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View Full Version : Starting up Small Catering gig - Cooker advice


Smokin' Frenchman
01-28-2010, 02:36 AM
Hi All,

Great forum you have here! Lots of reading which is great.

I'm looking at getting out of the IT industry and into some BBQ'ing over the next 2-3 years. I will keeping my day job and I want to do this part time on weekends so that if it doesn't work out well then at least I've eaten a lot of Q, lol

Anyways, my plans this summer are to do some smaller events with friends/family/friends business BBQ's etc. nothing too big maybe 20-30 people. I have some people already interested which is great. I will be using the tips from here about contracts etc. even for friends. It will be mostly ribs, chicken, maybe some butts and more likely some steaks, burgers and sausages (Nature of the demand around here unfortunately).

My key thing over this summer will be to cook, cook, cook, cook, etc you get the picture. I am also attending Myron Mixon's class in Feb of this year, I know that's geared more towards KCBS competition but I'm sure I'll learn some valuable pointers :)

Here are some requirements:

-I'm looking to hopefully buy a cooker locally, easier if I have warranty issues and for supporting local dealers.
-I would also like something where if it doesn't work out or if I need to expand in a year or 2.....I can just use my new toy in the backyard no problem or as my competition cooker.
-With that said, it would be nice to be able to move it from the backyard to the truck with relative "ease" for on-site cooking as well as backyard practicing
-Needs to be able to handle smoking, but also grilling (would love to be able to properly sear steaks at high high temp)
-Needs to be "easy to use" IE likely not a stick burner
-Needs to work year round, in sub 32 degree weather (gets to -20 Degrees Celcius in winter often)
-In the 1k-2k CDN price range

My initial thoughts are:

-BGE XL with DigiQ, weird I know but it has "cool" factor, is 1.5k cdn. for the EGG, I can smoke, make pizza, steak, burgers, etc. etc. etc. this thing can do it all and would be a nice backyard cooker. 452 sq in. lifetime warranty.

-Traeger (not sure which, Professional is $1400, COM150 is $2800) I'm thinking the COM150 is overkill though. But with the Pro it's easy to use, pretty hands off, I can smoke and grill on the same unit and decent to use in the backyard after, can't sear steaks properly though. 418sq in. and 3 year warranty, need to have 120v power to use it.

-American BBQ Systems Pit Boss (unsure of price) but this seems like a great unit, you can smoke on one side and grill over the firebox on the other, VERY cool. I don't think they have Canadian Dealers though. 1704 sq in of smoking and 432 sq in of grilling. This is probably really expensive, anyone know the price?

That's basically where I'm at, any thoughts? As I said this will start off small while perfecting my craft and hoping to NEED to upgrade to a full blown enclosed trailer model in a year or so.

Thanks for the Help, sorry this post is so long!

Jay a.k.a. Smokin' Frenchman

grillfella
01-28-2010, 03:18 AM
Good luck brother. you will get hooked on catering. It feels good to get compliments on your cooking while getting paid. Ask any caterer in this forum:-D

grillfellascatering.com

tmcmaster
01-28-2010, 05:32 AM
Good luck brother. you will get hooked on catering. It feels good to get compliments on your cooking while getting paid. Ask any caterer in this forum:-D

grillfellascatering.com

Agreed, 1000%!

www.PMRBBQ.com

BigJimsBBQ
01-28-2010, 06:15 AM
Jay,

This is a good way (week-end) to break into Q catering. The most important thing is the smoker, and I believe a stick burner is fine to start. You have the needed WOW factor at on-site events with min cost. You also will have the versatility of product which includes large items like Whole Hogs. I recommending taking a second look and go to to the LANG site Pigroast.com (I use a Model 84 Longneck) or talk to Myron about his smokers.

Best of Luck to you and I will see you at the Feb class,

Smokin' Frenchman
01-28-2010, 09:59 AM
Thanks for the advice, much appreciated. I spent a day in a kitchen at a Conference center this past weekend, had to help with lunch for 4000 people. It was interesting to say the least but man, cooking/serving food to people is awesome. Much better then selling people IT equipment!!

So many different options for cookers!

I'm very anxious to get something so I can start cooking because right now I'm rocking a Bradley........(duck's for cover) lol

But I might wait until after I take the class, that might make more sense. Maybe someone there would be selling something to upgrade etc. where I could get a good price. Or I can check out the JOS cookers.

