Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham believes the advent of cooking food over fire 1.8 million years ago led to the growth of the human brain and contributed significantly to the evolution of man.
That may be true, but all your customers really care about is whether the barbecue and grilled dishes you're serving are trendy and taste great.
Over the past few years, a full-fledged, global-inspired grilling renaissance has taken root across America, bringing more unique, interesting and delicious choices straight off the grill than ever before. Whether it's spicy Korean, chili-infused Mexican, garlicky Argentinean or good ole' sweet and smoky American, nearly every nation on Earth is now putting fire to meat and turning grilling traditions on their head.
"We've come a long way from cooking meat on a stick over a primitive fire to the bold, international grilled foods coming out of America's restaurant kitchens today," said Chef John Byrne, exclusive brand manager, US Foods. "Grilling is now a universal language, and people are looking for new flavors from Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and other countries.
"Diners are driving today's grilling trends," he added. "America has one of the world's most diverse populations, plus more people are traveling to other regions and loving what they taste there. Then they come home and want to relive their memories in their favorite restaurant down the street."
As a result, global grilling trends are exploding in popularity on menus across the country. Here's a sampling of this spring's most popular international grilling trends:
Brazilian and Portuguese: Churrasco is the word used to describe grilled meat in Brazil and Portugal. Picanha, a top sirloin cut of beef, and frango, a chicken, are the two meats most often used in churrasco dishes. The meat is cooked on skewers like a kebob rather than on a rotating spit as in the United States. Sauces often have roasted red peppers and hot and spicy piri piri chilies.
Gogigui means "meat and roasting," which is the Korean way to grill beef, pork, chicken and other meat. The dishes are often prepared at the diner's table on gas or charcoal grills that are built into the center of the table. One of the most popular dishes is bulgogi, often made from thinly sliced, marinated beef sirloin or tenderloin. A soy, ginger, garlic sauce with sesame seeds brings out a dark, sweet and rich meat flavor.
Barbacoa refers to meats slow cooked over an open fire, or more traditionally, in a hole dug in the ground covered by large maguey leaves. In Mexican barbacoa, marinades and sauces are not applied until the meat is fully cooked. Pork cooked in this manner is called carnitas. Tomato-based sauces often contain poblano chili peppers, cumin, garlic and even beer.
Asado means barbecue in Argentina. This usually involves cooking beef, chicken or chorizo sausage over a wood-fired grill and topped off with a signature sauce called chimichurri, which includes finely chopped parsley, minced garlic, olive oil, oregano, white or red vinegar and red pepper flakes.
The foundation of Tuscan barbecue is a bistecca alla Florentine, which is a porterhouse-style steak grilled over very hot charcoal embers until the outside is well-charred, but the inside is still rare. For authenticity, purists say the beef must be from Italian Chianina, the largest and one of the oldest breeds of cattle in the world.
"That kiss of fire combined with the right spices or sauces turns any food into something special because it touches so many of our senses," Byrne said. "You can smell grilling, see the smoke and, of course, grilled food is juicy, succulent and delicious."
Byrne said a surge in television shows such as PBS's "Barbecue University" and The Food Network's "Grill It! with Bobby Flay" and "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" has also sparked an interest in grilled dishes, flavors and techniques among more Americans.
"It's our job at US Foods to stay at the forefront of culinary trends and bring innovation to market," Byrne said. "And that means analyzing trends and taking them full circle into people's mouths with new products, recipes and ideas for ways to make customers more successful.
"I get five or six calls a day from sales reps who say, 'I have a customer who's looking for ideas.' What that means is that the customer is looking for what's trendy and what's going to be successful for the whole season. Without a doubt, jumping on board this international grilling trend is one sure way to energize sales this spring and summer."