Smoking foods has been around forever. There are very few natural manipulations that humans have used to influence the taste and texture of food while preserving it at the same time. The salted and smoked meats that ancient humans preserved enabled them to pack up large quantities of protein and travel to better places. Nowadays, the taste of smoked meats and cheeses can enable you to take your pizzeria to a better place — from mediocre to smokin’ hot!
Even though massive amounts of commercial protein in this country is now injected with liquid smoke, you can still find dedicated meat and cheese smokers who cook in one of two ways — hot smoke and cold smoke. Cold smoke is used for flavoring with temperatures between 90 and 120 F and almost always used for cheeses, whereas hot smoke actually cooks proteins between 165 F and up. Nowadays, some adventuresome chefs smoke ice, milk, salt, yogurt, herbs and even bananas.
Here are some smoked meats available from purveyors that can transform any pizza into the “WOW” zone:
- Speck. This tasty smoked cousin of prosciutto di Parma is produced in the Alto Adige of Italy and in Austria. I’ve seen this used in many European competitions as a cold topping put on after the oven because it tends to turn rubbery when cooked unless as thinly sliced “cracklings.”
- Smoked Genoa salami. At 21 cents per ounce, this can be found everywhere now. The sliced version is more expensive. This is a fantastic topping with more coverage than typical pepperoni. It does curl up on a pizza and is particularly great with fresh spinach, hot sauce, pineapple, maple syrup and ricotta cheese.
- Hickory smoked ham. I pay 33 cents per ounce sliced and 25 cents per ounce uncut. This type of ham can be used with Swiss, Emmental, fontina, jack, gruyere, manchego and Parmesan cheese. This is the bomb on pizza with a Dijon-mustard cream sauce, potatoes, red onion, mushrooms and even paired with honey…oh, and don’t ever forget the pineapple and cinnamon combo.
- Smoked sausage. The long kielbasa-type logs of turkey, ham and beef sliced thin on a pizza are fantastic with leek and Parmesan cream or with caramelized onion and barbeque sauce paired with aged provolone. This is 20 cents per ounce.
- Hickory smoked bacon. This costs 23 cents sliced raw or precooked crumbles at 42 cents per ounce. The best part of bacon on a pizza is the wonderful fat that seeps onto the cheese, although cooking raw bacon during prep entails dumping massive amounts of fat which isn’t too productive for large scale pizza operations. I use both raw and precooked crumbles. If you can par-cook the raw bacon, cool it and cut into lardons, it imparts a miraculous agra dolce (sweet and sour) taste with Gruyere or aged provolone with fresh spinach, blackberries and maple syrup. Skeptical? Try it. u Chicken bacon. My cost is 14 cents a piece/ 28 cents per ounce. This is a new product and is a very unique way to serve chicken on a pizza.
- Smoked BBQ chicken. Cost is 28 cents an ounce. This is another good seller. The only problem with barbeque I’ve had is that spreading barbeque on a pizza takes a lot of meat thus causing a large mark-up. On the other hand, if you stick with a certain food cost, customers think you are skimping. u Smoked beef brisket. This massive cut is 48 cents an ounce sliced. There is nothing like brisket on a pizza! For food costs sake you’ll have to price fairly high.
- Canadian bacon. At 33 cents an ounce, this ham is from the loin of the pig as opposed to the American ham, which is a leg/shoulder cut. It doesn’t contain sugar or honey and has higher protein content.
- I tend to use smoked cheeses sparingly or over my regular mozzarella-provolone mix not only because of the taste strength but also to sustain a viable food cost. Consider:
- Smoked provolone. At 16 cents an ounce whole and 22 cents an ounce shredded, this is a big bold cheese with an uber-piquant taste. It is great with either olives or anchovy and figs. I love to pair this cheese with chipotle onions, corn and jalepeño salsa.
- Smoked Gouda. This cheese costs 39 cents a slice/ounce or 31 cents unsliced. I serve it with chicken, roasted garlic, spinach and a sweet barbeque sauce. It also goes well with apples, apricots, peaches and pear. This will blister in blower-type ovens, so best to put it underneath the toppings.
- Smoked mozzarella. Cost is 38 cents a slice/ounce. This is the little brother of smoked provolone. There isn’t much taste except the smoke but you can’t deny that the textural mozzarella pull and bite are very enticing.
- Smoked goat cheese. This pricey cheese is $2.03 an ounce. Some of this cheese is smoked over pecan, rosemary and lavender, adding a whimsical flourish to any pizza.
- Smoked scamorza. At 75 cents an ounce, “Scamorza affumicata” is a classic from Puglia where it is made from sheep’s milk. It melts spectacularly and is very beautiful if you cut the round loaf thinly and place on the pizza. It melts the best of all the smoked cheeses and if you can find it…grab it!!
Turning your customers on to great new products like smoked meats and cheeses is an exciting part of being in the pizza business but there are many considerations. Two of the most important are:
A: What is the ounce cost?
B: How many ounces are gonna land on my pies?
Here’s my recipe for profit, a little calculator for profiting (or not) from any new items you are considering.
Let’s say your initial cost for a plain cheese pizza is $1.85 AND smoked meats on a large pizza land between five to 10 ounces. The lowest smoked meat cost is 14 cents per ounce and highest is 48 cents per ounce.
- 5 ounces x .14 = .70 cents + 1.85 = $2.55 and sold for $10.99 makes you $8.44 profit or 23-percent food cost
- 10 ounces x .14 = 1.40 + 1.85 = $3.25 and sold for $10.99 makes you $7.74 profit or 30-percent food cost
- 5 ounces x .48 = 2.40 + 1.85 = 4.25 and sold for $10.99 makes you $6.74 profit or 39-percent food cost
- 10 ounces x .48 = 4.80 + 1.85 = 6.66 and sold for $10.99 makes you $4.33 profit or 61-percent food cost.
The key to profiting from great new items is finding the combination of good selling price for you and your market and a pizza topping that exceeds your customers’ wildest culinary dreams.
John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio. He is speaker at International Pizza Expo and a member of the World Pizza Champions.