Complete novice, hoping for some advice and/or answers

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Original poster
Jan 27, 2014
Hi all,

My name is John.  So glad to be here, and am excited to add a new post. 

I am a native of Arlington, TX, and was, until last year, a corporate attorney in NYC. I am in my early 30s, but I left the legal world in search of more fulfilling passions.  I've been seriously contemplating the idea of starting a brick-and-mortar BBQ joint a few  years  down the road with a fellow BBQ enthusiast -- it wouldn't be in NYC or TX, but maybe somewhere that doesn't have much or any BBQ to begin with. (Apologies if it offends anyone, but I am a die-hard fan of Central-Texas BBQ.)

That said, I have absolutely no experience smoking meats.  I've been cold-emailing and cold-calling some renowned joints around NYC and around Austin to get some kind of unpaid internship where I can start to learn the ropes of cooking the perfect brisket and ribs.  So far, no great leads. 

I was hoping someone could help me answer a few technical questions or direct me to some good resources about BBQ as I consider whether to keep putting together a business plan (which would be at least a year or more before starting to execute).  I get lost in all the forums on here, so have a hard time finding the information I need exactly.  Basically, my apologies if this information is all posted elsewhere!  These forums are amazing, and I learn so much, but still trying to track down very specific answers. For instance:

1)  If I initially needed to sell 200 pounds of smoked meat (mostly brisket and ribs) per day in one or more off-set, wood-burning smokers, what kind of dimensions am I looking at for a smoker?  For example, if I needed to smoke 40 briskets (10-12# briskets) a day, how would that translate that to cooking space or smoker dimensions? 

2)  Similar to question 1, how would that envisioned capacity affect whether I wanted to buy a pre-fabricated smoker, hire a welder, or learn to weld myself (I have ZERO experience welding)?  What would be the difference in costs or what could I expect in costs for the first two options?  And if I decided to build a smoker, would I need to start with, for instance, a 250-gallon tank? 500-gallon? 1000-gallon? 

3)  Are there differences in quality when having stacked cooking racks versus a single, centralized rack? 

4)  What's the best way to gauge wholesale prices of briskets and ribs on a commercial scale?  What kind of contributions do alcoholic beverages make to the revenue? 

5)  What are the issues with starting BBQ joints in cities?  Are there mostly zoning/building issues?  Are there mostly "nuisance" lawsuit issues, given the almost 24 hours of smoking per day? 

Anyway, these are the kinds of questions I've been trying to answer on my own... but I am having a hard time parsing through the web and all the forums here for these kinds of answers. 

Glad to be part of the the forum, and would be eternally grateful for any and all insight!!  I am at your mercy. 

Hello and welcome from East Texas. This is a great site, lots of information and great people that are willing to throw in their two cents worth on about anything.   
[/h1][h1]  [/h1][h1]Gary[/h1]
A lot of great questions, I have been asking myself pretty much the same ones,

How sure are you this venture will work?  Do you want to invest a lot of money in a build out and then decide that the long days and nights just aren't worth it?  I say this because you can get some pretty nice sized pits that can be trailered.  May come handy if you decide to do on-site catering, need to try another location or just decide to close shop and want to recover some costs.

I have found zoning issues for "restaurants" where I live and I'm in a small city.  In New Orleans the restrictions are a bit more strict because a lot of neighborhoods do not want all the smoke and "questionable clientele"  us BBQ aficionados attract!  The restaurant I am talking about has decided to smoke away from the restaurant and just warm the food at the retail outlet.  Zoning may be a bigger concern when you apply for a liquor license.

Do you know your raw/cooked percentages?   200 lbs cooked brisket is what?  Maybe 350 lbs raw brisket.   Your biggest challenge may be deciding on the quality of the meat you want to buy not it's price.  The cost difference between the grades can be pretty steep.

Good Luck,  keep us informed.
I'm not sure the venture will work at all... I'm trying to gauge the expected upfront costs and expected revenues/profits so that I can decide whether my future really lies in BBQ -- or if it's just a fun pipe dream. 

As I mentioned, I'm passionate about the *idea*, and mostly need info/advice/guidance to help me answer the viability questions. 
There are several members that sell their Q, they could probably steer you in the right direction, Since you have no experience, you may want to work at a BBQ joint for a while, or at least get a smoker and try it for a while to make sure this is something you are going to like. I had a friend one time who was an Iron Worker, then  in Insurance, He told me one day he was thinking about going into the Dairy business !!! I asked him if he had ever done that or worked at a Dairy, he said NO, but I think I can make a lot of money in the Dairy business. I had a couple of friends that were in the Dairy business, so I hoked him up so he could see first hand what was involved. He didn't last the first week, told me he didn't realize that you had to be there early and late, seven days a week. Kept selling Insurance. Not saying you are not suited for the BBQ business, but I would give it a try before you jump in with both feet. Just, my 2 cents worth.

I appreciate the advice.  As I said in my initial post, I've been trying to get some internships in either NYC or Austin/Dallas.  So far, no promising leads, but I am hoping I can find something over the next few months.

I'm definitely not one to make any kind of huge commitment without testing my hand first. 

But you mentioned that some members were trying to sell their pits.  Is there a thread or area where they are posting these?  I'm not looking to buy one anytime soon, but I'd love to get a sense of what people are selling their pits for and what kinds of specs are for sale. 

