eggs and steak for exemple. I don’t usually eat breakfast, but for my birthday, I cooked a breakfast for my family that consisted of eggs deep fried in maple syrup and a small piece of wagyu steak. To do that, I bought a whole brisket, sliced it into small pieces, and grilled it (you can also freeze it before slicing it, to help break the fiber). Anything I feel like eating I’ll just grill it. It’s a much more rapid way of getting the food to the plate and it tastes so much better!
M G: As we are talking about briskets, one of my favorites is the pastrami! At the grocery store, it will be thin sliced, but in New York (which is famous for its pastrami), they’ll serve you a hunk of meat that is thickly sliced. If you want to do it yourself, you have to buy corn beef brisket (amazingribs.com has an excellent and easy to follow recipe on how to make this), trim it, put seasoning on it and smoke it for a couple of, or several, hours. It is even juicier if you steam it after it gets to about 150°F internal temperature. Delicious stuff I tell you! I highly recommend you try it!
I: This year was really different and forced us to do things differently. How did you adapt and did this new lifestyle have any impact on how you view or experience barbecuing?
M G: At first, we didn’t know what was going on. We hadn’t lived anything like this before. However, I am used to working from home, so it wasn’t that big of a change for me. That said, I was also used to getting together with friends and family, so of course I missed that in 2020, like everybody has. And even though I like to cook and it is my job, going to the restaurant is still something that I miss.
When it comes to BBQ, it started to really take off. When I talked to other companies everybody was saying the same thing: “We can’t keep stuff on the shelves! We’re out of stock!” Indeed, now people have extra money because they are not going to the restaurants, they are not travelling, they are not buying that new car… With so much time on their hands, people are willing to try stuff: learn how to smoke ribs on the BBQ, make their own bread, etc., but there is no longer any stock…
From a business standpoint, the traffic on amazingribs.com busted through the roof! I was going to take some time off, but told myself that it wasn’t a good time to do so, so I stayed and was a good soldier for the BBQ world. We were really happy that House of BBQ Experts distributes our Black Swan Gourmet BBQ sauces as it allowed people in Canada to discover our sauces! Amazon was also really great for us too because people, in Florida or in California for exemple, who couldn’t try our sauces before by lack of distributors in their area, were now able to! We really took off on that platform and are now all sold out!
That said, we are all hoping to see the end of the tunnel, but we are still in it. We all have to keep being extra careful in everything we do in order to make it through the end of this.
M L: Just like you Max, we didn’t know what was going to happen during the lockdown over here as well. We thought the company was going to shut down! However, since we were all in good health, we decided to put all of our efforts towards keeping it in good shape. We did two Facebook livestreams a day, even three sometimes. Answered people’s questions online and over the phone… All to make sure that people were not going to forget about our company and how to use their BBQ!
We wanted to encourage people by motivating them to cook at home and make the best of the social situation. Even if for your immediate family only, preparing a BBQ meal always gathers the kids, makes everyone get involved and share stories. Although our first mission was to assist grill adepts with recipes and techniques, from those initiatives came a strong online demand. People started buying online from that moment on as it was the safest (and sometimes the only) option, to obtain quality products for all their BBQ needs.
I: Do you feel that the new eating/socializing/hosting habits developed over the course of the last 12 months are going to stay?
M G: Certainly. Over this period of time, people tried new things and discovered “Hey! I can do this! I like the taste, I like the glory that I get from my friends and family… I can keep doing these new things!”
I guess now the BBQ genie is out of the bottle… Books and people on TV make barbecuing sound like it is some sort of magic: “You need to take the meat, bless it, squirt wine over it, bury it in your backyard for three days, and when the moon is full, THEN you can smoke it!” [Laughter.] People realize now that it is not that hard and that they just need to think logically when they’re cooking.
M L: Exactly! Additionally, with the price of meat being what it is, people want to make sure that when they put their piece of meat on the BBQ, they’ll cook it properly. You and I, Max, are like artists: if someone gives us food and fire, we’ll cook something, regardless of measurements and such. However, a lot of people are the opposite. They’re more like “engineers”: they need to know the exact type of wood to use, how much broth of each kind to add to the recipe… Barbecuing can be a bit more intimidating for them.
