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How to Start a Small Barbecue Business

Written by:

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

Edited by:

David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.

How to Start a Small Barbecue Business

Fast Facts

Investment range

$8,550 - $24,100

Revenue potential

$110,000 - $1,100,000 p.a.

Time to build

1 – 3 months

Profit potential

$44,000 - $220,000 p.a.

Industry trend

Growing

Commitment

Full-time

Are you the grill master at your backyard BBQs? Maybe it’s time to take that mastery to the next level by starting your own barbecue business. You can choose from several startup options, from a food truck to a smoker in a vacant lot, and from opening your own little barbecue shop to BBQ catering. Maybe you’ll become the next Franklin Barbecue and build your own national empire of meats. 

There is much to learn, though, before starting your own barbecue business. Fortunately, this step-by-step guide provides all the business know-how you’ll need to grill your way to entrepreneurial greatness.

Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You

Pros and cons

Starting a small barbecue business has pros and cons to consider before deciding if it’s right for you.

Pros

  • Fantastic Food – Share your passion for perfectly grilled meats
  • Flexibility – Many options in terms of products and services
  • High Demand – Who doesn’t love barbecue?

Cons

  • Stiff Competition – Market is saturated with barbecue options
  • Legit Skills Required – Must be a true grillmaster to stand out

Barbecue industry trends

Industry size and growth

barbecue industry size and growth

Trends and challenges

Trends in the barbecue industry include:

  • Spicy, smoky, and savory continues to be the most popular BBQ flavor combination. 
  • Barbecued vegetables and plant-based proteins are in greater demand. 
  • Spice rubs with exotic flavors, such as from the Middle East and Africa, are growing in popularity. 

Challenges in the barbecue industry include:

  • Rising meat prices are cutting into profit margins.
  • Labor shortages present a challenge for all food businesses.
barbecue industry trends and challenges

Demand hotspots

  • Most popular states – The most popular states for barbecue businesses are Minnesota, Kansas, and Missouri.((https://www.zippia.com/advice/states-love-bbq/))
  • Least popular states – The least popular states for barbecue restaurants are Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York.
barbecue industry demand hotspots

What kind of people work in Barbecue?

  • Gender – 24.3% of barbecue cooks are female, while 71.8% are male.((https://www.zippia.com/grill-cook-jobs/demographics/))
  • Average level of education – The average barbecue cook is high school educated.
  • Average age – The average age of a barbecue cook in the US is 38.7 years old.
barbecue industry demographics

How much does it cost to start a small barbecue business?

Startup costs for a small barbecue business range from $8,500 to $24,000. The first main expense is a down payment on a food truck, a down payment on a truck to transport your equipment, or a rental space deposit. The second main expense is for the equipment including a commercial smoker and a grill. 

If you want to hone your BBQ skills, you can take online video classes through a site like BBQ Champs for less than $1,000. You can also find a host of free grilling and barbecue videos on YouTube. 

You’ll need a handful of items to successfully launch your small barbecue business, including: 

  • Commercial smoker
  • Grill
  • Grill tools
  • Serving utensils
  • Packaging materials
Start-up CostsBallpark RangeAverage
Setting up a business name and corporation$150 - $200$175
Business licenses and permits$100 - $300$200
Insurance$100-$300$200
Business cards and brochures$200 - $300$250
Website setup$1,000 - $3,000$2,000
Down payment - food truck, transport truck, or rented space$5,000 - $10,000$7,500
Commercial smoke, grill, and other equipment$2,000 - $10,000$6,000
Total$8,550 - 24,100$16,325

How much can you earn from a small barbecue business?

The average price of a BBQ meal is about $15. If you operate as a solopreneur with a mobile stand or food truck, your profit margin should be about 40%.

In your first year or two, you could sell 20 meals per day from your BBQ truck and bring in nearly $110,000 in annual revenue. This would mean almost $44,000 in profit, assuming that 40% margin. As your brand gains recognition, you could rent a restaurant space and hire staff, reducing your profit margin to around 20%. You might sell 200 meals per day, giving you about $1,100,000 in annual revenue and a tidy profit of $220,000.

barbecue business earnings forecast

What barriers to entry are there?

There are a few barriers to entry for a small barbecue business. Your biggest challenges will be:

  • Making grilled meats that stand out in a crowded market 
  • Financing startup

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Step 2: Hone Your Idea

develop a business idea

Now that you know what’s involved in starting a small barbecue business, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market. 

Market research will give you the upper hand, even if you’re already positive that you have a perfect product or service. Conducting market research is important, because it can help you understand your customers better, who your competitors are, and your business landscape.

Why? Identify an opportunity

Research small barbecue businesses in your area to examine their products, price points, customer reviews, and what sells best. You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe your market is missing a restaurant that specializes in BBQ chicken. 

You might consider targeting a niche market by specializing in a certain aspect of your industry, such as vegetable and vegan barbecue.

This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away. 