Thanks again! 
OK, I'll give the secret to making a small fortune in the restaurant business- start with a large one

Seems to me that item #1 is learning to cook BBQ. To that end, put everything else on the back burner and go buy yourself a small pit and learn to cook BBQ. Do not expect to get an "internship" from an established business, they're most likely too busy, or otherwise disinclined to train the competition. Better yet, since this idea is a few years down the road, get yourself to culinary school, if you are still in the NYC area either Culinary Institute of America or Johnson and Wales will give you a great start, plus they cover the business aspects as well.

In any event your first step should be to go cook some BBQ.JM2C
I completely agree that learning to cook BBQ is item #1.  But even if it turns out to be my ultimate calling, I'm reluctant to commit myself to moving back to Texas and picking up the trade if I can't reasonably foresee a lot of upside. 

So, while I am weighing my options to learn, I'm still trying to get a grasp on the required investments and economics of BBQ (costs, capacity, revenue models, etc.).  If it turns out that I can't convince myself of the profitability of running a BBQ, I would just as soon turn my career elsewhere and come back to BBQ when I am (hopefully) in a situation where I don't need to live and die by the profitability of the venture and can treat it more as a hobby. 

That said, I'm not trying to compete with anyone anywhere BBQ already exists.  I'm not keen on the cutthroat competition.  If I act on any business plan, it would be somewhere BBQ doesn't already a strong foothold.

Anyway, long story short, I am still just trying to put together a mock business plan to see whether BBQ is something I feel comfortable pursuing as an occupation at this point -- hence all the questions in my initial post. 
Hey John

Definitly NOT trying to rain on your parade, BUT up in my neck of the woods, new restaurants put their signs up on velcro..  They just come down that fast.  We've had some absolutely great eateries here that just couldn't survive.  People keep going back to the ones that have been around forever--even though they really suck.  Miss Linda and I have had several really good ones that we like go under because of that.  Go figure.  So be careful.   Just me saying

One thing you may want to consider,  is what part of the country you are thinking about to relocate? BBQ is different in different parts of the country, people's taste. I like and enjoy all types of BBQ but a lot of folks like what they grew up with. There are many ways to learn how to smoke, find some BBQ competitions and go hang out, ask questions, ask if they know anyone starting a new team.. Always plenty of people there that are willing to help a newcomer. Find a BBQ place and tell them upfront about your idea, and that you are going to go somewhere that doesn't have a lot of BBQ places, offer to work for free, after hours or on weekends, till you get the basic concept. Also you could go into restaurant management for any of the big chains, learn the whole concept, then you can adapt and apply what you learned to the BBQ business. As I see it the worst that can come out of this is you learning and liking smoking. Most everybody I know started with a little cheap smoker and went from there. Go spend a little money on a smoker, start smoking and go from there. 

Here is a new member who has been a chef for 20 years, he may can help you with some of your questions
What an interesting thread.  Never cooked BBQ?  Want to open a BBQ restaurant?  Okay, learning to cook BBQ seems like the first step.  Cart-horse kind of thing.  So many smokers to choose from and each smokes differently.

Personally, I cook, grill, and smoke food that tastes better and is healthier than what we get in restaurants.  I have some familiarity with one BBQ place that even comes close to what I can do in my backyard.  The owner has been small, big, catered, and has returned to the small retail and catering aspect of the business after a VERY bumpy financial ride.

Restaurants have what I call an itch taste cycle.  Folks may love them initially when they open, but time and time again I've seen a static menu guarantee disinterest over time and the restaurant closes in a year to three years.  26% of restaurants fail in the first year, not 90% which is commonly stated.  50-90% of restaurants fail in the first three years.  BBQ places have some of the most static menus in the restaurant world so the BBQ has to be exceptional to be long-lived.  Good BBQ merely requires technique.  Consistently exceptional BBQ is a master's art.   

I love to cook, calling it my life-support hobby.  People say "do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life."  I'm sure there some truth to that.  What I've found though is when I turn something I love into work and responsibility, which I have done more than once, the fulfilling aspect of it gets lost in the challenges, lawsuits, surprises, blindsides, and less than ethical people you may encounter.  Example?  I'm hosting a free public service event.  Someone is crossing the street to attend and gets hit by a drunk driver driving the wrong way on the street.  Driver has no money.  The innocent victim sues me.  Some folks thrive on that aspect of a business.  I'm not one of them. You're a lawyer.  You might.

I hope you find the answers you need.  Check out the Amazing Ribs website.  Lots of answers there about how to cook, grill, and smoke BBQ.  The business plan?  Think Steve Martin's famous line.  "How do you become a millionaire?  First, get a million dollars."  Financing, financing, financing.  Then know your supply and demand.  Average BBQ, low demand.  Exceptional BBQ, people will stand in line for hours.  Then all you will need to worry about are health laws, zoning, suppliers, quality, help showing up to work, turnover, pilferage, insurance, attitude, reputation, competition, advertising, employment rules, taxes, repayment plan, sabotage, lawsuits, handicap accessibility, etc.  A business plan is a puzzle with many pieces.  The SBA is a good resource.

Good luck!  It's good to have a dream.  If you open, let us know where and when.              is reader supported and as an Amazon Associate, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases.

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