by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

BBQ Brawl: ‘Cue Tips from Chef Brian Duffy

BBQ Brawl: ‘Cue Tips from Chef Brian Duffy

by David Klemt

Chef Brian Duffy biting into a sandwich

Friend of the Bar Hacks podcast and KRG Hospitality Chef Brian Duffy is rocking it on season four of Food Network‘s BBQ Brawl.

And he’s dropping barbecue and cooking jewels while killing it on multiple styles of grill.

When we meet Chef Duffy on episode one of BBQ Brawl, he’s introduced as “The Renowned Restaurateur.” This makes sense given the fact that he has helped open more than 100 restaurants throughout his career.

Regarding grilling and barbecuing, Chef Duffy will use elements of whatever style he thinks will work best for a given situation. As he explains it, his barbecue “isn’t bound by the rules of any one style.”


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A post shared by Chef Brian Duffy (@chefbriduff)

I also want to point out that there’s what appears to be a 1950s-era Dodge Power Wagon, perhaps a Series 1 or Series 2 model, on Star Hill Farm, where this show was filmed. This isn’t relevant in any way to cooking, grilling, or barbecue. I’m just a Car and Motorcyle Guy® and I noticed the Power Wagon immediately.

Also, be sure to check out episode 33 and episode 53 of the Bar Hacks podcast to hear from the chef himself.

Alright, let’s check out some tips and tricks from Chef Duffy that he has shared on season four of BBQ Brawl. Like he said to the camera in the first moments of episode one, “Students, meet your pit master.”

Episode 1

If you want your food to be charred, you need to commit.

“You’ve gotta let it sit. Don’t move it,” says Chef Duffy. “Let that char happen.”

It’s just that simple. Patience is a cooking technique.


Signature Tacos

  • Mulita, a Mexican street taco made by dipping a tortilla in birria broth.
  • Togorashi- and ancho-chili-smoked red Snapper taco with “a fun little slaw.”


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A post shared by Chef Brian Duffy (@chefbriduff)

Team Challenge: “California Smoke” menu (Fire delivery: Santa Maria grill)

  • Cabbage, kale, Swiss chard medley with beans
  • Scallops and smoked crab salad with preserved lemon gremolata and avocado (collaboration with Chef Larissa Da Costa; Chef Duffy prepared the smoked crab salad)

Episode 2

One interesting bit of Chef Duffy trivia is that he has knife skills that rival John Wick’s. I’m confident in saying that they could’ve raided Chef Duffy’s impressive carbon steel knife collection to film the melee scene in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.

Now, he does nick himself during the advantage challenge in this episode. The nick requires Chef Duffy to double-glove up. However, this is a fluke. Check out his knife skills below:


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A post shared by Chef Brian Duffy (@chefbriduff)


Elimination Challenge:”Due West” menu (Fire delivery: Santa Maria grill. Direct-contact coal roasting)

  • Cast iron skillet-cooked mushroom gravy (portobello, maitake, shiitake, rosemary, garlic, butter) for Pitmaster Robert Smith’s quail.
  • Hot coal-roasted butternut squash topped with crispy, grilled pork belly

Episode 3

While Chef Duffy is no stranger to the pitmastery of fish, he’s always done so in a controlled environment.

Well, this competition show is much more chaotic than a standard restaurant kitchen. Of course, chaos doesn’t cramp Chef Duffy’s style too much.

In preparing his salt-crusted branzino in episode three, he chars lemons and limes, then squeezes them over the fish and creates a mixture with egg whites. After salting, Chef Duffy once again shows that patience is a key element of technique: he leaves the stuffed and salted branzinos to rest.

Chef Duffy also puts another of his specialties on full display in this episode: fried rice. Anyone who has seen Chef Duffy do a fried rice demo knows how good his preparations are.

During this episode, he prepares fried rice in a wok on a Santa Maria grill. For this element of his dish he chooses basmati, in part for its fragrance. Along with carrots and green beans, Chef Duffy’s BBQ Brawl fried rice includes onion, garlic, and bacon. He then hits it with ponzu and soy sauces.

You may think the bacon is the star of this fried rice, but that isn’t the case. The real standout is freshly prepared salt-cured eggs. For this element of the dish, Chef Duff places yolks directly onto a bed of salt.

“What that does is it pulls the moisture out of that yolk,” explains Chef Duffy, “so that you have a little bit more of a firm yolk.”

To complete the salt-cured egg preparation, the salt is rinsed off just before serving the rice.


