View Full Version : Can you make money with BBQ?

08-04-2011, 01:53 PM
I'm very new to Q. Planning to buy a really nice smoker for my 40th b-day in March '12.
I'm always on the lookout for new ways to make money (if I enjoy what I'm doing). Just wondering if there's a profit to be made in BBQ? If so, what's the basics? What are THE top producing gigs?
As you all know, a slab of ribs is $20, butts are $17 (8lbs), whole chicken is $5, and briskets are $30+. That doesn't include gasoline and time, running around everywhere, charcoal, spices, sauces, etc.
With all the high overhead, is there room for a real profit?

I live in northeast Alabama where there are lots of local sporting events, festivals, etc.
Any ideas and tips are greatly appreciated.

08-04-2011, 02:34 PM
Jacked Up's Matt Ragusa makes crazy money with his BBQ vending and catering. He's mad loaded. Doesn't know what to do with the money. I've seen the room where he has the counting machines

Jacked UP BBQ
08-04-2011, 02:38 PM
If you are paying that much for meat, no you cannot make money.

08-04-2011, 02:41 PM
But you have to be a better businessman than a cook to be successful. Even Matt isn't that good. He owns an adult book store and sex toy shop in east Rutherford nj close to where the jets/ giants play. If I were him I would combine the businesses and sell BBQ at the sex toy shop.

08-04-2011, 03:01 PM
If you are paying that much for meat, no you cannot make money.

Where do you buy wholesale meat? What are "the going prices" for wholesale chicken, brisket, ribs and butts?

At an average "small town festival", what kind of gross sales can be made? $1k? $5k?

Jacked UP BBQ
08-04-2011, 03:05 PM
I am in NJ so our prices and wehere to buy are completely different. Wholesale clubs are your last resort. Look for local wholesalers or a restaurant depot. I have no idea what you can sell at a small town festival.. I can tell you that if you do 1k in sales you wasted your time and better pray you had no employees. Its not just setting up and selling meat there is so much more to it. HD, insurance, etc. Its not just cooking BBQ its business.

08-04-2011, 07:17 PM
Where do you buy wholesale meat?

Go to some restaurants in your local area and find out where they buy their meat. In my area (suburb of a major city) there are wholesale food venders like Sysco and Adams Birch, equipment vendors like Restaurant Depot for the basics. There are also organic/sustainable farms nearby that sell to the upscale restaurants and groceries (organic, seasonal, locally grown, etc).

Also, before you commit to anything, figure out your business licensing and food safety requirements. When I started researching a BBQ business I found out it was more work than I had time (I already have a full-time job).

08-04-2011, 07:24 PM
We make money at it. Real money. Figure 30% net allowing for debt reduction. It's hard work. We have $100k worth of equipment, paid for. Your cost assumptions are way wrong. Wanna buy all my stuff, I'm tired. That's it in a nutshell.

08-04-2011, 08:51 PM
Yeah, you can make money. But, it is definitely BUSINESS first. Learn what it really costs and sell to profit. Be LEGAL if you plan on making money. The state, local, and fed tax people will notice if you aren't paying "your fair share".

I pay about $7 per slab for spare ribs (just rough estimating here), $1.79 for pork, $2.39-ish for brisket, etc. That's just what I noticed wandering through Sam's and GFS the last couple of days.

Learn about the business first. Have fun cooking que then decide if you want to fark up a perfectly good hobby. :shock::mrgreen:

08-04-2011, 09:12 PM
My recommendation is to consider what it is to cook in a restaurant, because making money at BBQ is going to be cooking as if you are on the line. It is not so much fun as hard work. You also need to do a lot of work on the costing, as mentioned above. It is a tough business, but, no worse than running any small business. And if working crazy hours, dealing with burns, cuts and exhaustion while still being happy and upbeat at service and living for the end of service, the adrenaline hit at the start of service and taking a few painful losses every year, it may just be for you.

For the record, I loved working the line, I left it because I was developing far too many bad habits, like drinking all night, which was not a life plan.

08-05-2011, 01:10 AM
landarc, drinking too much too stay on the line??? How is that possible? I left being a sous chef because I got STOOPID and thought I could find a better life in the USAF. Now 12 years post USAF retirement I am insane enough to crave the mad long hours, heat, personality conflicts, burns, cuts, sore feet, knees, back and arms... and the look on the customer's face when they take that first scrumptious bite of the food you slaved over for them.

08-05-2011, 01:49 AM
No, the drinking came after work. Oddly, when you get off of work at 1am, there are very few things to do but go hang out, drink and carouse with other restaurant workers.

And yes, there is nothing quite like seeing the happy eaters and the feeling of nailing a service.

