View Full Version : Starting Catering

05-28-2013, 04:11 PM
I am just starting out and trying to get my name out there. Several people in my community have had my pulled pork sandwiches and some say its the best they ever had and I need to go into business. There are no real BBQ places where I live and I hear that all of the pulled pork here, is frozen prepackaged!
My question is whats the best , cheapest way to get started? I have 2 pits now.
One is a 300 gallon drum on a trailer, the other is a large custom reverse flow smoker on a trailer (12ft) thanks!

05-28-2013, 04:20 PM
First step would be to contact your local health department and see what is needed to begin operating as a vendor or mobile food establishment. There are a ton of regulations in terms of how and where food can be prepared, what type of equipment you must have to satisfy the health department, licenses to obtain, and so on.

05-28-2013, 04:54 PM
Yes. I contacted the health department and I will first be taking a food handling class. As far as vending goes, in order to set up on the side of the road, I need a place to prep my food. They say a commercial kitchen. They say I can rent one from someone or church etc. that is something that I don't have access to. I can do events but I need to apply for a permit per event. They will come out to that event and check food etc.

05-28-2013, 05:02 PM
There is a vast difference between cooking for friends and selling to strangers. Many folks will tell you what they think you want to hear, especially if they didn't pay for the food. Be sure you want to do this, cooking professionally can take some of the joy out of it. That being said:

1. Do your research on food costs. Know exactly what things cost, and what your supply line and logistics are. Everything is driven by food costs.

2. Find a commercial kitchen with cold storage. You will not be able to cater or vend without a good kitchen to work in and a decent amount of storage. Buying small amounts as you go is more costly. Working on folding tables gets old fast.

3. Invest in some Cambro's to keep your food warm, in some ice chests to keep your food cold. Get some good solid service tubs and service pans, they are invaluable when you are pressed for time and need to prep a lot of food fast.

4. Run some friendly services first, with friends or church, or some other venue that you can test out how things go. Unless you have cooked for large groups before, in which case, go for it.

05-28-2013, 08:00 PM
I know of at least five vendors within 10 miles of DC selling PP and ribs. Not trying to dissuade you - just letting you know there is competition out here.

05-29-2013, 09:27 AM
...after your head is spinning from rules and regulations and you are legal, get ready to be charitable. When the fund raisers start calling as they did for us, I bit the bullet and made a very marginal profit for the exposure gained. You gotta have the stomach for working your ass off with very little to gain at first. All that pays off in the end if your food is good.

05-29-2013, 09:56 AM
I guess there is no way around the commercial kitchen for prep. I guess I need to stick with party's and get a permit per event for now.

Smoke House Moe
05-29-2013, 10:31 AM
It all depends on the State, county, city you cook in.

Here in MN, if I do an on-site cook, I really don't need any licenses. (Insurance definitely)

For our farmer's markets, we have to do a similar "per-event license"

Call your HD, then call them again and talk to someone else, then call them again and talk to a third person.
Try to organize all the different info(it will all be different) into an action plan.

As you can see from the replies, everyone's experience is different.

I will disagree with a reply above; you do not need to sacrifice profit for exposure. Will it work if you do? Sure, maybe.
If you Q is good, and you can say "Hi" followed with "If you know anyone with a graduation, reunion, marriage, or party this year please keep me in mind"

As suggested above, get comfortable with some events for family and friends.

Have fun, help folk's create great memories at their "life event", and serve awesome Q with a smile.

05-29-2013, 11:45 AM
I recently posted a thread about the changes in Florida. Now a truly self-contained mobile vending rig (truck or trailer) does not require use of a separate commercial kitchen. Nearly all restaurant inspections are handled by the state now instead of the individual counties.

06-02-2013, 11:28 PM
I wish I still lived in Florida, so much easier there, then out here in CA.
Anyway, finding a comercial kitchen to rent or use is next to impossible. When you can find one, it REALLY costs. One of the caterers I talked to wanted $40.00 per hour, with a 4 hour minimun and I could only use it 2 days a week. The lodges I belong too, Moose, Elks, VFW & American Legion, were all afraid to let someone use the kitchen & them being partly responsible for what you cook & sell if something happened.
I had to end up renting space in an approved commissary. We also have regs out here about when you buy your meat, at a temp food facility, you actuly have to buy the meat you cook the day you cook it & sell it. You better have reciepts if & when checked.
Good luck, keep smiling when dealing with the HD and you might be ok

06-03-2013, 10:03 AM
There is a vast difference between cooking for friends and selling to strangers. Many folks will tell you what they think you want to hear, especially if they didn't pay for the food. Be sure you want to do this, cooking professionally can take some of the joy out of it. That being said:

I believe I heard Myron Mixon say "If you want to know how good your barbecue is start charging for it." You're right, friends and guests at your home will more times than not tell you it was "great" and the "best they ever had". But a lot of that is based on a lot of factors. First and foremost, most anything taste better free. Also the entire event was more than likely fun and relaxing being around good company. That plays into as well to.

My late grandfather told me that you know you're barbecue is good when people start asking you to cook things for them.

Sauce Dog
06-04-2013, 12:05 AM
There are often vendors & caterers who are looking to share the cost of overhead

Smokin J's
06-04-2013, 12:15 AM
If you belong to a church, they will most likely be very happy to rent you time in the kitchen.

Smoke House Moe
06-04-2013, 01:05 PM
Sauce Dog and Smokin J's have the right idea.

Collaborate with church, legion, VFW, or another caterer.