Every region of the United States has its own way of doing barbecue and each claim its doing it the BEST, but one thing we can all seem to agree on is that barbecue sauce deserves to be incorporated into more dishes when eating out. Whether it's on pizza or a classic rack of ribs, Texas-style or from the Carolinas, barbecue is a trendy condiment finding its way onto more and more menus each year.

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BBQ By the Numbers

Technomic, in 2015, analyzed 1,037 dishes incorporating barbecue sauce spanning 318 operators – a growth of 12.7% and 1.6%, respectively, over a five-year period. Casual Dining and Midscale Dining both saw a market penetration of 61%, while Quick Service and Fast Casual saw 35% and 38%, respectively, and Fine Dining claimed 12%.

As of 2014, Sweet and Honey barbecue flavors are the most mentioned on menus, starting with significant growth over 2013 of 15% and 11%, respectively. The majority of dishes using barbecue are entrees, with appetizers and add-ons coming  as second and third most popular usage. Although the sauce has not quite caught on with seniors, kids' menus have begun to feature it more heavily.

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Think Beyond Chicken

Barbecue will always go hand-in-hand with chicken wings, but this versatile sauce has so many other, delicious uses, too. Although it has a long way to getting ahead of tomato sauce, barbecue is becoming a popular addition to specialty pizzas and not just the kids' favorite barbecue chicken pizza, which has been a staple top dish in fast-casual restaurants for years. Hawaiian pizza with barbecue sauce replacing or added on to tomato sauce is rising the fastest in popularity as a new barbecue sauce trend. This pairs well with the other growing trend of grilling fruits, like peaches and pineapples, for people who love pairing sweet and smoky flavors in their meals. With the saltiness of the ham, sugary sweetness of pineapple and smokiness of the barbecue sauce, it begs the questions as to why Hawaiian pizza hasn't been made with barbecue sauce since its inception.

The game-changer comes with a not-so-obvious contender climbing the ranks as a favorite protein for the sauce: salmon, alongside shrimp, are rising in popularity as amazing new pairings for the sauce. With salmon comparably mild-tasting to chicken, it's obvious why the fish has burst onto the scene as the next big partner for the sauce.

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Popular Pairings

On the opposite side of the country from Hawaii, it is also a growing trend in the Northeastern United States to pair fruit and barbecue in dishes, especially apple, which saw an overall 5% growth in being used in barbecue-centric dishes in 2015. In other parts of the country, including the South and West, barbecue is getting more often paired with vinegar while carrot and chipotle pairings grow in popularity in the Midwest. With the exception of the Northeast, dill is on the rise, as well.

Even orange flavor paired with barbecue has been introduced, penetrating the market with 4% use, but savory, classic flavors like onion and bacon still reign supreme, with 58% and 55% common use in barbecue dishes, respectively. Not surprisingly, onion rings are rising fast as a favorite dish to incorporate barbecue, joining classics like pulled pork sandwiches and chicken wraps.


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