08-05-2011, 07:48 AM
If you have another job...this can be a fun hobby that you can make money at...but make sure that you only take the jobs that are going to pay you instead of local festivals that are complete question marks. For example, find an alumni club at a local university and do caterings for football games for their alumni group.

Don't feel like you have to work all the time and if you can take a cooking class or a catering class from somebody like jbrink01 or Jacked Up...they'll take the fluff out of it and give you the real details and some tips on producing better bbq and making money when it is available.

I agree with what Matt said about purchasing...it's kind of like investing in anything...you make your money on the purchase. Choice briskets 1.89; Whole Chickens .89; Pork Butts 1.35; Spare Ribs 1.49 (all IBP except for the chicken).

Good luck and try to find select opportunities.

Lake Dogs
08-05-2011, 09:50 AM
^^^ absolutely on the purchasing. Drive your costs down. Watch every penny. For that matter, see if you can purchase your meat through/with a local restauranteur who gets meat directly from a distributer. I do this for our whole pork shoulders that you cant purchase elsewhere. I end up paying usually around $1.10/lb (or less) for Smithfield. Cut out that middle man or two; it'll help tremendously.

My wife keeps wanting me to vend at a few local events that truly could use good barbecue. Frankly, at $5/sandwich/plate we'd work our butts off and *possibly* make a few hundred profit; possibly... And the effort that would go in to this, for a few hundred bucks? No thanks. What Jacked UP BBQ said is dead on. Hobby and a few bucks, fine. Otherwise focus on the larger guaranteed things. That way you know ahead of time whether and how much you'll profit and you can decided whether it's worth the effort.

08-05-2011, 10:20 AM
Start with small catering jobs. Some pit mfg. have catering and restaurant classes so I would check them out. This is a business and it requires that you never forget that, you need to do food costing and especially you need to know marketing. Get your ServSafe certification and volunteer your labor to other caterer's who are not in your marketing area before you do anything. Insurance, certified kitchen/commissary, licenses and health dept. approvals. It is hard work but if you love it you will have a job that you enjoy doing.

Most important, only invest what you can lose.

08-05-2011, 10:36 AM
We started buying meat at Sam's, and now use a local wholesaler. Delivery to a cooler sure beats running around buying it.

08-05-2011, 10:43 AM
you can make a small fortune doing BBQ... of course you have to beigin with a large fortune! :becky: (sorry, i had to throw that one in there.)

08-05-2011, 03:28 PM
This is a question I've also wondered myself. The answer is obviously yes if you got the customers and got your costs figured out appropriately. From what I read and has been confirmed here, it's a WHOLE lot of work and if you do it full time you will have NO paid leave unless you can afford a trusty assistant/partner. I think volunteering your time and labor for a semi-successful caterer/rest. for a day or 2 can only help you get a better picture of what's involved.

08-05-2011, 09:25 PM
I have been at it two years now, we are small town here and it is hard. I am working my A$$ off and could spend every dime I make on things to make working not so hard it I had any money left to do so LOL.

08-06-2011, 04:09 PM
Honestly, why screw up a great hoby, want to make money, low overhead, less work, keep the bbq for home, get a hot dog cart, less head aches, easier to get the board of health to work with a push cart, just think , boiling water, a few steam table pans, easy clean up fast set up, and plenty of cash ! Fast nickels always beat the slow dime !

08-06-2011, 08:54 PM
What about offering brisket, pork and sausage po-boys served with chips and a drink? Could also offer a combo sandwich for a buck fifty more... This approach would be simple and appeal to the lunch crowd looking for a quick bite.

Pitmaster T
08-06-2011, 09:04 PM
you can make a small fortune doing BBQ... of course you have to beigin with a large fortune! :becky: (sorry, i had to throw that one in there.)

was looking first to see if anyone stole my line, which I stole from a Mr. Mitchell back in the 1980's... I have no idea who he stole it from. :clap2:

08-07-2011, 12:22 AM
I make nowhere near the money that jbrink makes. However, he and I have something in common....Everything is paid for.

Low to no overhead equals less money you are paying for your eqpt.

Loosely translated. In this biz, paying interest makes you bleed, meant hemmorage, cash. When the guy pulls up with the meat truck, he leaves with a check. I don't go to the bank when I need a smoker, etc. I have pulled a paltry sum in income for my hard work, but I have about $25k in toys that are all mine.

NS Mike D
08-10-2011, 01:16 PM
Contact your local Small Business Adminstrative office, they are a free service that will help you prepare a business plan.

They will help you organize and run the numbers, they will help you find resources to quantify your target market.

They might be able to put you in touch with a retired person who was in the business who wants to give back and share knowledge.

You need a plan to get financing - and if you use credit cards, you will never get bank financing to replace it.

Too many people seek out the SBA after the fact, when it's too late.

The SBA will definatly help you approach this as a businessman.