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Smokers keep sales hot

Smokers keep sales hot

Step outside on a weekend in most neighborhoods and you're sure to be met with the tantalizing aroma of barbecue wafting from someone's backyard.

Increasingly, that outdoor cooking is being done in a smoker, especially in the fall when heartier foods are on the menu. According to the Weber Grill Watch survey, smoker ownership increased from 12% in 2006 to 17% in 2007. Flavor has always been the primary reason people cite for why they barbecue and nothing imbues more flavor than smoke cooking.

Even though smoker ownership has increased, the majority of grill owners do not yet own a smoker. So here is an opportunity to convince customers they need to add one to their grill repertoire — one that is ideal for the low 'n' slow cooking for turning out succulent, tender ribs, brisket, pork butt, and soon, the Thanksgiving turkey.

Consumers have become more familiar with smoked foods since delis, specialty food stores and supermarkets offer a wide array of smoked meats, fish, cheese, appetizers, spreads and unexpected foods like potato chips.

Consumers also are attending competition cook-offs across the country and getting a chance to taste some terrific smoked foods. All of this has helped to expand consumer interest. And since backyard chefs who get into smoking tend to be the most committed, enthusiastic and frequent barbecuers, it stands to reason they will be some of your best customers. Seventy-three percent of smoker owners own multiple grills.

There are a number of different smokers, and consumers will look to their local retailer to help choose the best one for them.

For the novice, you can't go wrong suggesting a bullet-shaped water smoker. It provides an inexpensive way to introduce someone to the pleasures of smoking and, with the moisture provided by the water pan, it almost ensures a successful experience the first time to encourage beginners. Water smokers are available in charcoal, gas and electric. While the charcoal may provide a bit more flavor, the gas and electric require less attention for long-term cooking.

The equipment most people immediately associate with smoking is the horizontal offset smoker that has two chambers, one for the fire and the other for the food. These black smokers resemble two connected barrels, the larger one being where the food is placed. These are fueled with charcoal, wood or often a combination and they generally do not use a water pan for moisture.

Ceramic cookers, another form of smoker, feature tight-fitting lids that help produce moist, flavorful meat. Thick ceramic walls make them fuel efficient, and top and bottom vents help maintain a consistent temperature. Natural lump charcoal is the preferred fuel because it lights quickly, burns hotter than briquettes and produces less ash so less frequent cleaning is required. Ceramic kamado cookers are at the top end of smoker pricing, making them attractive for specialty retailers who also should carry lump charcoal year around.

The newest smokers are upright, box-style models that look like small refrigerators. They are available in a number of sizes and contain multiple racks, which hold a substantial amount of food. Most of these are electric, some with digital controls that not only maintain a set temperature but will shut down the heat when the food is done and hold it at a safe temperature. There are several gas models as well.

Stocking different styles of smokers and other products you can offer to smoker owners makes this a lucrative category. In addition to charcoal, these passionate barbecuers like to experiment with a variety of wood chips and chunks to vary the flavors of what they are cooking. It behooves you to stock a good selection of fuel from traditional hickory and mesquite to oak, cherry, apple, pecan and Jack Daniel's.

Meat cooked in a smoker is usually seasoned with injections, rubs, pastes or bastes, so you'll want to have a good selection of these as well. Add the accessories — roast and rib racks, vertical chicken or turkey roasters, pigtail flippers, mops or spray bottles for basting, a variety of thermometers, long mitts, fire starters, cutting boards and cookbooks.

There is even a bonus opportunity for savvy retailers: 37% of smoker owners have bought a smoker as a gift for someone else, according to Grill Watch. Don't forget to ask customers if they need a grill for some gift occasion.

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