Elimination Challenge: “Sea-Food and Eat It” menu (Fire delivery: Santa Maria grill, smoker)

  • Bacon and basmati fried rice with salmon, topped with salt-cured egg
  • Smoked, salt-crusted branzino

Episode 4

Chef Duffy hates crispy bacon. The reasoning behind this hatred is simple: flavor.

If bacon is cooked too crisply—or more accurately, burnt—it won’t impart much, if any, flavor. You may get ash flavor but you really won’t get bacon.

When stunned team leader Chef Sunny Anderson questions Chef Duffy about his opinion of crispy bacon, he explains his position succinctly: “Because it’s useless.”

It’s fair to say he’d rather switch teams than allow someone to prepare crispy bacon for any of his dishes.

“I want you to know I like your fire,” responds Chef Anderson. “But crispy bacon is life, okay?”


Signature Chicken Wings (Fire delivery: Cast aluminum kamado grill)

  • Butter poached fried and grilled wings with habanero, Aleppo, and ghost peppers

Elimination Challenge: “Hometown Heat” menu (Fire delivery: Smoker, cast aluminum kamado grill, cast iron skillet, Big Green Egg)

  • Manzano and Fresno peppers stuffed with spicy pork sausage
  • Irish soda bread stuffed with caramelized onion and bacon, topped with citrus-cream cheese glaze (prepared in collaboration with Chef Anderson)

Episode 5

To enhance the experience of a mac and cheese made with creamy béchamel sauce, try this tip from Chef Duffy. Instead of using only all-purpose flour, also use cassava flour.

Doing so will add some impressive stretchiness to the sauce, and the proof will be in the cheese pull. Also, cassava flour delivers a silky texture a traditional roux just can’t match.


Elimination Challenge: “Brazilian BBQ Fusion Feast” menu (Smoker, charcoal grill, cast aluminum kamado grill, cast iron skillets)

  • Skillet mac and cheese made with cotija, smoked gouda, sharp Cheddar, and gruyère topped with farofa (prepared in a skillet on top of a grill)
  • Brazilian-spiced and smoked spatchcock citrus chicken

Episode 6

On this episode,the teams prepare whole suckling pig via live-fire cooking methods. Due to the ranking of the teams in episode five, Team Bobby chooses their method first, followed by Team Anne. Team Sunny doesn’t get to choose; they have to take whatever the other two teams don’t select.

Team Bobby selects the cinder block smoker, and Team Anne chooses the hand-crank rotisserie spit. Team Sunny has to cook via an incredibly rustic method: a bed of hot embers.

Chefs Duffy and Chuck Matto decide to wrap their suckling pig in banana leaves before then wrapping the entire animal in foil. As Chef Matto explains, banana leaf acts as an insulator. The pig is placed directly on the hot embers, additional stones are placed around it, more coals are added, and then the team adds a layer of burlap.

To ensure an even cook without any burning, Chef Duffy explains that they’ll check temperatures every 20 to 30 minutes, rotating the pig each time.

When cooking pig, Chef Duffy notes there are certain things to check to ensure it’s cooked fully. There’s temperature, of course, but he also shares this tip: note how easily the thermometer goes into the meat when checking temp.


Advantage Challenge: Banana Leaf Challenge (Fire delivery: Santa Maria grill)

  • Southern-inspired, Caribbean spiced and seasoned catfish (prepared with banana-leaf wrap)

Elimination Challenge: “Campfire Whole Hog” menu (Fire delivery: Bed of hot embers, Santa Maria grill, cast aluminum kamado grill)

  • Campfire whole hog with California/Kansas City barbecue sauces (in collaboration with Chef Matto), with special attention paid to honoring the animal’s head
  • Four-pork chili
  • Potato salad

Episode 7

Chef Duffy swings for the fences on this episode and decides to grill octopus. However, it takes hours to cook octopus properly and ensure it’s tender enough to eat.

Of course, Chef Duffy has a plan, and it includes using three cooking methods in a five-step process. First, he throws it on a charcoal grill to impart flavors. Next, he boils the octopus. After that, the octopus goes back to the grill. Then, Chef Duff sous vides the octopus at 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Finally, the octopus goes back to the grill.

Or, to describe the process more simply, Chef Duffy goes grill, water, grill, sous-vide, grill.


Elimination Challenge:  (Fire delivery: Charcoal grill, Big Green Egg

  • Grilled octopus over a white bean and sweet corn purée
  • Grilled watermelon, feta, and pickled cucumber salad (cold-pickled cucumbers for acid and flavor)

Image: Chef Brian Duffy

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

The New Wave of Plant-based Foods

The New Wave of Plant-based Foods

by David Klemt


Chef Brian Duffy holding a plate with a plant-based shrimp po' boy sandwich on it

A key takeaway from the 2023 National Restaurant Association Show is this: a new wave of plant-based foods has made landfall.

