Technology (“science of craft”, from Greek τέχνη, techne, “art, skill, cunning of hand”; and -λογία, -logia) is the collection of techniques, skills, methods, and processes used in the production of goods or services or in the accomplishment of objectives, such as scientific investigation. – Wikipedia
These days technology has become synonymous with anything Internet-related, specifically smartphones. It is not for nothing that 7 of the 10 largest companies in the world by market capitalization are technology companies. But technology, as defined above, has a much bigger footprint that we commonly think.
The price of brisket is on the rise. In the age of the Impossible Burger, Beyond Meat and generally tepid beef prices this may come as a bit of a surprise. But something has happened to make it much easier to make a delicious beef brisket these days: technology. Lydia Mulvany and Michael Hirtzer at Bloomberg write:
The beef cut has busted out of Texas and is showing up on restaurant menus all over the country. Advances in barbecue technology are making it easier than ever for amateurs to whip up competition-worthy platters in the backyard. The surge for demand on both fronts has pushed U.S. prices to records, defying a broader slump in livestock markets.
In addition to be added to more restaurant menus, a near-perfect brisket is now within the reach of home cooks. This is saying something because Steven Rachlen, noted barbecue expert and author of the new book The Brisket Chronicles: How to Barbecue, Braise, Smoke and Cure the World’s Most Epic Cut of Meat notes in an excerpt in The Daily Beast there are (at least) 11 steps to achieving “brisket nirvana.”
Times (and technology) have changed, however. Edward Decker from Home Depot is quoted in the Bloomberg article:
“Smoking is tough because you’ve got to get the temperature set in a kamado grill or a cold smoker, offset grill. These new pellet grills are almost unfair. You load up the pellets, you turn it on, and you walk away for nine hours and you have a perfect brisket.”
One of the main purveyors of these types of grills is Traeger. On their website (see below) two of the five reasons why they believe their grills are the best are: “ease” and “consistency.” Compared to what we think of as technology today including stuff like AI and machine learning, burning wood pellets to a set temperature is not rocket science. But it does make a process that was previously time and labor-intensive and by definition inconsistent, predictable and hands-off.
For this reason brisket has become a hot commodity. That and the fact that when cooked expertly it is uniquely delicious. The bigger philosophical question is whether this comfort and convenience is all it is cracked up to be. Fred Wilson writing at A VC talks about how mobile ticketing is an unmitigated good. Wilson writes:
The mobile phone we all have in our pocket or purse can do so many things but one of its superpowers is a point of sale terminal. Increasingly there is no reason to wait in line for tickets to anything. You can just get them on your phone.
The friction inherent in purchasing physical tickets is both annoying and time-consuming. However, who among us doesn’t have a old ticket from a game, concert or museum that holds some nostalgic value. In short, when does the pursuit of ever more streamlined actions begin to make for less meaningful outcomes. Bruce Willen writing at DesignObserver writes:
“Browsing the web” lives on in our lexicon, but less so in our experience. Highly directed and funneled “encounters” have replaced browsing. Powerful search engines, data-driven design, and behavioral psychology offer us illusions of control and accomplishment while constraining our explorations within a shrinking environment of corporate content providers and platforms.
Convenience and productivity, as Willen notes, may feel good, but it has the tendency to detach us from our world and our experience of it. The brisket put into an automated smoker may objectively taste as good, or better, than the one I fussed with all day, but my ultimate experience with the latter is superior.* Another example of this is the canned cocktails trend, i.e. pre-mixed cocktails. Ask yourself, which would taste better: a canned gin-and-tonic or the one a bartender (or friend) made right in front of you?
There is nothing wrong with greater convenience, but in all things in life we need to pick our spots. There is a reason why more than 100 million Americans pay Amazon for the privilege of two-day, soon to be one-day, delivery: convenience. Any number of different types of technology underlie the success of Amazon. Sometimes though it is a relatively simple technology that can reverberate all way from Home Depot to the cattle ranch. Just make sure you recognize the convenience for what is. You never know what can get lost along the way.
*As you can tell I come out on the inconvenience end of the debate when it comes to brisket. I have made more than few on a Big Green Egg. Some of which turned out better than others. I have not read Rachlen’s new book but I did enjoy Aaron Franklin’s book Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto.