beef brisket at Camp Brisket
Camp Brisket brings together world-class meat scientists and legendary barbecue pitmasters. (Photo: Kelly Yandell)

AUSTIN, Texas – Only in the big, bold state of Texas would a team of world-class meat scientists come together with legendary barbecue pitmasters to share the science, technology and techniques behind successfully cooking one of the least tender beef muscle cuts on the carcass.

The inaugural Camp Brisket was held in 2010 at Texas A&M Univ. in College Station, Texas. The university’s meat science section continues to host the annual event each January in conjunction with Foodways Texas and the Univ. of Texas, Austin. Leading the meat science contingency at the university is the Ph.D.-carrying trio now known as “The three brisketeers:” Jeff Savell, Ray Riley and Davey Griffin. The event typifies the rich history of Texas and the prominent role of food in that history, which is at the heart of Foodways Texas.

During the introductions for Camp Brisket 2017, it quickly became apparent that the attendees, totaling about 60 people, seated in the theater style classroom in the Rosenthal Meat Science and Technology Center, were giddy about the opportunity to be part of the annual event. In its fifth year, organizers recently switch to a lottery system of awarding about 60 seats to the coveted two-day, $500 class. In previous years, online class registration would routinely sellout in a matter of seconds. Hundreds of those who didn’t make the cut would spend the ensuing weeks begging for an exception from the event organizers, mostly Savell and Foodways Texas Executive Director, Marvin Bendele, bribe and pitch heart-wrenching reasons for why they should be squeezed in, many of whom would call the event’s organizers and beg to be shoehorned in. MEAT+POULTRY got a front-row seat, quite literally among the chosen ones for the 2017 event, which has developed a cult-like fan base. Incidentally, the next lottery winners will be announced in August.

Aaron Franklin, Franklin BBQ
Aaron Franklin, founder of Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, says consistent size makes a difference in the brisket-cooking process.

Master of the pit

Founder of the iconic, Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, Aaron Franklin is regarded as a brisket guru by most people in the world of barbecue. He plays an active and informative role during each Camp Brisket and attendees hang on his every word. His appreciation and understanding of all the factors that go into the production of cattle and how they impact the quality attributes of the brisket become clear from the beginning, when he selects the most desirable briskets for his restaurant.

“I want the one that has a pretty wide flat to it,” he said, “and that changes throughout the year depending on how the harvest is, how the cows are looking, what the weather was like and what they were fed and even their age. But in a perfect world I want a wide and really thick flat,” he said, to allow for sufficient trimming before the cooking process. At Franklin’s, where hundreds of briskets are cooked overnight and sliced and served each day, consistent size makes a difference in each step of the process. Taste, texture and tenderness can vary dramatically inside the same cooker at the same time based on nothing more than their size and shape.

Taking roll

The 2017 class included attendees from diverse walks of life and whose reasons were just as varied. Some traveled from all corners of the globe to be a part of the event. This year’s class included backyard and competitive barbecue whose day jobs ran the gamut while others were restaurant operators wanting to learn more about brisket. Sitting side by side were IT professionals, attorneys, a nurse, a physics student, a physician and a surgeon, a rancher, a CPA, a railroad worker, retired salesmen, restaurant operators and many others in pursuit of what many consider barbecue’s Holy Grail: cooking the perfect brisket.

Read the rest of this story and other barbecue-related features in the June issue of MEAT+POULTRY.