The fifth Camp Brisket, a joint venture between Foodways Texas and the Meat Science Section of the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University, was held on January 6-7, 2017 at the Rosenthal Meat Center and the Beef Cattle Center at the O.D. Butler Animal Science Complex. About 60 participants from around the U.S. embarked on a journey to learn more about the ultimate challenge preparing that most difficult dish of Texas Barbecue cuisine, the brisket.
Camp Brisket was coordinated by Texas A&M University meat science educators, Davey Griffin, Ray Riley, and Jeff Savell, and who were assisted by graduate students, undergraduate students, staff, and friends and family including Clay Eastwood, Aeriel Belk, Becca Kirkpatrick, Jill Jobe, Spencer Tindel, Baylee Bessire, Jordan Hevner, Adam Murray, Drew Cassens, Courtney Boykin, Crystal Waters, Madalynn Kainer, Katy Jo Nickelson, and Jennifer Willis. These great folks ensured that the needs of the briskets and guests were attended to through the camp.
Greetings and introductions are part of the beginning of each Camp Brisket. Getting to know each other is one way to create community that is so important when we conduct these workshops.
Brisket trimming and seasoning
Before Camp Brisket starts, work begins on procuring the briskets representing different types and grades, trimming them, and applying the salt/pepper seasoning (we used a half and half mix by volume of Kosher salt and course ground pepper with 3/4 cup applied to each brisket). Davey Griffin worked with the grad students to get the briskets ready to go for the camp.
Brisket history, background, and anatomy
The first talks were given by Robb Walsh, noted food and cookbook writer, on history of the use of briskets for Texas Barbecue, Jess Pryles, cook, writer, and TV personality, on the difference between restaurant and competition brisket, and Davey Griffin, on the anatomy of a brisket.
Knife selection, brisket trimming, and cooked brisket slicing
Proper knife use and sharpening was covered by Jeff Savell before a demonstration on trimming raw briskets and slicing cooked briskets was led by Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas.
Tasting different grades of brisket
The first tasting test we did was for different grades of brisket. We obtained five different grades/types of briskets for use in this demonstration: Prime, Certified Angus Beef, Wagyu, Choice, and Select. These briskets and the remaining ones used for the camp were trimmed to have no more than about 1/4 inch of fat remaining anywhere. Each brisket was seasoned with 3/4-cup of a half and half mixture (by volume) of Kosher salt and coarse-ground black pepper. The briskets for the grade/type demonstration were cooked on Russell Roegel’s of Roegels Barbecue pit with John Brotherton of Brotherton BBQ managing the cooking cycle. Oak logs were the source of heat and smoke.
Each grade/type of brisket was sliced so that each participant received a sample to rate on a ballot. When completed, the ballots were tabulated by the students to determine whether the participants could tell the difference in the grades or types of brisket. The winner? The result of the taste test was a tie for first between Prime and Wagyu with Certified Angus Beef, Choice, and Select receiving similar consumer overall like ratings. Each year, this taste comparison usually results in Prime and Wagyu near the top and Select being near the bottom in ratings. There are perceivable differences in eating quality among different grades and types of briskets, and those interested in producing the best cooked briskets possible need to be aware of this.
Beef grading/certification discussion
Davey Griffin and Ray Riley led a discussion and demonstration of beef grading.
— Blair Fannin (@cowhand) January 6, 2017
Wood and Smoke panel
There was a Wood and Smoke panel at the end of the afternoon featuring Daniel Vaughn, Texas Monthly barbecue editor, as the moderator, Lance Kirkpatrick, Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew; Aaron Franklin; Kevin Kolman, Weber Grills; Tom Perini, Perini Ranch Steakhouse; Joe Riscky, Riscky’s Barbecue; Homer Robertson, World Champion Chuck Wagon competitor and Fort Worth Fire Department leader; and Nick Nickelson. Post oak is the featured wood for Texas Barbecue based on its abundance and how the smoke complements beef. Nick Nickelson discussed the topic of using properly seasoned wood to smoke with and how important it was to getting a clean fire that imparts the good aspects of the smoke onto the product. The positives and negatives of the other woods most commonly used in smoking — hickory, mesquite, and pecan — were discussed.