See you there Jim! (Is there a forum somewhere with discussion with people taking the class?)

Jay

Capn Kev
01-28-2010, 10:19 AM
Based on your requirements, look at Traegers, Louisiana Grills, Green Mountain, and maybe even Cookshack. I too just launched a small catering operation, but I opted for an FEC-100. It is exactly what I needed. Of course, I already own a Traeger which I can also use.

Good luck!

TOPS BBQ
01-28-2010, 12:12 PM
Jay,

If you don't mind getting compliments for your food than good pay, then this is probably for you. 20-30 people is not going to make you any money. I started the same way and soon changed my minimum to 50 people. I really prefer 100 or more.

As for your cooker; Never used one, but the metal on Traegars seem pretty thin to keep that cold out. BGE's are nice, but if you are going to cook on-site, you need to find something more mobile.

A question for you: Are you willing and prepared to spend a thousand or more for a small cooker and then find out you are going to need a larger more expensive one sooner than you thought? If you are planning on really getting into this full blown in 2-3 years, why not just plan (save) for that nicer cooker? You at least won't have to learn how to use a different cooker.

Good luck!

Smokin' Frenchman
01-28-2010, 01:18 PM
Yeah, that's true, which is why I had the Traeger COM150 in there because it can do Volume. The downside of it for me is up here in Canada we don't have all of these places making good cookers, like Stumps or Lang or JOS or Spicewine etc. etc.

I don't mind driving to pick something up in the US of course if it's not THAT far away.

The problem then say I get a smoker on a trailer, I live in a townhouse with only a single car garage and double car driveway and I am the end unit but there is another house beside me so I can't bring the trailer to the back yard for when I want to cook on it or practice, I would have to do that in the driveway, which is a little weird. I could store the cooker in the garage but having to go from the backyard to the driveway to check up on the meat is a little weird.

:(

But then again, even with say a COM150 type unit, it's really heavy so while I could roll it to and from the back yard, getting it into the truck would be an issue.

This ain't gonna be easy ain't it? lol Oh well, it will be part of the fun!

Jay

BubbaBones
01-29-2010, 09:44 AM
Glad to here more Canucks looking to take the plunge. I almost did this year but I purchased a chip wagon instead and will be working it this year. I hope to add BBQ next year after I get established.

I think the ABS are nice units for what you were describing but it retails for just under $3k

If you are interested I purchased Country Smokers Whole Hog last year and it is an awesome pellet cooker and I really love it but since I am into the chip wagon business now and not doing catering I will not be needing it. Here is a link http://www.countrysmokers.com/wholehogsmoker.htm take a look. Last year I cooked 110 pounds of shoulders at once which is enough to serve 200 1/4# pulled pork sandwiches. This unit smokes low and slow and sears steaks to perfection and will cook enough food for 30 to 50 people with ease.

Send me a PM if you are interested and we can work something out in your price range as.

Smokin' Frenchman
01-29-2010, 10:30 AM
Hey BubbaBones, replying to your PM in a second :)

Some new development

I had a chat with the health department and explained to the lady on the phone what I wanted to do, she mentioned a few things that will make things pretty complicated:

-I cannot do ANY food prep in my home, would need to "rent" space in a restaurant or the like, somewhere that is certified by the health department and do all my prep there. So if I want to make baked beans, coleslaw, salad etc. I can't do it from my home. I would either need to do it all on site or in the rented space.
-I need to ensure I have coolers or fridges that can keep the food cold when transportation (this one is a no brainer, of course)
-I need to have multiple sinks on my rig, hand wash and food prep/washing sinks. This is a challenge as I was just going to get a normal smoker on a trailer, wasn't really planning on having a crazy huge rig with hot water tanks etc. :( Not this year anyways.

I am setting up a meeting with a Health officer in the next week and will sit down with him, show him plans of what I actually would be cooking with, what I would be doing and I will see where it goes from there. I want to be on the up and up with them.

I also need to find out what is considered actual catering compared to just BBQing for a bunch of friends or a party with friends. If I'm cooking for friends and not getting paid, even if there is 30 friends there I'm thinking that does not fall into the same rules?

TOPS BBQ
01-29-2010, 11:10 AM
Catering for friends & family - No need to meet any HD rules.

