Low and Slow: Why Advertising and Texas Barbecue Are All About Process
I joined Swash Labs in late June. Before Swash, I had never worked at an ad agency. Except for my experiences as a consumer and collaborating with marketing teams at previous jobs, I’m basically a baby in the advertising world.
I am not, however, a baby in the Texas barbecue world. Like most lifelong Texans, I’ve eaten brisket, ribs, and “hot guts” (slang for sausage) as long as I can remember. A few years ago, I took my Texas ’cue connoisseur status to the next level and started learning how to become a pitmaster.
Why am I talking about cooking meat with wood smoke on a blog about advertising? Because I’ve realized barbecue and advertising have something in common — there are many ways to do them well, but there are zero ways to do them fast or easy.
Any Texan knows that brisket is the Crown Jewel of Texas barbecue. When a brisket is done right, I don’t know if there’s anything I enjoy eating more. But it takes a deep understanding of the cut you’re working with and the method you use if you want to avoid turning your meat into a smokey hunk of shoe leather.
I’d been smoking briskets for maybe a year before I ate one at Franklin Barbecue in Austin. Aaron Franklin is probably the most famous name in Texas barbecue for a reason. His brisket is LEGIT. Did my wife and I wait in line 4 ½ hours to eat his ’cue? Yes we did. Would we do it again? Absolutely. Once I’d had his brisket, I decided that whatever he was doing was how I would do it from then on.
Thankfully, Aaron is incredibly transparent about his method. I’ll give you the condensed version:
Start a fire of pure Post Oak in the firebox.
Coarsely grind some peppercorns and mix with an equal proportion of kosher salt (aka “S&P”).
Trim the brisket to a level some have labeled as “obsessive” or even “extreme.” I trim as much as two pounds off of a brisket depending on its size (don’t worry, I save most of the scraps for sausage).
Cover the brisket with S&P and put it in the smoker once the temperature is just right in the cook chamber (usually, 225 °F to 250 °F). Since I’ve cooked one hundred or so briskets, I generally know when it’s where it needs to be by the smoke coming out of the stack.
Now that the easy part is done, the 12-to-18 hour process of cooking a brisket begins. “Low and slow” is used ad nauseam to describe the barbecue process. Cooking a massive “inferior” cut of meat like beef brisket or pork shoulder requires an exhaustive marathon cook at low temperatures in order to render the fat and connective tissue. This is what makes the meat juicy and tender. Too hot and too fast will leave you with brisket that is burned on the outside and excessively chewy on the inside.
Somewhere during the cook (it’s different for every brisket), you hit a point pitmasters call “the stall” when the brisket approaches the range of 160°F to 180°F internal temp. A number of scientific factors contribute to “the stall.” Once it’s there, without some form of aid, your brisket won’t make the last 20°F to 30°F for SEVERAL hours. That’s when I reach for my trusty butcher paper, wrap the brisket neatly in a couple layers, and put it back in the smoker. By trapping the heat while still allowing the brisket to breathe, the butcher paper helps me hit the desired internal temp of around 200°F in 4 to 5 hours instead of 7 to 8 hours.
Once the brisket hits the desired internal temp, pull it and rest it for an hour or so.
Slice it in an equally-obsessive method employed during the initial trimming so every slice is just right.
As mentioned, the steps above have been heavily condensed for brevity and clarity. Most of the time when I serve a brisket at a party and someone asks me how I do it, they either stop me or stop listening around the point where I get to butcher paper and say, “Well, anyway, it’s really good!”
So far, my observations of my fellow Swashers have led me to understand that running a successful ad campaign and helping a business build their brand is every bit as process-driven and time-consuming as cooking a brisket. Truthfully, it’s way more labor-intensive and just as difficult to shortcut or cheat.
Once a potential client reaches out to us, our process begins.
We discuss the project internally and identify the brand’s potential strengths and weaknesses. We look at their website and social media to identify what areas need attention. We give them a Statement of Work outlining what we believe the campaign should look like and what we recommend they hire us to accomplish.
After a client has signed on with us, we typically send them a survey to investigate their own perceptions of their brand, as well as their hopes and dreams. We put together a plan built around matching our services to those hopes and dreams. Once that plan is approved, we put great care into making sure that each step is done right and meets client expectations — all while staying within a set of established brand guidelines. Rarely is there a client that doesn’t have some aspect of their campaign attended to by every department at Swash Labs. We even have monthly client meetings (aka “Co-Labs”) through the course of a campaign to ensure that they see what we’ve done and what it has done for them.
From running social media ad campaigns to building a website from the ground up, the Swash team has learned the right way to do marketing, branding, and advertising. And we’ve also learned that, while there may be a few ways to do something right, cheating and shortcuts don’t work.
In short, a properly-crafted advertising campaign is a lot like a properly-smoked brisket. If you take care of it and follow all the right steps in the process, you end up with something you can be proud of and something consumers will love. If you skip steps or speed up the process, you end up with a final product that no one, not even yourself, will appreciate: Dense, overcooked, and unfit for consumption.