The tenth 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 7-8 , 2022 at the Rosenthal Meat Center and the Thomas G. Hildebrand, ’56 DVM Equine Complex. About 100 participants 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, Jade Cooper, and Jeff Savell, and who were assisted by graduate students and undergraduate students including Sydni Borders, Kylie Burriss, Ben Crockett, Shelley Curry, Julie Diebel, Ayleen Gonzalez, Reid Harris, Katie Kendrick, Lauren Lee, Ian Lovell, Karlie Lowe, Thachary Mayer, Mirjam Pearman, Trent Schwartz, Cory Sinkule, Tori Teegarden, and Anna Welch. Special thanks to Thomas Larriviere, McKinney, Texas and to Lauren Larriviere, Hays Middle School and Jackson Larriviere, Rock Hill High School, Frisco, Texas for their help in conducting 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.
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 4:1 volume of course pepper to Kosher salt). John Brotherton, Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue, led the brisket trimming and seasoning effort.
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.
Cooked brisket slicing
Aaron Franklin, Franklin Barbecue and Jeff Savell talked about and demonstrated proper cooked brisket slicing.
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: Snake River Farms’s American Wagyu, Prime, Tyson’s Chairman’s Reserve, 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 a 4:1 ratio by volume of restaurant-style coarse-ground black pepper and Kosher salt. The briskets for the grade/type demonstration were cooked by John Brotherton of Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue on his offset smoker. 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 winners? Chairman’s Reserve, Prime, and The Snake River Farms’ American Wagyu were at the top. 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 and Jade Cooper 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 Hildebrand Equine Complex for the rest of the program. We were blessed to have food from two groups involved with dinner that night. Israel “Pody” Campos from Pody’s BBQ, Pecos, Texas and friends prepared great food along with Homer Robertson, world champion chuck wagon competitor, who provided bread pudding and apple crisp 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 Prime briskets, trimmed and seasoned as mentioned before, for the comparison, and briskets were put on the smokers Friday afternoon so that they would be ready to serve around lunch time on Saturday.
Chuck wagon breakfast
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, JArthur Garcia, Joe Riscky, Joel Phillips, Misty Roegels, and some of the students. Thanks to everyone for such a great breakfast experience enjoying the chuck wagon breakfast.
Participants had a chance to see the different types of pits that were used to cook with. In addition to the pitmasters who were in attendance for the camp, Coy Christoffel, Pitts and Spitts and Jason Pruitt, Weber-Stephen Products, LLC demonstrated various products from their companies.
Pit design and maintenance panel
A pit design and maintenance panel was composed of Arnis Robbins, Evie Mae’s BBQ; Jason Pruitt, Weber-Stephen Products, LLC; Bryan Bracewell, Southside Market and Barbeque; and Ryan Zboril, Pitts and Spitts; Sunny Moberg, Moberg Smokers 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.
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 were no differences among the four woods for sensory panel ratings. In 2019, 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.
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.
One of the topics was whether postmortem aging was necessary for Texas-style briskets. Our works shows that postmortem aging does not improve tenderness of briskets.
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 and Nathan Pier, Evie Mae’s BBQ; Bryan Bracewell, Southside Market and Barbeque; Russell Roegels, Roegels Barbecue; John Brotherton, Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue; Israel “Pody” Campos, Pody’s BBQ; Tuffy Stone, Stick Burner/ Chef, Richmond, Virginia; Luis Rivis, Rivs Smoke & Grill; and Tootsie Tomanetz, Snow’s BBQ. 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. We did not conduct another taste test as 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 and Debra Reardon for coming to the camp along with their husbands.