Catering for any private party for $$. Otherwise known as a Private "Chef" - If all prep and cooking take place on-site (no need for sinks...etc).

Catering to the general public - HD inspections, permits, sinks...etc shall be implemented.

Note: Every municipaliality has different requirements and you should check in with them for verification as to how they run their show.

Good luck!

Smokin' Frenchman
01-29-2010, 11:50 AM
OK, I would likely do catering for private events, not really setup somewhere to sell to the general public. Just party's, car meets stuff like that. I will get the guidelines from the HD and ensure I don't break any rules and this will help me know what types of events I can and cannot do.

Ford
01-29-2010, 03:30 PM
OK, I would likely do catering for private events, not really setup somewhere to sell to the general public. Just party's, car meets stuff like that. I will get the guidelines from the HD and ensure I don't break any rules and this will help me know what types of events I can and cannot do.

Private chef = everything onsite. Any type of cooking for pay is considered either private chef or catering or vending. 3 categories. Catering requires the prep area but youy feed people as a group in one lacation for a set fee. You don't need a vending setup. Vending means you charge by the plate selling individual portions to the public even at a car meet. Big differences but other than using the clients kitchen for prep as a private chef all require the enclosed prep area with ammenities. From talking to a couple of folks in Ontario it's a lot of hoops to jump thru. Might want to talk with Hand Daddy.

Hey BubbaBones, replying to your PM in a second :)

Some new development

I had a chat with the health department and explained to the lady on the phone what I wanted to do, she mentioned a few things that will make things pretty complicated:

-I cannot do ANY food prep in my home, would need to "rent" space in a restaurant or the like, somewhere that is certified by the health department and do all my prep there. So if I want to make baked beans, coleslaw, salad etc. I can't do it from my home. I would either need to do it all on site or in the rented space.
You can buy premade slaw and salad and don't need a prep area. Cost a little more but cheaper than getting a full prep area. Beans are a little more difficult but you can buy precut onions, peppers, fruit, etc.

This also applies to prep of your meat. Need a prep area for trimming and seasoning. Can't just setup a table and go for it.
-I need to ensure I have coolers or fridges that can keep the food cold when transportation (this one is a no brainer, of course)
Here in MI they must be NSF to be used. Other States vary.
-I need to have multiple sinks on my rig, hand wash and food prep/washing sinks. This is a challenge as I was just going to get a normal smoker on a trailer, wasn't really planning on having a crazy huge rig with hot water tanks etc. :( Not this year anyways.
You maybe able to prep and vend using an EZUP and bus tubs and a hand wash station or you may not. We can here in MI if you get the right HD inspector.
I am setting up a meeting with a Health officer in the next week and will sit down with him, show him plans of what I actually would be cooking with, what I would be doing and I will see where it goes from there. I want to be on the up and up with them.
Ask if your cooking area needs to be screened in. I've heard it's a regulation in Ontario but can't say for sure.

I also need to find out what is considered actual catering compared to just BBQing for a bunch of friends or a party with friends. If I'm cooking for friends and not getting paid, even if there is 30 friends there I'm thinking that does not fall into the same rules?
And you can cook for people so long as you do not charge them. It's no different than doing burgers at the park or whatever for a group. But as soon as there's any compensation then it's catering.

falldownbbq
01-29-2010, 03:49 PM
If you going to do it.. go big or go home is my motto.


Check this out..

http://www.bbq-brethren.com/forum/showthread.php?t=77193



Anyone looking to get in the game is nuts not to buy this thing up!!

Smokin' Frenchman
01-29-2010, 04:07 PM
There is no price there...not sure how this such a good deal?

Anyways.

Spoke to the HD more and I will need to give them plans of what I want. They prefer to have an actual "unit" they can inspect rather than something I setup everytime. So a Trailer with sinks/hot water built in kind of thing. Which is A LOT more money.

Something like this, with built in sinks etc. http://www.sybbq.com/b_4ft_3724.php would I would hope I could find something MUCH smaller and less expensive, any ideas?

falldownbbq
01-29-2010, 04:14 PM
There is no price there...not sure how this such a good deal?

Anyways.

