• Bill Petrie

Why Bad Barbecue Matters

And how it can improve your marketing

Growing up in the great state of Texas means you embrace many things:

  • Schlitterbahn is the greatest waterpark in America

  • Nolan Ryan is the only human who can unite Houston, Dallas, and Austin

  • There is nothing finer than an ice-cold Shiner

  • Taking pictures in the bluebonnets in spring is an annual rite of passage

  • Texas barbecue is the food of kings (and better than the variations from other regions, but that's another blog)

While it may have taken me a few years to fully understand all the beautiful things about the Lone Star State, I immediately loved the seemingly simple declicousness of Texas barbecue. Even though my parents and I were refugees from the western suburbs of Chicago, we adopted barbecue as our preferred Sunday dinner from the moment we arrived in Texas when I was nine. My dad was a pretty good cook, and his skills on the wok to make fried rice were second-to-none, but making barbecue at home just wasn’t in his backyard bag of tricks, so we would get it to go from a local chain.

Walking into the restaurant, the aromatic bouquet that enveloped me instantly made my mouth water. Sometimes I would choose the freshly carved smoked turkey, occasionally it was a saucy slab of baby back ribs, while other times I decided on spicy jalapeno sausage. However, my favorite of all was the brisket: smoky, salty, and savory with a peppery bark, it was truly love at first bite. As I look back on those times, I believe that’s when I truly wanted to learn how to make my own barbecue.

While I didn’t start in earnest until about ten years ago, most people know how much I love to barbecue in my backyard. Affectionately called the “Back Forty,” smoking meat while listening to music and enjoying a cocktail is my reward at the end of a long week. I take a great deal of pride in my cooking and freely share the bounty with my family and friends, but it wasn’t always that way.

As a cook, I am almost entirely self-taught. Of course, I’ve picked up things from my bride (who is a great cook in her own right), but I’ve really learned by researching and doing. Unfortunately, this has meant that there have been times – many times – that the barbecue I made was flat-out horrible. I’ve over smoked a pork butt to the point it tasted like an ashtray. I’ve overcooked a chuck roast (or, as I refer to it, a chuckie) to a sawdust-like dryness. I’ve used the wrong wood (mesquite) on common yardbird, causing it just to taste wrong. Heck, I’ve screwed up brisket so many ways I still have white-knuckle moments while cooking it. However, each of those bad cooks taught me something:

  • The over smoked pork butt taught me that light blue smoke was tasty while billowing white smoke is acrid

  • The overcooked chuckie showed me the importance of temperature control – both in the smoker and in the meat itself

  • Using the wrong wood on the chicken directed me to pay attention to the different, frequently subtle flavors particular woods impart on various meats

  • The bad brisket cooks have trained me to pay attention to the smallest of details as they will impact the final product

I share all of this to say that I had to make lousy barbecue – and a lot of it – before I consistently made good barbecue. Of course, it would be much easier to pick up barbecue at a local restaurant, but I’m not one to settle for “less than.” This is no different when marketing your company in creative and innovative ways: you have to get through the bad ideas – the ones that are derivative, off-brand, or just flat out dreadful – to get to the good ones. This patience to avoid the easy path of settling for something you know is inferior and plow past the lousy campaigns to something better moves you from average to extraordinary.

Trust me, I still make bad barbecue on occasion – just ask Kelsey Cunningham about the tenderness of the beef ribs I made last year. Likewise, I still have horrible creative ideas from time to time, which you can also ask my business partner about. However, I know that the road to better barbecue and more effective marketing is paved by the willingness to take risks and the refusal to settle for good enough. That’s a road I will gladly take over and over again.

Despite my continued efforts, I don’t believe I’ll ever master barbecuing – especially my beloved brisket. However, I relish in the process because I’m starving to be a better cook and learning from ones that don’t quite pass muster is the only way to serve truly outstanding barbecue. In anything, the best way to get better is to simply do, learn by your mistakes, and press forward.


When it comes to your marketing, are you just as hungry?

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