Friday night dinner
We moved to the Beef Center for the rest of the program. We were blessed to have two great people involved with dinner that night. Evan LeRoy from Austin provided the main meal with brisket and beef short ribs from 44 Farms. Homer Robertson, world champion chuck wagon competitor, provided bread pudding and peach cobbler for the crowd. The food was enjoyed by all!
Overnight smoking at Camp Brisket
The next brisket comparison was to smoke briskets overnight using the four primary woods — oak, hickory, mesquite, and pecan. Multiple pits were used for the overnight cooking. We used Choice briskets, trimmed and seasoned as mentioned before, for the comparison, and briskets were put on the smokers around 8 pm on Friday evening so that they would be ready to serve around lunch time on Saturday. Kevin Kolman from Weber Grills started four Weber Smokey Mountain cookers with chunks from the four woods as part of the demonstration.
The staff, students, and family tended to the pits overnight. Temperatures plunged to the upper teens, which continues the trend where weather is a factor at Camp Brisket.
Chuck wagon breakfast, starting fires, and pit discussion
Saturday morning became a time for a great chuck wagon breakfast of biscuits and gravy and breakfast tacos from Homer Robertson, Ty Robertson, Arthur Garcia, and friends, a primer on starting fires in off-set pits and Weber Smokey Mountain cookers, a review of the different types of pits we used to cook with, and a discussion by Homer Robertson, Tom Perini, and Tootsie Tomenetz, Snow’s BBQ about cooking over direct coals.
— Foodways Texas (@foodwaysTX) January 7, 2017
Pit design and maintenance panel
A pit design and maintenance panel was composed of Aaron Franklin; Russell Roegels, Roegels Barbecue; Kerry Bexley, Snow’s BBQ; Wayne Mueller, Louie Mueller Barbecue; Bryan Bracewell, Southside Market and Barbeque; Ryan Zboril, Pitt’s and Spitt’s; Kevin Kolman, with Davey Griffin as the moderator. Each panelist added his own take on what types of pits/cookers they preferred and what they did to make sure they were used to their best ability.
Seasonings and barbecue science
Brandon Burrows, Kerry Ingredients and Jeff Savell spent some time going over different seasonings outside of the normal use of salt and pepper. Jeff discussed some of the science behind meat and barbecue and fielded questions from the crowd regarding a wide array of topics.
Smoke tasting panel
Lunch that day was the tasting of the briskets prepared using the four different smokes — oak, hickory, mesquite, and pecan. Each participant received a small slice of brisket from each smoke and were asked to rate it on 9-point scales. Students tabulated the results, and there was a three-way tie among mesquite, pecan, and hickory with oak being different from mesquite, but not from pecan or hickory. Most years, either oak or hickory wins this competition.
Life as a pitmaster panel
One of the most highly regarded parts of Camp Brisket is the final panel, moderated by Jeff Savell, which featured Russell Roegels, Bryan Bracewell, Aaron Franklin, Wayne Mueller, Evan LeRoy, John Brotherton, Tootsie Tomanetz, Kerry Bexley. The title of the panel was “Life as a Pitmaster,” and it gave each person a time to reflect on their path to where they are now, the challenges and opportunities they each face, and why in this crazy world of barbecue, they love this business so much.
Send off meal
The final meal is a comparison of wrapped versus unwrapped briskets. At this point, we do not collect ballots any more to see who liked what. Most participants are facing “brisket fatigue” at this point, and are ready for something fairly light as they depart.
We end Camp Brisket for this year and know that many people from all walks of life have come together to bond over barbecue in general, but with the common goal of how to tackle the challenge that is the brisket! Thanks to Kelly Yandell, Foodways Texas board member, for coming and taking such great photos and being at the camp to support everyone.
— Jeff Savell (@jsavell) January 8, 2017