Spoke to the HD more and I will need to give them plans of what I want. They prefer to have an actual "unit" they can inspect rather than something I setup everytime. So a Trailer with sinks/hot water built in kind of thing. Which is A LOT more money.

Something like this, with built in sinks etc. http://www.sybbq.com/b_4ft_3724.php would I would hope I could find something MUCH smaller and less expensive, any ideas?


it says make reasonable offer.. That is a 15k smoker, If you got the funds and could get it for 9-10k you would get a heck of a deal!

Smokin' Frenchman
01-29-2010, 04:21 PM
it says make reasonable offer.. That is a 15k smoker, If you got the funds and could get it for 9-10k you would get a heck of a deal!

Yeah, might be a good deal, but I don't need that volume and that doesn't even come close to budget.

Ford
01-29-2010, 04:46 PM
I had my 8.5 x 16 unit for sale but it was bought stripped down for a competition unit. No smokers just the trailer with sinks, tables and I was asking $8500 and it was a good deal.

Good unit with back porch and minimum inside (no stove, fryer, etc) new will cost you over $20k plus smoker. I figure my new trailer including the equipment i'm supplying will be over $35K and with new FE's would go over $40k. It's not cheap to get legal especially if you need screened in cooking area.

That FEC750 sounds like a good deal but with 3 100's and a new trailer it's not in the budget this year and way to big for you.

Your best bet is forget the HD. Find a welder and get some picutres of rigs and go talk with them about building one for you in their spare time (cheaper that way) Include fold out sides and work out a hot water tank that is heated by the firebox. A little bit like what you ahve in the picture. Then do under the radar catering for friends and by referral only for a year or 2 and see if it's for you. And keep your day job.

Bbq Bubba
01-29-2010, 05:37 PM
Jay,

If you don't mind getting compliments for your food than good pay, then this is probably for you. 20-30 people is not going to make you any money. I started the same way and soon changed my minimum to 50 people. I really prefer 100 or more.


Good luck!

Great advise! Your not going to make any money serving low n slow bbq to crowds under 50. I do it all the time, difference is i'm already cooking everyday. It's nothing to cook extra for a upcoming party.

Fords posts may sound harsh to a newcomer but he's telling it like it is. Both of us took the vending journey last year and jumped ALL the hurdles you are asking about so the advise is spot on. :biggrin:

Do like the rest of us have.
Start with family and friends start taking referals till you KNOW you like it and then make the decision to go from there. Some think they would like to Q for a living until they see the amount of actual work it is and find it's no longer a hobby but a job. :wink:

Good luck and keep us posted.

BubbaBones
01-29-2010, 08:57 PM
It's not cheap to get legal especially if you need screened in cooking area.

Every community here in Ottawa is different and I have not heard of the need to have a screened in cooking area. Here they want a roof over the prep and serving area, that is about it. But to be honest with you I have only seen it done a couple of times as I see many grill guys out there running that just show up to a business with a grill on a trailer and start grilling up burgers with no roof.

Like I say each community is different and here in Ottawa I can have my house kitchen certified as a commercial kitchen as long as I have a separate hand sink. I know it sounds weird but there are several people running catering out of their house and it is legal.

Big H
01-30-2010, 01:55 AM
I believe there is a company out of Ontario by the name of Mule tuff smokers..they look very similar to the Diamond Plate smokers..Might save you a drive to the states. they sell on ebay.. just do a search for bbq smokers. Hope this helps.:lol:

BubbaBones
01-30-2010, 08:19 AM
I believe there is a company out of Ontario by the name of Mule tuff smokers..they look very similar to the Diamond Plate smokers..Might save you a drive to the states. they sell on ebay.. just do a search for bbq smokers. Hope this helps.:lol:

Sorry but Mule Tuf is out of Missouri.

Big H
01-30-2010, 12:15 PM
I stand corrected..Thanks for catching that BubbaBones. I would not want to mislead anyone. Not quite sure how I got it so wrong..I am in the market for a new smoker and have been looking at a ton of web sites and photo's an got confused..My bad.

JD McGee
01-31-2010, 12:17 PM
Catering for friends & family - No need to meet any HD rules.

Catering for any private party for $$. Otherwise known as a Private "Chef" - If all prep and cooking take place on-site (no need for sinks...etc).

Catering to the general public - HD inspections, permits, sinks...etc shall be implemented.

