Barbecue ribs: hold the pork (and hold the ribs)

One entrepreneur believes he's grilled up a money-making business plan that makes barbecue ribs lower in calories and a lot healthier.

Alan Knuckman is the creator of OriginAl's Chicken Ribs or what he's calling a waistline-friendly alternative to the fattier pork ribs you typically throw on the grill.

Barbeque breakdown

"Eighty percent less fat per serving than pork ribs and 70 percent less calories—a chicken rib is a special cut of skinless chicken with authentic Texas dry rub barbeque spices and real hickory wood smoke," Knuckman said.

Alan Knuckman uses bone-in chicken thighs for his healthier version of the “rib”
Source: Alan Knuckman
Alan Knuckman uses bone-in chicken thighs for his healthier version of the “rib”

Knuckman works as an options trader and financial commentator for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade. Now he's trading unwanted calories for a healthier barbecued rib, but the truth is his OriginAl's Chicken Ribs aren't ribs at all. Knuckman has swapped out the pork and the rib, replacing it with bone-in chicken thighs. But the thigh meat gets the full Texas BBQ treatment with lots of spices and slow grilling. "This process achieves pork rib-like savory taste and texture," he told CNBC.

Knuckman started testing the market's appetite for his rib-free ribs at pop-up lunch events at the Chicago Board Options Exchange. When he discovered people were receptive to the chicken switcheroo, he started cooking them up in a facility just outside of Chicago. He now plans to sell a six-to-eight-piece bag for $7.99.

Chicken on the rise

Knuckman may be on to something, the global demand for chicken is growing, while pork is declining. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development expects poultry to become the world's most consumed meat by 2020. The USDA reports several factors for the popularity: low prices compared to red meat and increased convenience of products such as precooked ready-to-serve offerings. Consumption has also benefited from health-related concerns about fat and cholesterol.

Getting grilled

But Knuckman's chicken "ribs" have raised some eyebrows in the restaurant industry.

Chef, restaurateur and investor Tim Love, who is widely considered a barbeque expert, questioned why Knuckman calls his product a "rib" when it's really a chicken thigh.


Chef Tim Love grills Alan Knuckman about his Texas barbeque recipe
Source: CNBC
Chef Tim Love grills Alan Knuckman about his Texas barbeque recipe

"The combination of the cut, the spice, the process and the texture gives it that rib-like feel to it," Knuckman said. "What you want to do when you eat this, you want to be thinking barbecue, you're not thinking chicken."

NYC restaurateur and chef Alexander Smalls had concerns about the lower-fat chicken meat being less tasty and more dry than the pork ribs people know and love. Smalls said he prefers his "ribs" served with sauce and suggested OriginAl's packaging include sauce packets. But Knuckman leaves the sauce out intentionally.

"I didn't want the sauce to be the subject or focus," he said. "It's about the meat and it's about having healthy barbecue conveniently. You can dip it in whatever sauce you prefer."

Love, who is from Texas, said calling the chicken "authentic Texas barbecue" could make it more challenging to market nationally because barbecue flavor preferences differ dramatically from region to region and even state by state. Selling authentic Texas flavor in North Carolina, which is well-known for it's own authentic barbecue, could be tough.

Alan Knuckman grilling his chicken at a pop-up lunch event outside the CBOE
Source: CNBC
Alan Knuckman grilling his chicken at a pop-up lunch event outside the CBOE

Knuckman acknowledged the difficulty but said this is just a starting point. He plans to have additional flavor profiles in the future.

So far Knuckman has invested $50,000 into the company and looking to raise $25,000 through his Kickstarter campaign.

FirstMark Capital venture partner Nick Marsh said at this stage, the founder's next steps are crucial. He wondered exactly what Knuckman plans to do with the funds he raises. Knuckman started the company in 2009, but said with the macro-economic rebound and low grain prices, now is the ideal time to market his chicken "ribs."

"I have to do a lot of grocery store sampling, and also there's inventory, and I need to test this in multiple grocery stores across the country," he said.

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