Jess Pryles

Meat nerdery: attending BBQ Summer Camp

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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.

For more information on BBQ Camp, visit Foodways Texas. Missed out on tickets? Follow Dr Savell’s step by step instructions for building your own whole hog cinder block pit at home.

L-R: Bryan Bracewell of Southside Market, Israel Campos of Pody's BBQ, Kent Black of Black's BBQ, Ryan Zboril of Pitts & Spitts, Dr Jeff Savell.
L-R: Bryan Bracewell of Southside Market, Israel Campos of Pody’s BBQ, Kent Black of Black’s BBQ, Ryan Zboril of Pitts & Spitts, Dr Jeff Savell.
Martin's Place barbecue in Bryan, TX
Martin’s Place barbecue in Bryan, TX
Old brick indoor pits at Martin's Place
Old brick indoor pits at Martin’s Place
Burning logs turn to coals in the pit at Martin's Place
Burning logs turn to coals in the pit at Martin’s Place
An old football helmet covered in ash & soot sits untouched in the pit room at Martin's Place
An old football helmet covered in ash & soot sits untouched in the pit room at Martin’s Place
Brisket ready for cutting, Martin's Place
Brisket ready for cutting, Martin’s Place
Pork rib rack, Martin's Place
Pork rib rack, Martin’s Place
The well-worn countertops at Martin's Place
The well-worn countertops at Martin’s Place
Tom Perini, of Perini Ranch, loads up on lunchtime barbecue
Tom Perini, of Perini Ranch, loads up on lunchtime barbecue
L-R: Tom Perini, Lance Kirkpatrick, Kent Black, Bryan Bracewell, Nick Nickelson, Russell Roegels and Israel Campos talking wood & smoke
L-R: Tom Perini, Lance Kirkpatrick, Kent Black, Bryan Bracewell, Nick Nickelson, Russell Roegels and Israel Campos talking wood & smoke
Students assemble to create their own custom spice rubs
Students assemble to create their own custom spice rubs
seasoning the pork ribs
seasoning the pork ribs
The whole hog is injected in class in preparation for cooking
The whole hog is injected in class in preparation for cooking
Briskets on the pit at Dr Savell's house
Briskets on the pit at Dr Savell’s house
Dr Jeff Savell addresses the class
Dr Jeff Savell addresses the class
Pork Butts care of Dr Davey Griffin
Pork Butts care of Dr Davey Griffin
Whole hog preparing to be placed into the cinder block pit
Whole hog preparing to be placed into the cinder block pit
Beef sides are pushed along the rail into class for the anatomy overview
Beef sides are pushed along the rail into class for the anatomy overview
Finished pulled pork awaiting tasting
Finished pulled pork awaiting tasting
Dr Davey Griffin and porcine friend
Dr Davey Griffin and porcine friend
Dr Savell uses a scimitar-style knife to slice the cooked brisket
Dr Savell uses a scimitar-style knife to slice the cooked brisket

By Jess Pryles

Jess Pryles is a full fledged Hardcore Carnivore. She’s a cook, writer, and TV personality specializing in red meat, with penchant for grilling and bourbon. She's also a respected authority on Texas & competition style barbecue. Born in Australia, she now resides in Austin, Texas.

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