Note: Every municipaliality has different requirements and you should check in with them for verification as to how they run their show.

Good luck!

Welcome to my world...:lol::lol::lol: Take a look at the Q Kitchen by Cookshack...not sure how much you want to spend but it may suit your needs. Good Luck! :biggrin:

Q Kitchen... (http://www.cookshack.com/the-worlds-first-mobile-outdoor-barbecue-kitchen)

http://www.cookshack.com/Websites/cookshack/Images/qkitchen_banner.jpg (http://www.cookshack.com/the-worlds-first-mobile-outdoor-barbecue-kitchen)

jcfontario
01-31-2010, 06:26 PM
Excellent information here, folks. I will be following your progress Jay as I have been thinking that once I move into some sort of semi-retirement in a few years, I might like to take up some Q'ing for $$. Nothing like a full time catering operation, but more along the lines of a private chef, preparing food at home (or in a rented kitchen) and serving private parties. Something that would keep me out of my wife's hair and can bring in a few $$ on weekends.
Will be doing a major rebuild on my deck and cooking area in the next year or so, and would like to incorporate whatever builds are needed to have the approved food prep and cooking areas built in from the start.
Let us know how your plans progress and what issues you have with the health dept. Knowing our governments up here, I am anticipating more red tape in Ontario than in other places.

Smokin' Frenchman
01-31-2010, 06:34 PM
Some great advice here, much appreciated! And I don't take anything in the wrong way :) I know if you guys are saying something it's from experience. I fully don't expect it to be easy, I just wish I could get "started" doing small gigs legally with the HD approved but that might be too much.

As was mentioned, what if I don't like doing it, I rather not have invested all this money. Either way I'll still Q at home so I don't mind buying a good cooker that I can use now for my "private" parties and then if it doesn't work out at least I still have the cooker for personal use.

I will keep this thread updated with info as I proceed in my venture!

Jay

Bigmista
01-31-2010, 11:30 PM
Welcome to my world...:lol::lol::lol: Take a look at the Q Kitchen by Cookshack...not sure how much you want to spend but it may suit your needs. Good Luck! :biggrin:

Q Kitchen... (http://www.cookshack.com/the-worlds-first-mobile-outdoor-barbecue-kitchen)

http://www.cookshack.com/Websites/cookshack/Images/qkitchen_banner.jpg (http://www.cookshack.com/the-worlds-first-mobile-outdoor-barbecue-kitchen)

Saw that at the Royal. Nice but doen't have the three sinks needed for HD.

Bigmista
01-31-2010, 11:32 PM
I started selling diners to people at my job and my wife's job once a month. Helped pay for my competition habit and I got lots of practice.

JD McGee
02-01-2010, 12:57 AM
I started selling diners to people at my job and my wife's job once a month. Helped pay for my competition habit and I got lots of practice.

Same here...all our practice meats are sold to the folks at my (former) work...we get to play and practice for free...:cool:

kurtsara
02-01-2010, 12:34 PM
Excellent information here, folks. I will be following your progress Jay as I have been thinking that once I move into some sort of semi-retirement in a few years, I might like to take up some Q'ing for $$. Nothing like a full time catering operation, but more along the lines of a private chef, preparing food at home (or in a rented kitchen) and serving private parties. Something that would keep me out of my wife's hair and can bring in a few $$ on weekends.
Will be doing a major rebuild on my deck and cooking area in the next year or so, and would like to incorporate whatever builds are needed to have the approved food prep and cooking areas built in from the start.
Let us know how your plans progress and what issues you have with the health dept. Knowing our governments up here, I am anticipating more red tape in Ontario than in other places.


I don't think you would ever get anything approved if you are cooking on your deck

PorkQPine
02-23-2010, 12:38 PM
You have two issues you need to consider when it comes to smokers. One is the need to have something that will take care of itself for the long cooks overnight. That gives you options like pellet cookers and Old Hickory CTO etc. The other thing to consider is cooking on-site for the quicker meats. There you can have stick burners like the Tucker and the other offsets. Ideally, you can cook at your 'commercial' kitchen all the meats and then finish on-site with your stick burner for the eye candy. For commercial kitchens check out local churches and fraternal lodges to use their facility in exchange for doing some cooks for them. We do 3 feed the hungry cooks for a local church and they let us use their commercial kitchen.