What connects the dots of Burger King’s new summer menu is barbecue sauce. Its new Rib Sandwich is a “juicy boneless rib patty with a sweet and tangy BBQ sauce served with sweet pickles on a warm toasted artisan-style bun.” Barbecue sauce is on the menu’s Carolina Whopper, Memphis Pulled Pork and new BBQ Chicken Salad as well.
And it’s not just Burger King that has embraced barbecue sauce as a burger condiment: it has become a standard topping choice at many chains at independents. I’ll go so far as to say that barbecue sauce has supplanted salsa as the No. 3 burger sauce (after ketchup and mustard). It was in 2006 that a researcher declared that salsa had passed ketchup as top condiment (leading Jay Leno to quip, “You know it’s bad when even our vegetables are starting to lose their jobs to Mexico.”) I think ketchup and mustard still reign with burgers, and I don’t think barbecue sauce wasn’t on the list of condiments for that research.
At the request of BurgerBusiness.com, researcher Mintel searched its Menu Insights database to determine the number of dishes that included barbecue sauce as an ingredient (including a burger topping) over the past five years. They looked at quick-service, fast-casual and casual dining restaurants and found a striking 34% increase in barbecue sauce use just since 2009. It should be noted that the numbers come the first quarter of each of the years. Since January and February aren’t the biggest barbecue months, use of barbecue sauce on menus may actually have accelerated even more.
Occasionally, burger joints will use a branded barbecue sauce as Hook Burger in Oxnard, Calif., does with its Hickory Burger (topped with thick-cut bacon, Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce, house-made crispy onions, lettuce, tomato and mayo). But Mintel found that of the 975 dishes using barbecue sauce in Q1 2013, only 62—or 6.4%—were branded sauces. Most were unnamed or perhaps house-made like the barbecue sauce that Blanc Burgers + Bottles in Kansas City, Mo., makes in-house using local brewer Boulevard Brewing Co.’s Dark Truth Stout. That sauce goes on Blanc’s Dark Truth BBQ Burger, which also is topped with smoked Gouda, applewood-smoked bacon, onion ring, mayo and onion, all on a brioche bun.
A BurgerBusiness.com compilation of “15 Great BBQ Burger Builds” from burger joints around the country can be seen here.
In addition to developing barbecues-sauce topped burgers here, Burger King and McDonald’s have been actively exporting the idea globally. For example, there’s the new BBQ Classic at Burger King in Japan now. There’s also barbecue sauce on the Steakhouse burger that Burger King is selling in the UK, on its X-Tra Long Spring BBQ burger in Germany, on the Grilled Chicken Barbecue it’s currently menuing in The Netherlands and on the BBQ Bandit offered at Burger King in New Zealand.
American-style barbecue sauce is key to the 1955 Burger (named for the year Ray Kroc’s first restaurant opened) that McDonald’s has been selling in Europe for several years. New barbecue burgers are arriving as well. One is the the new Louisiana BBQ Burger (a beef patty with bacon, barbecue sauce, slivered onions, shredded lettuce and cheese on a cheese-topped bun) that is part of McDonald’s “Great Tastes of America” promotion going on now in the UK. In Denmark it’s offering a Grilled Beef Barbecue burger and it has a new “Grill & BBQ” menu in Austria. Soon burgers with barbecue sauce could become a true global mainstay.