What’s Trending? Smoking Pork

According to Pork Board research conducted by research firm Datassential, barbeque remains one of the most popular menu categories at restaurants. In looking at the popularity of pork dishes, 83% of respondents “liked” or “loved” barbeque pork, and 75% felt that way about pulled pork and pork ribs respectively. ( National Pork Board and the Pork Checkoff )

When COVID-19 struck the U.S., many people took advantage of the time at home to cook more, and some purchased meat smokers. For Joe Webel, business development manager for Western Illinois and Missouri at The Maschhoffs, the “lockdown” was a good excuse to purchase the smoker he’d been wanting for years.

“The thing I love about my smoker is everything just tastes better. It’s also been a welcome diversion from the everyday grind,” Webel says. 

To speed up his “knowledge” on smoking meats, he joined a couple of meat smoker groups on Facebook and says he learned a lot from others’ experiences.

“My best advice is to read the owner’s manual and don’t be afraid to try something different,” Webel says. “Sometimes the mistakes are delicious!”

Over Memorial Day Weekend, the National Pork Board kicked off their summer campaigns, “Chasing Summer Flavors” and a Hispanic-focused effort called “Sabor Season.” Smoking pork is their focus for the first half of the grilling season, says Angie Krieger, vice president of domestic marketing at the National Pork Board.

“Smoking meats is something that seems intimidating to a lot of consumers, but our message is that anybody can try it,” Krieger says. 

With all of the challenges the supply chain has faced this spring due to COVID-19, Krieger says there’s a lot of bone-in product available which is perfect for smoking. Google trends are also showing that people are searching for “best smoker” – a trend that she believes will continue to take off as people realize the simplicity and fun of smoking pork.

What’s the allure of smoking pork?
The indulgent flavor that you can get from smoking pork makes it an ideal meat for this trending form of grilling, Krieger says. 

“Butts and ribs are the main cuts that we see, although you can smoke any pork cut,” she says. “Depending on the size of the cut, it doesn't have to be an all-day activity.”

With more people working from home, smoking doesn’t seem as unattainable as it did before. Plus, technology is making this popular pastime easier than ever. 

“The key to smoking is time and temperature. There are more gadgets available nowadays that you can hook up to your smartphone than ever before,” Krieger says. “So for me, even with grilling, I get distracted easily. I don't have to worry about that with my smoker because my phone beeps at me when I need to flip the meat.”

She says that’s a key tool in smoking meat now. 

“People don't have to worry about it. They can set it and forget it. Everyone carries their smartphone around so that technology has really enabled smoking to be a no brainer,” Krieger says.

Additionally, there's no wrong way to smoke pork. Consumers find this intriguing and enjoy trying all sorts of new things to hone their smoking skills. 

“It seems to be a bit addictive,” Krieger says. “One of our employees last week was smoking pork belly with sugar on it and making ‘pork candy.’ There’s truly no limit to the things that you can try once you dip your toe in.”

What’s the impact of grilling season on pork sales?
Pork sales have been incredibly strong this year, Krieger says, along with all meats. The entire meat category is up 18% and pork is up 17% in sales versus last year. 

The most popular cuts consumers are looking for this time of year are ribs and chops. The National Pork Board has pulled data from the last several grilling seasons to help retailers understand the importance of having pork features.

“Data shows pork features such as ribs and chops, bring folks into the store,” Krieger says. “We know consumers who have pork in their cart are worth more to the retailers so they really love to feature pork this time of year.”

We know that nothing can replace World Pork Expo, but we will be uniting together June 1-6 for PORK Week across all of our Farm Journal platforms to elevate the important role the pork industry plays in feeding the world. Share your stories and post photos on social media using #PORKWeek to help us honor the pork industry. From “AgDay TV” to “AgriTalk” to “U.S. Farm Report” to PorkBusiness.com and everything in between, tune in and join us as we acknowledge the most noble profession there is: feeding people.

More from PORK Week:

Ready to Please Your Crew? Try These 5 Pulled Pork Favorites

Q&A Series: Economists Weigh in on Pork Outlook

Profitability, Packing Plants & Uncertainty: Pork Industry Post Crisis

Q&A Series: Pork Industry Leaders Explore Ripple Effects of COVID-19

Friendships, Salsa and Social Distancing