Camp Brisket
Brisket aficionado and pitmaster Aaron Franklin (left) demonstrates the trimming technique used at his famous restaurant, Franklin Barbecue in Austin, while Texas A&M's Davey Griffin looks on. 

Judges vs. Diners

One of the highlights of the first day’s festivities was a presentation from Jess Pryles, a native Australian, now Texas resident and a self-proclaimed “professional hardcore carnivore.” She identified the specific differences of brisket cooked on the competition circuit vs. that served in a restaurant setting. Pryles shared research and general trends contrasting the most successful competition teams and their brisket-cooking approaches with the same product served in restaurants.

Having surveyed more than a dozen joints in Texas, she found some common threads: Most eateries use grain-fed briskets that are Choice or higher grades that weigh in at about 13 lbs. Additionally, most respondents reported cooking briskets to about 200° to 204° F, after seasoning with only salt and pepper and none of those surveyed said they inject the meat before cooking. Most also said they wrap the briskets during the cooking process using wax-free, butcher-style paper vs. foil.

Notable commonalities among the 10 competition teams surveyed included the use of grain-fed, Snake River Farms Wagyu or Creekstone Farms Prime briskets weighing about 16 to 18 lbs. and all wrap their meat using foil en route to reaching an internal temperature ranging from 198° F to 205° F. All of the competition teams surveyed use injection and none of them claim to use only salt and pepper as a rub.

“Competition brisket is a little like toddler beauty competitions,” Pryles said, referring to the over-the-top efforts among competitors to get judges’ positive attention in a single bite.

Pryles is not only a cook, food writer and TV personality, she has immersed herself in the culture of Texas barbecue and competition cooking as part of her thriving foodie career. She also generously gave campers samples of her recently launched, brisket-friendly HardCore Carnivore branded black barbecue rub.

It's All Academic

Texas A&M staffers’ roles included sharing their academic perspective in presentations covering topics ranging from the anatomy of brisket, knife selection and slicing cooked brisket, barbecue science, an overview of seasonings, meat grading and more.

After Savell and Griffin led a discussion of knife selection for trimming uncooked briskets and slicing cooked briskets, campers were given the opportunity to taste and rank the first of many meals featuring the beef prepared and cooked by A&M staffers, students and a handful of pitmasters.

Food writer, Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor of Dallas Monthly, also regularly participates in the camp and this year served as a moderator of a panel discussion focused on “Wood and smoke” with input from the owners and operators of some of Texas’ most iconic barbecue joints, including: Southside Market & BBQ, Louie Mueller Barbecue, Snow’s BBQ and Roegels Barbecue Co., who openly shared their hard-earned wisdom and tips from the pits with attendees. Topics ranged from the availability and types of wood commonly used for cooking, cost of wood, the ideal moisture level, bark thickness and the science behind smoking meat.

Other panel discussions and presentations with pitmasters and camp instructors examined the fundamentals of building a good fire, the many varieties and styles of commercial and custom cooking rigs available, the ABCs of seasonings and rubs, the science of barbecue and finally, the “Life as a Pitmaster” panel discussion that concluded the event.