In fact, given how many booths had plant-based items on offer, more waves will be crashing ashore. Plant-based items had a presence inside every building at McCormick Place in Chicago. For those who haven’t attended to show, McCormick Place has well more than two-million square feet in exhibit space.

There were, of course, the plant-based standards to which we’ve all grown accustomed. Burger patties, breakfast sausages, “chicken” nuggets, “pepperoni” pizzas… However, we now know there’s more innovation on the way.

Years ago, F&B experts declared seafood alternatives as the “holy grail” of plant-based foods. The race has been on to “crack the code” and offer seafood alternatives that look, cook, and taste like their animal counterparts.

One brand that appears to have reached their goal? New Wave Foods. And their staunchest culinary supporter? The revered and iconic Chef Brian Duffy.

Seismic but Sensible Shift

Those who are familiar with Chef Duffy know he’s unafraid to share his views on all things culinary, service, operations, and hospitality. The same people also know that he’s demanding when it comes to ingredients, distributors, and partners.

I say that to say this: Some people are shocked Chef Duffy is championing a plant-based food. However, I don’t share that reaction. Chef Duffy has never been anti-plant-based—he has been waiting for plant-based items to rise to his high standards.

During his 2023 NRA Show demo, the acclaimed and in-demand chef made shrimp-fried rice. Of course, he replaced shrimp with a plant-based alternative produced using mung bean and seaweed. That product is New Wave Foods Shrimp.

The demo proved so engaging that Chef Duffy was asked to repeat it on the final day of the show. I, for one, am not surprised—Chef Duffy is an incredible speaker and chef.

This seismic shift—not just in Chef Duffy’s embrace of plant-based foods but also throughout the industry—is sensible when you consider something said during the demo.

Boiling it down to the basics, Chef Duffy asked why operators wouldn’t want to offer high-quality plant-based items to their guests. It’s simple: Increasingly, this is what guests want. So…give it to them.

Succeeding with Plant-based

According to a 2020 Datassential report, nearly two-thirds of operators have shrimp on their menus. Further, two-thirds of operators have at least expressed an interest in offering more plant-based alternatives.

And why wouldn’t they want to do so? It’s simple business: fulfill consumer demands and desires. If people want something and it’s feasible for a business owner to offer it, that’s good business.

However, it goes beyond just business for Chef Duffy. Taking things further, he believes that culinary professionals and operators have a responsibility to their guests.

There’s a responsibility to learn about what’s new and educate kitchen staff. A responsibility to help guests eat healthier. And absolutely a responsibility to innovate. As Chef Duffy said during his 2023 Bar & Restaurant Expo live menu read, operators can only justify charging premium prices if they’re truly innovating in the kitchen.

Diving deeper, meeting guest demands for plant-based foods fulfills a financial responsibility. If an operator has partners or investors, they need to meet their expectations. Equally as important, failing to innovate or keep up with guest demands puts the business at risk, therefore risking the livelihoods and career progression of staff.

Brands like New Wave Foods are sourcing their ingredients ethically and sustainably. Another brand, Meati, is using mushroom root sustainably. Additionally, New Wave Foods Shrimp is cholesterol-free, is free from shellfish allergens, and is kosher. Meati, a complete protein, is also cholesterol-free and is also free from nine major allergens

I also came across a whole-cut steak alternative called Chunk that tasted like beef. Interestingly, there was also a plant-based egg alternative that allows for the social-media-famous yolk poke, YoEgg.

Own the Operator Responsibility

An operator doesn’t have to be vegetarian or vegan to appreciate the plant-based movement. They don’t even have to be interested in a plant-based diet.

All an operator needs to understand this shift in consumer behavior—between 60 and 70 percent of US households are having at least one plant-based meal per week—is their responsibility to their guests and teams.

If offering plant-based options is viable for an operator (in most cases, it is), it’s good business to do so. Stubbornly refusing to offer guests what they want flies in the face of hospitality and service.

Offering plant-based options doesn’t suddenly make a concept a vegetarian or vegan brand. Chef Duffy puts one or two of his famous “dippy” eggs on his plant-based shrimp fried rice. He also cooks the dish with butter. It’s decidedly not a vegan dish.

To that point, Chef Duffy doesn’t dedicate menu sections to vegetarian or vegan diets. As he explains, doing so is a self-imposed limitation, and likely a mistake.

Targeting vegans means attempting to succeed with a very small (for now) pool of consumers. Attempting to appeal to vegetarians means targeting a larger base but still, it’s limiting.

