The Best BBQ

A comparison of two approaches to selling BBQ; there must be some connection to teaching.

On a recent visit home (Texas), I decided I needed to have a good meal (which means BBQ). In discussing this with my sister, her response was a place we had gone to since I was a kid (Angelo’s) announcing that it was ‘The only BBQ in Fort Worth’ (which, of course, is not true, this being Texas, etc.). So we went, and it was really good.

But, here’s what I noticed. When I ordered the Beef Plate (Texas BBQ = Brisket), except for my drink, that was my only choice in the matter. I didn’t get asked which sauce I wanted, which sides, or what type of bread. I did notice that those ordering a Beef Sandwich (sliced or chopped) did get some say on the pickles, onions and mustard that are usually offered, and I probably could have asked for some substitutions. For my meal, the sauce did come on the side, so I guess I had an option of yes/no on the sauce, but the sides were beans and coleslaw and the bread was two slices of white bread (should have been Mrs. Baird’s Bread, but I didn’t check). I know I said this, but it was really good. The sauce was so good that I used the bread I had left to soak up some, and then what little was left after that, I drank. They’ve been in business since 1958, and show up on the ‘Best of’ lists regularly, so the folks at Angelo’s know what they are doing.

As a contrast, returning home (Tennessee) I read a review of a new BBQ place in town. The reviewer discussed all the options: several sides to choose from, 3 different breads (including Texas toast), and at least 5 sauces. Part of this is location, we’re caught between Memphis and the Carolina’s, each with a distinctive BBQ style, plus we’re Southern, and so sides are a concept all to their own. The multiple options is typical of BBQ places in town.

Both approaches are successful. People do like choice. Some like sweet sauces, some like ‘tangy’, some like slaw, some like potato salad. Personally, I like greens (with anything) and not-sweet cornbread. But people also want the best and the trust experts to produce that. I wouldn’t go to a multi-star/James Beard/award-winning restaurant and micro-manage how my meal was put together.  If the chef says that the garlic-mashed potatoes go with the seared tuna, that’s what I’ll have.

So what does this have to do with teaching? It feels like the distinction between teacher-centered and student-centered learning or direct instruction and discovery learning. Are teachers “Sage on the Stage” or “Learning Facilitators”? Maybe this says something about maturity: if you haven’t had BBQ before, limited or no options would be better, but then once you’ve developed some experience and have determined your ‘taste’ for BBQ, then a place with options would let you optimize your experience. Early on students would need more direction, but once they have figured some things out, they might be read for some options.

There’s also an interesting connection if you think about a large group going to eat BBQ, with some being more mature and some less. In a place with options, the ‘experts’ will often help the less-experience negotiate the options, or the less-experienced will just go with ‘whatever she/he’s having’.  What does this say about a typical class with a mix of maturities?

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