That said, I do hope that the habits of cooking on the BBQ and trying new recipes will stay after the lockdown because, well… we have a lot of BBQs in stock. [Laughter.] We don’t know what the future will look like, but many people realise how much fun barbecuing is and are enjoying it now more than ever. The year 2020 made people want to have fun everyday and stay in good health even more than usual. It made them realize that even if they have money, if they are not healthy, all of the money in the world won’t get them anywhere. So in the end, they better appreciate everything that life has to offer.
We all miss social outings, so if next summer we can gather again, it’ll be amazing. Even if there is no pandemic, it’s a sure thing that people will still spend time outside and keep using their BBQs.
I: Looking back at 2020, is there something that surprised you about the BBQ industry or that you feel was a positive change for it?
M L: People are realizing just how good it is to spend time outside: it is good for the mind and body and keeps us healthy. The year 2020 also allowed us to see how important sharing and socializing are. We all miss that and it for sure would be great if we could do that again in the summer of 2021.
Barbecuing gets people together. If the temperature is minus something, being outside with your friends will make the temperature rise. That said, even if there were no pandemic in 2021, people would still prefer to gather outside because of the sun’s energy and the quality of air. Everything’s better outside.
M G: Indeed, people feel like being outside is the way they want to live, all while being cautious. Outside, you can be with your friends, not be cramped up and enjoy a beautiful day. We still have to be cautious for the moment, but eventually we will go back to how we used to live.
I: What do you think will be the hot new things in the years to come?
M G: The first thing that comes to my mind is smart technology. For example, there are companies that are taking some of the technology for pellet smokers and adapting it to charcoal BBQs, which is fascinating. The new devices that will be coming out are very promising! Another trend that I noticed is indoor grills. They seem to be gaining in popularity and can cook just about anything!
Max, I would be interested in hearing your take on this as a few years ago we talked about how people didn’t like charcoal and now they’re like “I don’t mind dealing with it. I enjoy the flavor and the experience!” It’s fun to see how things change… What do you think?
M L: Indeed, we are doubling our sales of charcoal BBQs every year, however in 2020 it even more than doubled! It seems that people are going both ways, because on one hand we sell lots of charcoal BBQs, but on the other, we never sold that many Wi-Fi pellet grills! That said, the “regular way” of the gas grill, is still the most popular of all. People who have a good gas grill, like a Napoleon or a Weber, don’t seem to be needing anything else. BUT, people who stick to gas grills don’t have that much fun when they cook and the food seems to always taste better when it comes with the smell of smoke…
There are two types of people: those who are looking to play with fire and try something different (who will opt for a charcoal or wood BBQ) and those who want to eat BBQ (who will prefer gas BBQs). It all depends on what your mind is set on. The future is really a good mix of everything, cooking and technology wise. Whatever your preferences, people will keep asking for the new products that will come out and we will be there to deliver them.
I: If you could offer one statement as a “wishing well” for everyone, or good resolution, to kick off 2021, what would it be?
M G: I would like to say that we should all try to be more kind and compassionate to ourselves and everyone around us. We should see the similarities in our lives and not look so deeply at our differences. It would sure be a wonderful world if we could all get along better. See, we’ve been talking about cooking and eating food for an hour, something that everybody loves, and it’s been great!
I would also wish a great 2021 to everyone and say that we are super excited to have you all try our Black Swan Gourmet BBQ sauces!
M L: On my end, I would like to say that I hope that people will be able to gather together around a great BBQ in 2021. I always say that the day that everybody starts cooking and grilling is the day when there won’t be time for war anymore. It’s true, even in BBQ competitions everybody is a friend and we’re all talking to each other, beer in hand. You can’t have a fight over a good BBQ meal. What you can have instead is great chats and the pleasure of enjoying delicious food.
Barbecuing contributes to building relationships and improving your mood. When you are standing by a BBQ, you are dealing with lots of emotions: your mind and eyes salivate over the food that is cooking over the fire, your nose is filled with the wonderful smell of fire, your ears make your mind drift off over the crackling noise of the fire… Being with people is important, so I truly hope that we will be able to get out there and enjoy our time together!