The eighth Camp Brisket, a joint venture between Foodways Texas and the Meat Science program of the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University, was held on January 10-11, 2020 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., Australia, Norway, South Korea, Mexico, and Canada 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, Sarah Bludau, Hayden Blumberg, Brenyn Burkholder, Kyle Caldwell, Shelley Curry, Morgan Foster, Forest Francis, Ashley Fuqua, Clayton Garrett, Kaylee Greiner, Ayleen Gonzalez, Madison Matlock, Kalee McCann, Holly Sanders, Trent Schwartz, Stayci Seaquist, and Ryan Yeatts. Special thanks to Eric Hamilton and Thomas Larriviere for helping with the camp. 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. With each camp, this process takes longer, but we know that many people enjoyed getting to know who all was there.
Two important members of the Texas Barbecue community were in attendance for the beginning of Camp Brisket: Kerry Bexley and Tootsie Tomanetz of Snow’s BBQ. We appreciate that they were able to come for a short time before they had to go back home to begin cooking for their Saturday opening.
Brisket procurement and trimming
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). We were blessed to have John Brotherton, Dominic Colbert, and Alanmykal Jackson of Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue of Pfluegerville and Alton Matthews of The Dawgfatha’s BBQ working with Davey Griffin and our students to get the briskets ready to go. Daniel Genho of Bettcher Industries brought some of the Bettcher Whizard knives for everyone to try out to see how they liked using these trimming devices rather than hand knives.
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. John Brotherton joined Davey in showing the participants how he trims briskets before cooking. We thank Jess for arranging support from Kingsford Charcoal for providing products for the camp.
Knife selection and cooked brisket slicing
Proper knife use and sharpening was covered by Jeff Savell before a demonstration by John Brotherton 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. We used oak logs as the source of heat and smoke.
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. This was the same findings from last year. 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.
We thank A BAR N Ranch for providing the Wagyu briskets again this year for the taste comparisons.
Wood and Smoke panel
There was a Wood and Smoke panel in the afternoon featuring Daniel Vaughn, Barbecue Editor of Texas Monthly magazine as the moderator, Daniel Bennett, Diva BBQ; Dr. Nick Nickelson, The Meat Board; Homer Robertson, World Champion Chuck Wagon competitor and Fort Worth Fire Department leader; Kevin Kolman, Weber Grills; and Jeff Savell. 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.
Beef grading discussion
Ray Riley gave a beef grading demonstration talking about the USDA beef grades so that the participants would know more about the various labels and brands associated with the meat they purchase.
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. Brad Doan and family with 1775 Texas Pit Barbecue provided the main meal with brisket, sausages, and wonderful sides and with Homer Robertson, world champion chuck wagon competitor, provided bread pudding and apple crisp for the crowd. The food was enjoyed by all!
We thank Frank Mancuso and Ryan Skillman from Saint Arnold Brewing Company for providing the great refreshments for the meals. We also thank Fontana Coffee Roasters and R.C. Tortorice for providing coffee and tea for the weekend.
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.
We thank Larry Lewis from A.N. Bewley Fabricators for providing two of his units for the overnight cook along with Pat Reardon and Davey Griffin.
To add fun to the evening, a major cold front blew through the area around 10 PM on Friday night with strong winds and rain. The overnight crew survived, but Camp Brisket is well known for having major weather events during the camp.
Chuck wagon breakfast 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 a review of the different types of pits we used to cook with. Thanks to everyone for such a great breakfast experience eating in the cold and enjoying the chuck wagon breakfast.
Pit design and maintenance panel
A pit design and maintenance panel was composed of Arnis Robbins, Evie Mae’s BBQ; Wayne Mueller, Louie Mueller Barbecue; Bryan Bracewell, Southside Market and Barbeque; Sunny Moberg, Moberg Smokers; Ryan Zboril, Pitts and Spitts; 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
Ryan Heger, Adams Extract and Seasoning, 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 briskets smoked with mesquite and pecan were rated among the highest, those smoked with hickory were among the lowest, and those smoked with oak were intermediate. Last year, participants found no differences in preference for the four different smokes used. Most other 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 Arnis Robbins; Bryan Bracewell; Russell Roegels; Wayne Mueller; John Brotherton; Domenic Colbert; Alanmykal Jackson; and Todd David, Cattleack Barbeque. 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 for Misty Roegels, Mallory Robbins, and Debra Reardon for coming to the camp along with their husbands.