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How to Start a Mobile BBQ Food Trailer

Americans have a passion for barbecue, whether it's in the backyard or at the county fair. If you have a recipe for barbecue that keeps your friends coming back for more, you may also have the recipe for a profitable business. Owning a mobile barbecue trailer is a low-risk way to explore the food business and make money part or full time.

Practice your recipes. Before you hook up your trailer, make sure you have perfected your barbecue recipes. Have friends and family over to try different versions. You will also want to take some time to decide what types of meats you will offer. Offering many types of meat might be difficult within the confines of a mobile unit, so focusing on two or three specialities may make more sense.

Select your BBQ unit. There are two basic options when purchasing a mobile BBQ unit. You can purchase (or build) an enclosed mobile kitchen, complete with refrigeration units and other commercial kitchen equipment. Or you can purchase or build a smoker or grill that is either towable or can be placed on a trailer.

Call your local department of health. This is important if you intend to set up your unit in your county at fairs, festivals, farmers' markets or on a street corner. The department of health can tell you what regulations to which your BBQ unit needs to conform in order to receive certification.

Locate outlets at which to sell your BBQ. Look up fairs, festivals and farmers' markets in areas you are willing to travel to. Call the director, and ask how to apply to become a vendor. Some fairs and festivals have websites and vendor applications online. Submit the application and the fee for the space.

Find out what types of permits or licenses you need for each of your events. Most require that you be certified within your own state, but some may require a permit through their state as well.

Obtain your ingredients. Buy more than you think you'll need. Especially at first, it's better to have too much than not enough. As you attend more and more events, you'll get a better idea of how much you need to purchase ahead of time.

Purchase or gather your equipment. In addition to your smoker or grill, you'll need an assortment of gear like tongs, spatulas, oven gloves or gloves, platters, latex gloves, paper plates and napkins. If you are using a towable smoker or grill instead of concession trailer, you may want to invest in a good tent as well as tables for serving.

Get on the road and start selling your BBQ. Head to your event early, to allow time for set up. If the event you're going to requires a lot of travel time, you may want to arrange to purchase your perishable ingredients once you get there, but check the area and make sure you'll be able to do so.

Take notes on which items sell the best, how much product you need, and if the income and expense was worth the effort in getting to the event. You think you'll remember each event, but if you start to do a lot of them, you probably won't remember the details of each event. Taking notes will keep you from making the same mistakes over and over.

Things You'll Need

  • Concession trailer or mobile smoker/grill unit
  • Ingredients
  • Tongs
  • Spatulas
  • Oven gloves
  • Paper plates
  • Napkins
  • Tent
  • Tables
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About the Author

Michelle Hogan is a writer and the author of 13 books including the 2005 bestselling memoir, "Without a Net: Middle Class and Homeless (With Kids) in America." Hogan studied English at American University and has been writing professionally since 1998. Her work has appeared in "The New York Times," "Redbook," "Family Circle" and many other publications.