Note: This is a great article by Greg Morago of the Houston Chronicle about Camp Brisket held in January, 2014.
Greg Morago, Food Editor, Houston Chronicle
Nobody sets out to make just OK smoked brisket. But ask anyone who has tried to barbecue the notoriously difficult cut of beef, and they’ll tell you the many ways brisket can go wrong. Temperature, seasoning, type of wood smoke, cooking time and even the amount of fat trimmed before it hits the pit are variables that, when improperly applied, can take brisket down myriad dead ends. The path to even average barbecued brisket, it seems, is full of good intentions.
But when brisket is good – when the art of barbecue converges with the science of smoke and heat – it is a glorious, life-changing thing. To take one of the lowest cuts of beef and transform it into that melt-in-the-mouth pinnacle of Texas cuisine is the holy grail of barbecue; it’s that elusive thing that every smoke-soaked barbecue practitioner chases.
And getting there could take a lifetime.
Or it could be as easy as enrolling in Camp Brisket. A collaboration between Foodways Texas (an organization dedicated to preserving Texas food culture) and the meat-science faculty of Texas A&M University, Camp Brisket is an intensive two-day study in every aspect of barbecue brisket – from the hoof to the plate. When tickets went on sale last summer, the event sold out in five hours. Only 58 students, who paid $500 each, got into the class held recently at A&M.
Students of ‘cue came from throughout the country – Washington, North Carolina, Arizona and Colorado. But the majority were from Texas, many from Houston. Some were restaurateurs and wannabe pitmasters, some competition barbecuers, some dedicated weekend smokers. And some just came to have fun.
But what united them all was the love of Central Texas-style barbecue, specifically brisket, which many consider the state’s quintessential food. It’s certainly the state’s buzziest food, given the recent spike in interest in Texas barbecue. As Jeff Savell, professor of meat science at A&M’s animal science department, put it: Texas has three food groups – barbecue, chicken fried steak and Tex-Mex.
“Nobody is standing in line for chicken fried steak and Tex-Mex,” he correctly observed. “But they are for barbecue.”