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Lessons From the World of BBQ

I spent a day recently at the Largest Barbecue Competition in the world. The American Royal World Series of BBQ is quite an experience for an absolute amateur cooker like I am.

I love BBQ. Mostly, I love the way BBQ happens. It’s a process. Very precise.

Each different product has its own unique nuance that makes cooking it challenging.

Being a Texan, we tend to like brisket – that tough part of a cow that, when taken care of and cooked properly, transforms into a very special flavor and texture. Along with Tex-Mex, it’s the national food of Texas.

But, in Kansas City, where the American Royal happens, pork is king. Sweet and spicy.

The competition involves every conceivable cut and product --- even vegetarians have a say in it with a category solely to show off your skills in cooking veggie dishes.

600 teams from around the globe show up for a few days as a part of a giant community.

You get the idea. It’s a big deal.

But, here’s the surprise I learned while wandering and talking to the “pit masters” – the chefs of the BBQ world.

Everyone is trying to hit a target of having the best product in the end. They will be judged evenly on taste, tenderness and presentation.

The playing field is equal. Many competitors show up with close to $1 million worth of tools and toys to compete and enjoy the week. Multiple high-end smokers and specialty trailers with kitchens all the comforts of a modern cooking environment. Often, BBQ teams of 6-10 travel and cook together. Each team member has a special skill that adds to the end result.

Other teams of 1-2 best friends show up with less than $1,000 worth of stuff and spend the nights on cots in their tents – making sure to keep a close watch on cooking temperatures all night.

Some cook “low and slow” at 225 degrees while others cook much faster at 350-375 degrees.

Some have multiple smokers worth well over $10,000 each. Others cook on $250 grills that you can buy at any discount retailer.

Every competitor has their own secret seasoning – tested over years of trial and error. I cannot imagine how much bad tasting food is cooked in an effort to get to THE recipe.

They key is that every serious competitor has refined their skill and know what they do best. And, they stick with it. You don’t show up at this competition and start experimenting. You do what you do best.

In the end, the judges have no clue where the end product came from. Every white box of meat looks like every other white box of meat.

The judging is impartial and people from all levels of investment and cooking styles win something every year.

I could not help but compare all of this to my daily conversations in business.

So many people are trying to copy someone else.

Instead of knowing their strengths and focusing on them, they try to copy another business owner --- who, by the way, has VERY different strengths and weaknesses.

The big winners in business know who they are and what they do best.

Your customer (the judges) have no idea the work that went into the end result. They have no clue about the trials and errors you went through.

In business, we have the distinct advantage of being able to tell our story. We get to deliver our products in something other than white boxes.

But, no amount of fluff and pretty designs will make up for a bad product experience.

They do not know your strengths and weaknesses.

They just want a good product that, when compared to others, satisfies their judgement.


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