By: Kelly Yandell, via The Meaning of Pie
As luck would have it, I recently found myself in the lobby of a hotel in College Station, TX, having secured a coveted seat for Camp Brisket. A few years ago, I went on for several linear feet about the joys of the BBQ Summer Camp put on by Foodways Texas and the Texas A&M Meat Sciences Center. Now I will wax sentimental about this sister-camp dedicated to that quintessential Texas smoked meat, brisket. Buckle up, friends, this is a long one.
Not just a few jokes have been made during the Foodways Texas BBQ events about how lovely it is that a group based out of the University of Texas should come together in such an ecumenical fashion with a bunch of Aggies to throw a meat party. But that is precisely what it is. And, Brisket Camp is an offshoot of BBQ Summer Camp devoted entirely to the art and science of, and devotion to, this one cut of meat. Apparently the greatest of rivalries can take a few days off when BBQ is concerned.
I bumped into Robb Walsh, a founder of Foodways Texas, in the lobby and we decided that the best way to begin two days of eating little other than brisket was to hustle out to a seafood spot and eat something aquatic. Over oysters and other things, we caught up on life and his upcoming book on one of my other favorite food groups, chili. And a whole group it is, as you will learn…but that is a talk for another day.
Thursday morning, people began showing up at the Meat Science Building well before sunrise. As usual, the students in the Meat Science program had been working far earlier than we ever considered awakening, and pits were already fired up. I showed up a few minutes early and got a tour of the mobile smoker of Russell Roegels, who most recently served a ton of brisket to the secret service who were guarding Texas parachutist George Bush, Sr. during a recent hospital visit. Yes, that one. I was fortunate enough to get a peek at the pepper crusted briskets slowly cooking inside the mobile smoker, and started the day smelling like a proper Texan.
I said my hellos to our truly lovely hosts and educators, Dr. Jeff Savell, Dr. Davey Griffin, and Ray Riley and found a seat handy enough for taking photos. And then the interesting folks started pouring in, as happens at all of these Foodways Texas events. First was notable Houston chef and all around nice guy, Randy Evans. We met at last year’s symposium and I was happy to catch up on his latest culinary work, as well as stories about his kiddos. He is doing some very interesting consulting work and you should check out Recipe for Success, a cooking and nutrition program he works with, teaching cooking skills to local elementary school kids. That is a pretty karmically sound way to give back with your talents, I’d say.
Know this: to the extent I write here with an air of confidence about my subject matter, I am merely repeating the copious amounts of information I gleaned from others. And I’ve likely screwed some of that up.
Dr. Savell started us off with a big “Howdy,” as is his habit. I like it. None of my professors ever led off with a “Howdy” and I’m glad I get a chance to come back to school, albeit BBQ school with no midterms or grades, to get that kind of a welcome. Note to all academic sorts, try a “Howdy” next time instead of that whole icy intimidating stare thing of which you are all so fond. Maybe then you also can have a chair and a state of adoring graduates, as do these gentlemen.
Dr. Savell went on to tell us how the BBQ classes developed at A&M, that the separation anxiety of college freshman could be as profound as the loss of a parent, and that having a few small, not so serious classes, where students could bond over things like BBQ and baseball actually made a difference in retention at the university. When a 4:00p.m. Friday class is packed with students, you know you have hit a chord, he shared. From that grew this BBQ curriculum, if you will, and now we elder statesmen are the beneficiaries of a great idea.
“Most of you have mastered pulled pork, correct?
Most of you haven’t mastered brisket, correct? And that is why you are here.”
“Yes, sir.” we responded. And so it began.
Dr. Savell took the time to let us all introduce ourselves, and it was not a small group. He said it is important for people to know who you are. He stated, “We are bonded.” And we are, in a sense, by this common love of an iconic Texas cut, oft misunderstood, and chronically poorly prepared. But more than that, hearing how each of us ended up here, what we do, who brought us here…increases our respect for each other and the process. Of this group which included doctors, lawyers, oil and gas professionals, authors, restaurateurs, competition cooks, chefs…so many noted that they were here to learn, to do better, to improve…to celebrate BBQ.
Said Daniel Vaughn, the BBQ Editor at Texas Monthly, “Every time I’m in this room, I end up learning something,” to which Ray Riley responded with pitch perfect timing, “It’s a classroom.” It was hilarious. But all joking aside, Daniel and Ray are right. I don’t care who you are or how good you think you are, if the likes of Daniel Vaughn, Aaron Franklin, Randy Evans, Robb Walsh, Bryan Bracewell, Wayne Mueller, a whole handful of Goode Company managers and chefs, plus surgeons, chemists, etc. are here in this particular classroom to not only share knowledge, but to LEARN, you know there is some good stuff in the air. I’ll happily ask a million questions. I’ll happily sop it all up with a slice of white bread, and take home what I can…and share a little of the collective knowledge with you.
To view photos and the rest of the story, click here.
For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, please contact Courtney Coufal at firstname.lastname@example.org or (979) 845-1542.