Instead, operators can simply make it known a plant-based alternative is available for a given dish. Simple, to the point, and appeals to the greatest number of guests.

Succeeding with plant-based foods has never been easier. By the time the next plant-based wave surges, it will be even easier. Operators have very few excuses remaining for refusing to participate in the movement.

Image: New Wave Foods

New Cafe Restaurant Concept Strategy Layout Prototype Drawings Food Beverage Equipment

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

The Art of the Preparation

The Art of the Preparation

by David Klemt

Overhead view of chef slicing and chopping ingredients

Chef Brian Duffy‘s take on preparation and its overall impact on the guest experience extends to every aspect of operations.

In one sentence during his 2023 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago cooking demo, Chef Duffy sums up the power of the proper mindset.

“The art of the preparation creates the experience,” says Chef Duffy.

Now, he was preparing plant-based shrimp from New Wave Foods at the time. After preparing a pan, the revered chef was readying a pound of FABI Award-winning New Wave Shrimp for Duffified Shrimp Fried Rice.


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A post shared by Chef Brian Duffy (@chefbriduff)

When making this dish, Chef Duffy chops roughly half the New Wave Shrimp in half. He does so to enhance the dish’s texture, and therefore the guest experience. Additionally, Chef Duffy likes to toast basmati rice before adding it to the pan with the shrimp and vegetables.

Again, Chef Duffy shared his view on the guest experience when cutting animal-alternative shrimp (the product is made with sustainable seaweed and mung bean).


Okay, so what does slicing or chopping shrimp have to do with the guest experience? It’s the attention to what others may consider a tiny detail. In fact, some may deem important details “optional.”

Whether front-of-house, back-of-house, or back office, everyone’s mindset matters. How one views their role and how they approach their responsibilities impacts every element of a restaurant, bar, nightclub, or hotel’s success.

Choosing to halve half the shrimp because it will deliver a better experience speaks volumes. It’s a commitment to perfect the “small” details so every guest walks away wanting to return.

If an operator wants to know if they have a chef or an executive chef, this is one way to tell. Is the chef teaching their brigade? Guiding them? Implementing policies around preparation? Or are they just punching the clock, making sure the rest of the team shows up, and sending out food that’s “good enough”?

Operators can apply versions of those questions to every role in the house, including their own. Is their pride in preparing every element of service and operation? Or is the team just muddling through each shift?

There are no Small Details

Interestingly, most guests likely won’t ever be aware of every detail operators and their teams get right. However, they will feel every choice each team member makes. They may not know precisely what goes right, but they take home with them that their visit was exceptional.

Pulling the threads tighter separates operators and their brands from one another. Guests can get a bite and a drink anywhere. They reward outstanding service and experiences with their time and money.

It’s a simple equation to understand: Operators want to create an army of loyal guests, guests expect exceptional experiences. The operators who deliver on guest expectations are rewarded with loyalty.

Chef Duffy isn’t “just” slicing shrimp. He’s not “just” toasting rice. Chef’s not “just” making “the world’s most perfect dippy egg.” In reality, he’s ensuring every decision he, his teams, and his clients make enhance the guest experience exponentially.

There are no small details. There are no small decisions. The art of the preparation, as Chef Duffy says, creates the experience. Indeed, preparation also separates the mediocre from the exceptional.

Image: Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

KRG Hospitality Mindset Coaching

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

Real-world Menu Tips from Chef Brian Duffy

Real-world Menu Tips from Chef Brian Duffy

by David Klemt

Two restaurant food menus

I wonder what Chef Duffy would say about these menus.

Call it an education session, call it a workshop, one of the best features of the Bar & Restaurant Expo is live menu feedback from Chef Brian Duffy.

This is certainly true of the 2023 Bar & Restaurant Expo. During this year’s BRE (formerly Nightclub & Bar Show, or NCB), Chef Duffy delivered well over two hours of real-world menu feedback.

To be sure, BRE educational programming is always beneficial. Attendees who take the time to plan their schedules to include education sessions will take invaluable tips back to their businesses.

However, watching in real time as Chef Duffy critiques real menus submitted by BRE attendees provides insight that will impact the guest experience and success of a restaurant or bar immediately.

When delivering his feedback, Chef Duffy is unacquainted with the menus. He’s also unfiltered. So, attendees of these sessions are provided a window to Chef Duffy’s professional opinions, on the fly, in real time.

Take, for example, this blunt statement: “If you serve tilapia in your restaurant, you suck.” Before anyone has a conniption, Chef Duffy is referring to unethically farm-raised tilapia that’s often exposed to waste.

