Meat nerdery: attending BBQ Summer Camp
Remember the time I visited Texas A&M University and their Meat Science department? I ended up back there this June as a very happy camper. I mean that literally, because I was one of a handful of lucky folks who got to attend the A&M BBQ Summer Camp, which is held in conjunction with Foodways Texas. To get an understanding of just how popular this and their other BBQ program Camp Brisket are: tickets sold out completely in 45 seconds (and bear in mind that they are $600 a piece!).
BBQ Camp is one of the most specialised and intensive three day courses on barbecue that you can find, short of personalised lessons with a single teacher (cough, Myron Mixon, cough). The beauty of BBQ camp, is that you get access to a broad range of different experts and professionals, rather than simply learning the method and ideology of a single person. There are sessions covering wood type, pit/smoker panels, rubs and seasonings, and of course, a scientific take on the most crucial ingredient in barbecue, the meat.
Some portions are taught by the A&M professors themselves, whereas others are a panel of industry authorities, both giving their expert advice and answering questions from the crowd. Interestingly, I wouldn’t describe this course as a place to come and learn how to barbecue, because there was a basic presumption that everyone in the crowd already has some level of experience and exposure to the low’n’slow arts. For example, while we went into the science and details behind marinades, spices and smoke quality, the basics of cook temperatures were not discussed. Many of the expert speakers also had the majority of their experience in commercial cooking, on huge rigs going through huge turnover of cooked meats, and so some of the nuances between the backyard enthusiast questions didn’t always translate.
But see, that’s why I call it meat nerdery. It’s about the in-depth discovery of the craft, getting to talk to fellow meat-fans and having access to academics who can answer very specific questions like why meat behaves in a certain way when cooked, and where exactly a Boston Butt comes from. Scholastic approaches aside, the one thing barbecue camp was not short on was a gluttony of actual barbecued meats.
Here’s the condensed version of the eating schedule: optional welcome dinner at Kreuz’s in Bryan > barbecue lunch at Martin’s Place > dinner at TAMU Beef Center catered by Southside Market > lunch of Pulled Pork seasoned by camp students > second lunch of brisket seasoned by camp students > pre-dinner of beef ribs seasoned by students and cooked by Lance Kirkpatrick of Stiles Switch > cinder block pit cooked whole hog (prepared the day prior in class) > lunch of chicken fajitas and mayo-basted drumsticks.
Certainly, both in detailed knowledge and stomach contentment, BBQ camp does not leave anyone hungry.
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