In the world of meat there is no greater authority than Jeff Savell, professor and leader of the meat science section in the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M in College Station.
Savell’s list of accolades is too long to go into here. Most recently he was asked to pen the foreword to the latest edition of the “Legends of Texas Barbecue” by the indomitable Robb Walsh. Walsh is an authority on cooking meat with fire so this honor speaks for itself.
We’ve never been able to afford the Barbecue Summer Camp held annually in College Station. The last opportunity we had to go was in 2014 when the cost was $550.
That’s a lot of brisket and hot guts money and we had to sit it out.
Recently as we were scrolling across our meat news websites we came across an excellent breakdown from Mr Savell of this (2016) year’s camp.
Here’s our synopsis of his piece:
The Barbecue Summer Camp series has grown in popularity to the point where there are now two conferences held one month apart.
The event kicks off at Kreuz Market’s newest outlet in Bryan, Texas.
We hope their output is better than the storied, age-old meathouse in Lockhart. We finally quit going there after a handful of visits yielded chewy brisket in a space that seats far too many people (560)
The following morning Marvin Bendele of Foodways Texas and Jeff Savell welcomed some 60 campers and introduced them to the students who help with all the hard work of presentation.
An august group of pit bosses and builders (Bryan Bracewell, Southside Market and Barbeque, Russell Roegels, Roegels Barbecue, John Brotherton, Brotherton Barbecue, and Ryan Zboril, Pitt’s and Spitt’s) kick things off by discussing pit design, and how to take care of the physical structures.
We’re going to try to visit Charleston, South Carolina later this year to meet up with John Lewis of Lewis Barbecue. He’s come up with a highly secretive and revolutionary pit design for his new restaurant and we’re praying that we’ll get to take a peek.
Years ago we were on-site when John Mueller took delivery of his new, giant, steel pit in Austin and watched as the old pit boss took gallons of lard and painted the insides before setting the entire affair ablaze.
There’s a breaking-in period on all new barbecue pits.
Next the campers motored over to Martin’s Place where pit boss Steve Kapchinskie showed off his ancient (1925) brick pits and fed the crowd while Robb Walsh read aloud to the throng. What a thrill. Some of Walsh’s best writings were centered on Martin’s in his ‘Barbecue Crossroads’ book. On our recent visit to Austin we got up bright and early one Monday to trek over to Martin’s only to realize that they were closed. Tears were shed.
After returning to campus, professor Davey Griffin delved into food safety. It’s incredibly dangerous to cook meats with fire and hold them safely for service to patrons. We’ve taken numerous, required, food safety courses over the years as we cooked in restaurants across the Deep South and Texas. It’s the least exciting part of professional cooking but it is also the most important.
Next a group of Texas’ pit bosses held a symposium on the types of woods they use. We just made our first foray into using Cherry wood to smoke our pork bellies in our ongoing handmade bacon project. This wood is dear, and expensive as few people are willing to chop down a Cherry tree so they can cook a hunk of meat with the wood. It’s divine smoke and a wood to be treasured. Of course post oak is king in Texas as it’s the dominant wood in the state. As you move eastward you begin to run into smokehouses that use Hickory which is what we grew up burning in Kentucky.
Next Ryan Heger, Director of Procurement at Adams Extract & Spice spoke on his area of expertise: seasonings. We keep it simple as possible when we’re cooking meat with fire. Kosher salt, and fresh ground black pepper are all you need. We’ve fancied it up in the past but we always return to the old basics.
Gerardo Casco, Department of Poultry Science delivered a talk on brining. When this technique first became widely popular in the 90s we went all in and began brining everything we could lay our hands on. Nowadays we almost never bother save for occasionally injecting salty butter into our whole hog preparations.
Most recently we smoked a just shy of 50lbs pig for 12 hours over pecan wood. It slowly turned into porky butter and did a good job of feeding the 60 or so people at the party.
Ray Riley and Drew Cassens then gave a visual demo on whole hog brine injections.
The day continued with a meal from Southside Market of Elgin, Texas. We wrote this article on the important role the old meat house plays in the world of Texas barbecue. They changed Texas hot guts forever in the early 70s.
Next the campers visited Savell’s home where an entire hog was placed on a cinder-block pit. No mention was made of how long the cook took.
Saturday morning found the campers learning the importance of wrapping your smoked meat in pink paper. This was the most important technique we’ve learned in the last 15 years. It will elevate your meat game like no other single method. Educate yourself on proper wrapping and resting technique.
Following the wrapping demo professor Davey Griffin and Rosenthal Center manager Ray Riley showed what cuts of beef come from a typical cow or steer.
Next, lunch, meat, lots of it. We imagine the campers ate as much as physically possible to recoup some of the heavy cost of the event.
Professor Griffin then turned the talk towards hogs and their anatomy. We love beef, it’s our lifeblood but there is no more noble creature than a common pig.
Pork butchery followed with demos by McKensie Harris and Courtney Boykin.
Saturday’s crescendo was the feasting on the aforementioned whole hog. There is no finer barbecue party than this and we throw a minimum of one pig roast per year.
The lowly chicken is the subject of the Sunday panel. Of course chicken is delicious and an inexpensive way to eat smoked meat but fowl plainly pales in comparison to pork and/or beef.
This concluded our synopsis of the 2016 Texas A&M Barbecue Summer Camp.
We are jealous beyond reason of all the attendees. If we ever come into some serious money this annual event will be the first thing we blow our fortunes on.
Here’s a link to Savell’s longform article with plenty pics.