Technical Difficulties

Due to unforeseen AV issues, Chef Duffy was unable to use the large screens in the room to review menus for 30 to 40 minutes.

Now, some speakers may be shaken when encountering such a technical difficulty. This isn’t the case for Chef Duffy. In fact, all in attendance from the start of his session were lucky enough to gain insights beyond menu design because of the AV issues.

First, we all gained some insight into Chef Duffy’s consulting process. When engaged for restaurant consultation, he watches an evening service. Next day, he’s in your kitchen at 10:00 AM. What he sees in your kitchen tells him what’s happening throughout your restaurant. By the way, if he encounters just two spelling errors on your menu, he’s done reviewing it—you need a fresh start.

Second, inventory. Chef Duffy assumes you keep eleven percent of your overall revenue on your shelves. So, if you’re generating $100,000 each month, your shelves hold $11,000 of product. When reviewing your financial situation, take a look at that number for your own restaurant or bar.

Third, executive chefs versus head chefs. Chef Duffy has been on the ground for more than 100 restaurant openings. He has interviewed countless chefs. Have you ever wondered about the difference between an executive chef and a head chef? Knowledge of the financial aspects of running a kitchen. Without it, someone’s not an executive chef—they’re a head chef. Executive chefs know (and in theory can be trusted with) finances; head chefs make sure the brigade comes to work on time.

Finally, a cost-reduction tip. When you speak with your food reps, ask about DWO items: “Discontinued When Out.” You may be able to get your hands on some great items for a fraction of the cost.

Pricing Tips

Since we’ve looked at costs, let’s take a look at pricing.

Determining pricing effectively involves more than just gathering intel about your competitors. Chef Duffy suggests looking over your entire menu and committing to a pricing hard deck.

For example, “I’ll never sell a starter for less than X dollars.” You commit to never selling a entree for lower than a certain dollar amount. If you breach that promise, you may damage your brand.

Staying on the topic of pricing, don’t take advantage of your guests. Chef Duffy absolutely believes you can charge premium prices—but only for innovation. How do you know if a menu item is innovative? If it has made its way to major chain restaurants and you’re not doing anything unique to your version, it’s not innovative.

In terms of layout and design, don’t “lead” guests to prices with dots, dashes, or solid lines. Just place the price next to the item and move on.

Menu Tips

Another crucial tip that really should go without saying but, well, here we are, is proofreading. Want to make sure your menu is correct in a fun way? Throw a proofreading party. Invite ten of your VIP guests, gather your staff, invite some friends and family if you won’t be distracted, and ask for honest feedback.

Of course, you can elevate this event by serving new menu items tapas or family style to your VIPs. Brand-new restaurant yet to open? I suggest having the proofreading party with staff, friends, and family.

Keep in mind that menu real estate is valuable. Does a section of your menu come with identical accompaniments? Explain that at the top of section rather than including them in every. single. item. separately. Yes, this happened during the live 2023 BRE reads.

Chef Duffy would like you to stop putting specials on your menu. Again, menu real estate is valuable. If you can spare the room for specials, are they really special? Instead, your servers should know the day’s specials and share them with your guests from memory. And speaking of memory, upselling really only works if your staff knows the menu backward and forward.

Oh, and Chef Duffy would love it if you’d stop doing truffle fries if you’re not going to use premium products.

Your Menu Isn’t “Just” a Menu

Obviously, I haven’t shared every one of Chef Duffy’s menu tips. However, the above should serve as more than enough to motivate you to review your own menu with a critical eye.

In fact, you should be inspired to have your leadership, BoH, and FoH teams review the menu as well.

Yes, spelling matters. Yes, grammar matters. And yes, every detail and bit of menu real estate matters. This is because, simply put, your menu is more than a list of items for sale.

As Chef Duffy says, “Your menu is your calling card, it’s just that simple.” He would also tell you that the first place people encounter your business is online after a search. So, your website is your showcase. But your menu? That’s your billboard on the freeway, as he says.

QR codes may have been the standard from 2020 to 2022. We all know why. But for the most part, with the exception of QSRs and LSRs, people want to hold your menu. It’s a tactile experience and true engagement.

Menu design, like your website’s design, matters. Don’t believe me? I have two framed menus on my office wall, and they’re not from client concepts.

To learn more about Chef Brian Duffy, visit his website here. And, of course, make sure to follow him on Instagram. To listen to his Bar Hacks podcast episodes, click here for episode 33 and here for episode 53.

Image: Catherine Heath on Unsplash

KRG Hospitality Complete Bar Menu Audit