What? Determine your products or services

You could specialize in barbecuing a certain type of meat or offer a variety, and you could also choose a style of barbecue like Kansas City or St. Louis barbecue. You could also offer a variety of side dishes. Potential products include:

  • Pulled pork and pork sandwiches
  • Beek brisket and brisket sandwiches
  • Chicken and chicken sandwiches
  • Pork ribs
  • Baked beans
  • Potato salad
  • Corn bread; banana pudding

How much should you charge for barbecue products?

A barbecue meal could range from $10 to $18 depending on the size and the number of sides. The average is around $15. Your expenses, if you have a mobile stand, will be for ingredients, packaging, and fuel. You should aim for a profit margin of about 40%.

Once you know your costs, you can use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.

Who? Identify your target market

Your target market will be very broad so you should spread out your marketing on sites like TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. You could also get some recognition by entering a barbecue competition or two.

Where? Choose your business premises

In the early stages, you may want to run your business as a mobile stand to keep costs low. But as your business grows, you’ll likely need to hire workers for various roles and may need to rent out retail space to have a BBQ joint. Find commercial space to rent in your area on sites such as Craigslist, Crexi, and Instant Offices.

When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these rules of thumb:

  • Central location accessible via public transport
  • Ventilated and spacious, with good natural light
  • Flexible lease that can be extended as your business grows
  • Ready-to-use space with no major renovations or repairs needed
barbecue business idea rating

Step 3: Brainstorm a Small BBQ Business Name

Your business name is your business identity, so choose one that encapsulates your objectives, services, and mission in just a few words. You probably want a name that’s short and easy to remember, since much of your business, and your initial business in particular, will come from word-of-mouth referrals.

Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:

  • Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
  • Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better 
  • Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
  • Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
  • Including keywords, such as “BBQ” or “barbecue”, boosts SEO
  • Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “Holy Smoke BBQ” over “Chicken Coop BBQ”
  • Avoid location-based names that might hinder future expansion
  • Use online tools like the Step by Step Business Name Generator. Just type in a few keywords and hit “generate” and you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.

Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these. 

Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead with domain registration and social media account creation. Your business name is one of the key differentiators that sets your business apart. Once you pick your company name, and start with the branding, it is hard to change the business name. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider your choice before you start a business entity.

Step 4: Create a Small Barbecue Business Plan

Every business needs a plan. This will function as a guidebook to take your startup through the launch process and maintain focus on your key goals. A business plan also enables potential partners and investors to better understand your company and its vision:

  • Executive Summary: Highlight the main concept of your small barbecue business, showcasing your unique barbecue style, target market, and strategies for attracting barbecue enthusiasts.
  • Business Overview: Describe the focus of your barbecue business, including the types of barbecue dishes offered, such as smoked meats, homemade sauces, and side dishes.
  • Product and Services: Detail your menu items, including signature barbecue meats, vegetarian options, and catering services for events.
  • Market Analysis: Evaluate the local demand for barbecue cuisine, identifying potential customer demographics and dining trends in your area.
  • Competitive Analysis: Compare your barbecue business to local competitors, emphasizing what sets your flavors, cooking methods, or ambiance apart.
  • Sales and Marketing: Outline how you plan to market your barbecue business, using tactics like social media campaigns, local food events, or special promotions.
  • Management Team: Highlight the culinary and business expertise of your team, particularly in barbecue cooking and restaurant management.
  • Operations Plan: Describe the day-to-day operations, including food preparation, service, and maintaining health and safety standards.
  • Financial Plan: Provide an overview of start-up costs, pricing strategy, and expected revenue, along with a profitability timeline.
  • Appendix: Include supporting documents, such as sample menus, market research data, or health and safety certifications, to back up your business plan.
what to include in a business plan

If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist to create a top-notch business plan for you.

Step 5: Register Your Business

Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.

Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business! 

Choose where to register your company

Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you’re planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to small barbecue businesses.

If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state.

Choose your business structure

Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your barbecue business will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely. 

Here are the main options:

  • Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
  • General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts.
  • C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation.
  • S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
types of business structures

We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using an online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have. 

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Step 6: Register for Taxes

The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN. 

Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.

The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online.

It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you’re completing them correctly.

Step 7: Fund your Business

Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:

  • Bank loans: This is the most common method but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
  • SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
  • Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
  • Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
  • Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
  • Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.
types of business financing

Bank and SBA loans are probably the best option, other than friends and family, for funding a small barbecue business. You might also try crowdfunding if you have an innovative concept. 

Step 8: Apply for Barbecue Business Licenses and Permits

Business Licenses and Permits

Starting a barbecue business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments. A barbecue stand or restaurant may need the following, depending on the requirements in your area:

  • Food service license
  • Food handler’s permit
  • Building health permit
  • Liquor license

Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits. 

You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more. 

You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.

This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties.

If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.

Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account

Before you start making money, you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account.

Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your barbecue business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.

Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account. 

Step 10: Get Business Insurance

Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.

Here are some types of insurance to consider:

  • General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
  • Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
  • Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
  • Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
  • Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
  • Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
  • Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
  • Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of the above insurance types.
types of business insurance

Step 11: Prepare to Launch

Launching a Business

As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business. 

