The seventh 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 4-5, 2019 at the Rosenthal Meat Center and the Beef Cattle Center at the O.D. Butler Animal Science Complex. About 70 participants from around the U.S., United Kingdom, and New Zealand embarked on a journey to learn more about the ultimate challenge preparing that most difficult dish of Texas Barbecue cuisine, the brisket.
This year’s 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, and staff including Wade Baty, Hayden Blumberg, Kyle Caldwell, Morgan Foster, Clayton Garrett, Eric Hamilton, Brogan Horton, Jenna Hunt, Ty Robertson, Trent Schwartz, Chandler Steele, Holly Sanders, and Wilsey Wendler. These great folks ensured that the needs of the briskets, pitmasters, and guests were attended to through the camp.
Marvin Bendele, Foodways Texas, welcomed the participants to Camp Brisket. 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.
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 use and anatomy
The first talks were by Jess Pryles, cook, writer, and TV personality, on the difference between restaurant and competition brisket, and Davey Griffin, on the anatomy and trimming of a brisket.
Knife selection and cooked brisket slicing
Proper knife use and sharpening was covered by Jeff Savell before a demonstration on slicing cooked briskets was conducted.
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, Chairman’s Reserve, 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 restaurant-style coarse-ground black pepper. The briskets for the grade/type demonstration were cooked on Russell Roegels of Roegels Barbecue pit with John Brotherton of Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue and others managing the cooking cycle. B&B Charcoal provided the oak logs as the source of heat and smoke.
Speaking of B&B Charcoal, thanks to Joey Machado and the company for providing all of the wood (oak, hickory, mesquite, and pecan), chunk charcoal, briquettes, and char-logs for the use in the camp. We are so pleased that B&B Charcoal and Joey contributed these products for the pitmasters and us to use to cook briskets with.
Each grade/type of brisket was sliced so that each participant received a lean portion 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 Wagyu won, with the other grades/types being rating similarly. Last year, all of the briskets were rated the same. 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 discussion
Ray Riley gave a beef grading demonstration talking about the USDA beef grades, and Davey Griffin talked about various certification programs so that the participants would know more about the various labels and brands associated with the meat they purchase.
Wood and Smoke panel
There was a Wood and Smoke panel at the end of the afternoon featuring Jeff Savell as the moderator, Bill Dumas, The Switch; Kevin Kolman, Weber Grills; Tom Perini, Perini Ranch Steakhouse; Joe Riscky, Joe Riscky’s Barbeque; and Homer Robertson, World Champion Chuck Wagon competitor and Fort Worth Fire Department leader. Post oak is the featured wood for Texas Barbecue based on its abundance and how the smoke complements beef. The panel 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. Israel Campos from Pody’s BBQ in Pecos provided the main meal with brisket and pulled pork and wonderful sides and with Homer Robertson, world champion chuck wagon competitor, provided bread pudding and apple crisp for the crowd. We thank Robert Sierra for coming up to help out with the evening’s dinner. 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 Prime 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.
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 made with sausage and brisket from Homer Robertson, Ty Robertson, JArthur Garcia, Joel Phillips, and Joe Riscky, 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 and Tootsie Tomenetz, Snow’s BBQ about cooking over direct coals.
Pit design and maintenance panel
A pit design and maintenance panel was composed of Arnis Robbins, Evie Mae’s BBQ; Kerry Bexley, Snow’s BBQ; Wayne Mueller, Louie Mueller Barbecue; Bryan Bracewell, Southside Market and Barbeque; Sunny Moberg, Moberg Smokers; Ryan Zboril, Pitts and Spitts; 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 spent some time going over different seasonings outside of the normal use of salt and pepper. Jeff Savell 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 four-way tie among oak, hickory, mesquite, and pecan. Most years, either oak or hickory wins this competition, but we are amazed that there are really few differences in how the participants rate these briskets cooked with different woods/smokes.
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 Brandon Allen, Tejas Chocolate Craftory; Bryan Bracewell; Russell Roegels; Wayne Mueller; John Brotherton; Domenic Colbert, Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue; and Tootsie Tomanetz. 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 was a comparison of wrapped versus unwrapped briskets. There was no difference between wrapped and unwrapped briskets. 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.