8 Things Smoking and Business Have in Common

8 Things Smoking and Business Have in Common

First things first, we’re talking about meat here. I, like many other good Americans, love great barbecue. A while back, I decided to try smoking my own meat. I bought a smoker read a book, watched a ton of YouTube videos and finally got started. I have since turned out some pretty awesome barbecue!  

The process of making great barbecue takes a lot of time, it gives you some time to think. One day, while I was waiting in anticipation on a pork shoulder to finish cooking I thought about how making good barbecue is similar to running a business.

Know Your Obstacles

A key to being successful, at anything, is knowing what you are up against. I had never barbecued before, but I knew that people have been smoking meat for thousands of years. There was no sense in my trying to figure it out on my own and risk ruining a piece of meat, or worse getting sick!

If you haven’t smoked a large piece of meat before, you are most likely not familiar with something called “The Stall.” At some point in your cooking, the internal temperature of your meat will be stagnant… for hours. If you don’t expect it, you will certainly think something is very wrong or your thermometer is broken, but it is perfectly normal!

Before I even bought a smoker, I had watched hours of videos about the process of smoking meat. I bought a book about how to barbecue. I learned about the different fuels, smokers, thermometers, how to trim the meat, etc. Because I took the time to get every piece of advice before I started I ended up with a pretty decent pork shoulder on my first try.

Before I decided to start my own business I read many books (thanks Jim Collins) and got advice from the mentors in my life. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home where my dad was a small business owner. I was able to see what it took to run a business, the challenges and ultimately that success was possible. I had a good idea of the challenges that would come up because I saw it first hand as a child.

No Shortcuts

The thing about barbecue is you are taking a less desired piece of meat and turning it into a masterpiece through the magic of smoke and time. If you cook a pork shoulder, or brisket, in an oven for a couple of hours and serve it for dinner, well… I hope you have a pizza on the way. If, instead, you smoke it for 8-12 hours, you’ll end up with God’s gift to mankind.

There are no shortcuts to making great barbecue. You have to follow a process and be patient to get the results you want. I have found that every time I tried to take a shortcut in my life, it just ended up costing me more time and money in the end. I have since decided to stop taking shortcuts!

The time and effort we spend trying to avoid work could easily be used in just doing the work in the first place. We end up with a better result in a shorter timeframe.

Trust the Process

If there is one thing you can learn from barbecue, it is that you have to trust the process. The saying goes, “If you’re lookin’, you ain’t cooking’." If you constantly check up on the meat while it’s smoking, you can add up to thirty minutes to your cook time each time you lift the lid. You have to trust the process to get the results you are after. It is your job to create the right environment for your meat to cook, after that, just let nature take its course.

If you are fortunate enough to have employees, you can’t micromanage them. If you are constantly asking them when a project will be done, it just makes it take longer because they have to deal with you instead of working on their assignment. As a leader, it is your job to create an environment where your team can be successful. Give them clear communication, the right tools, and your support, and you will be amazed at the work they will do.

Consistency is Key

Making great barbecue requires consistency. It is important to have a consistent rub on the meat, consistent meat quality, and most importantly, consistent cook temperature.

Your team and clients need you to be consistent and dependable. As the leader, your team has to know where you stand and what to expect from you. They need to know that you have their back in tough situations, and you need to depend on them to get the job done right. Without consistency we are left with chaos, and chaos doesn’t taste good.

Keep it Simple

I love simplicity. I love it in my food, my business, and my life. It is my opinion that the beauty of barbecue exists in its simplicity. What many people contend is the best brisket in the world is served in Austin, Texas by Mr. Aaron Franklin. I have personally never had the pleasure of having some myself, but it is certainly on my bucket list. Aaron has let people in on his secret too. The ingredients for his world-class brisket are simple: USDA Prime beef brisket, salt, pepper, and smoke.

In business it is much harder to keep things simple than complex. Simplicity doesn’t allow you to hide behind a mountain of details. One of my favorite quotes comes from Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Success comes in simplicity, just do it right and keep it simple.

It’s Okay to Make Mistakes

While it is important to do your research, many of us can fall victim to analysis paralysis. In the end, the most important thing for you to do is give it a shot. There are just some things that you need to do for yourself to learn. You may not get it right the first try, but keep at it. I always say, "It’s ok to make mistakes, just don’t make the same one twice."

In a creative environment, it is very important for people to develop new ideas and know that it is ok if they aren’t good. Fact is, most of the ideas aren’t very good, but the few that are make a huge impact. If your team is afraid to make mistakes, they will be hesitant to take risks and develop new ideas. No risk, no reward.

Be You

Barbecue is as diverse as the people who make it. There are different techniques of smoking the meat, serving the meat, different sauce and rub types. If you ask someone in North Carolina how to make good barbecue, you will certainly get a different answer from the person in Texas. Neither of these people would be wrong, because both types of barbecue are delicious! If everyone stuck to the same rules we would be missing out on some great food.

While there are many principles in barbecue, there are very few rules. In my business experience I have found the same to be true. I personally hate articles like “5 characteristics all leaders share”. I think success in business and leadership comes in countless forms. Look at Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. These men started in the same industry at about the same time and both became unbelievably successful, but they could not be more different in personality and leadership style. Bottom line, while you should stick to the principles, don’t rob the business world of your ideas, be you.

Relax and Have Fun

At the end of the day, it is important not to take yourself too seriously. We all have only one life and I certainly don’t want to live mine up tight and worried about failing. Business and barbecue are both things that I really enjoy, and have a lot of fun with. Don’t be afraid to have a good time and relax. In the end, you might just end up with a successful business, some great barbecue, and friends to enjoy it with.


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