Essential software and tools

Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks. 

You may want to use industry-specific software, such as Restaurant 365, lightspeed, or toast, to manage your inventory, purchasing, menu, and payments. 

Accounting

  • Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero
  • If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial. 

Develop your website

Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism.

You can create your own website using services like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.

They are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. These are steps that help pages rank higher in the results of top search engines like Google. 

Marketing

Starting a small barbecue business is an exciting venture, and to ensure success, you need effective marketing strategies that go beyond the basics. Here are some practical tips to help your barbecue business thrive:

  1. Leverage Social Media Influencers: Partner with local influencers or food bloggers to showcase your barbecue offerings. Their endorsement can create a buzz and attract a wider audience.
  2. Host Tasting Events: Organize tasting events at local community gatherings, farmers’ markets, or even outside your business location to let people experience the delicious flavors firsthand.
  3. Loyalty Programs: Implement a loyalty program to encourage repeat customers. Offer discounts or free items after a certain number of visits, fostering customer loyalty.
  4. Collaborate with Local Businesses: Partner with nearby breweries, pubs, or event venues to cross-promote each other. This helps tap into each other’s customer bases.
  5. Create Signature Dishes: Develop unique and memorable dishes that set your barbecue business apart. A standout menu item can generate word-of-mouth marketing and keep customers coming back.
  6. Catering Services: Offer catering services for events, parties, and corporate functions. Provide sample menus to local businesses to showcase your offerings for their events.
  7. Online Ordering and Delivery: Implement an efficient online ordering system with delivery options. In today’s fast-paced world, convenience can significantly boost your customer base.
  8. Seasonal Promotions: Introduce seasonal promotions or limited-time menu items to keep your offerings fresh and give customers a reason to return regularly.
  9. Customer Reviews and Testimonials: Encourage satisfied customers to leave positive reviews on online platforms. Share these testimonials on social media and your premises to build credibility.
  10. Collaborate with Food Apps: Partner with popular food delivery apps to expand your reach. Many customers discover new restaurants through these platforms, providing an additional avenue for exposure.

Focus on USPs

Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your barbecue business meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire. 

Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your barbecue business could be:

  • Award-winning Kansas City-style barbecued ribs
  • Slow smoked BBQ chicken that will blow your socks off
  • St. Louis-style BBQ truck – coming to your town soon! 
unique selling proposition

Networking

You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a barbecue business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been in barbecue for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections. 

The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in barbecue. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership.

Step 12: Build Your Team

Building a Team for a New Business

If you’re starting out small from a home office, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles when you get a physical location. Potential positions for a barbecue business include:

  • Cooks – prepare BBQ and sides
  • General Manager – scheduling, ordering, accounting
  • Marketing Lead – SEO strategies, social media 

At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need. 

Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent. 

Step 13: Run a Small Barbecue Business – Start Making Money!

Running a Business

People love their barbecue, no matter what style, so if you’re a master of grilled meats you could start up your own little BBQ business and put smiles on a lot of faces while grabbing a slice of this $4 billion industry. With patience and hard work, you could eventually grow to have multiple BBQ joints and franchises around the country. 

Now that you’ve done your business homework, it’s time to get behind that grill, perfect your recipes and start building your barbecue empire! 

Small Barbecue Business FAQs

Can a barbecue business be profitable?

Yes, a barbecue business can be profitable. If you run a mobile barbecue stand, your profit margin should be around 40%. The profit margin of a food truck or restaurant will be closer to 20%.

How can I sell my barbecue without opening a restaurant?

You can do catering, have a food truck, or just have a mobile barbecue stand. For a mobile barbecue stand, you’ll need your barbecue equipment and a vehicle to transport it. 

How do I market my BBQ business?

Develop a strong online presence by creating a professional website and utilizing social media platforms to showcase your BBQ offerings, menu items, and customer testimonials. Share mouthwatering photos and videos of your BBQ dishes on social media. Implement targeted online advertising to reach individuals in your local area who are interested in BBQ or food-related topics. 

What city eats the most BBQ?

The city that eats the most BBQ can vary, but some well-known BBQ hotspots in the United States include Kansas City, Texas (particularly Austin and Lockhart), Memphis, and North Carolina (Eastern-style and Western-style). 

What is the best selling barbecue meat?

The best-selling barbecue meat can vary based on regional preferences, but some popular choices include pork ribs, pulled pork, brisket, chicken, and sausage. It’s important to understand the preferences of your local market and offer a variety of BBQ meats to cater to different tastes.

How to set my barbecue business apart from competitors in the market?

Develop a unique BBQ flavor profile or signature sauce that distinguishes your offerings. Emphasize high-quality ingredients and authentic cooking techniques to create exceptional BBQ flavors. Offer a diverse menu that includes unique side dishes, vegetarian or vegan options, or fusion-inspired BBQ creations.

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How to Start a Small Barbecue Business