There's a rock and roll camp, a space camp, and all sorts of fantasy sports camps. Any kind of camp that gives adults the chance to learn a new skill or get an immersion in a kind of life that's only accessible to a few is out there. There are even a few camps that send you home stuffed with both knowledge and food, but few of them have the stature of Camp Brisket.
That's right -- Camp Brisket. It's a two-day in-depth look (and taste!) of Texas brisket (the Texas barbecue which is the best of all barbecue, objectively speaking) held at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. The camp started in 2013 and the sixth annual camp was held this past January with about 60 barbecue enthusiasts from the U.S. and Canada.
Foodways Texas, whose mission is to preserve, promote, and celebrate the diverse food cultures of Texas, and the Meat Science Section of the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University work together to put on Camp Brisket, which is led by professors Davey Griffin, Ray Riley, and Jeff Savell, and includes pitmasters and barbecue experts. The camp is held on the campus of Texas A&M University at the Rosenthal Meat Center and the Beef Cattle Center at the O.D. Butler Animal Science Complex.
The camp sessions covers topics that give attendees a look at all sides of brisket. First up is the difference between brisket prepared for competition and brisket served in a restaurant. Then a 101 on Brisket Anatomy. Campers are taught how to trim and slice brisket, and proper knife selection. There's a discussion on the different kinds of wood you can use to smoke briskets and an overnight brisket smoking tended by the staff and campers.
The second day starts off with a chuck wagon breakfast and a discussion about how to cook over direct coals. Campers then learn about the different kinds of pits and cookers, seasonings, and the life of a pitmaster.
Best of all, each meal is an opportunity to talk about methods, techniques, and taste. Lunch on the second day centers on a taste test of the overnight smoked brisket to see if campers can tell the difference in wood used to smoke the meat and the sendoff meal compares wrapped versus unwrapped briskets.
To give you an idea of what level of experts they pull in for this two-day experience, the Wood and Smoke panel at the 2018 camp featured Bill Dumas (Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew), Aaron Franklin (Franklin Barbecue); Kevin Kolman (Weber Grills), Joe Riscky (Joe Riscky's Barbeque) and Homer Robertson (World Champion Chuck Wagon competitor).
Then joining Franklin, Kolman, and Griffin to talk about pit design and maintenance were Russell Roegels (Roegels Barbecue), Kerry Bexley (Snow's BBQ), Wayne Mueller (Louie Mueller Barbecue), Tom Abney (Southside Market and Barbeque), and Ryan Zboril (Pitts and Spitts).
There are other barbecue camps across the country, but Camp Brisket isn't just a fantasy camp. While fantasy camps give adults a taste of living a dream job or lifestyle, very few people who attend experiences like Space Camp as an adult consider it actual training to do that job. But Camp Brisket is different; given the lineup of experts willing to share their secrets, these two days are serious business for those attending.
Sure, it's the fun of a two-day barbecue festival, but that fun is based on academic standards of Texas A&M and the long experience of barbecue masters. And it's not an easy event to get into -- with only 60 spots up for grabs via a lottery system, this boot camp may be the most exclusive barbecue camp in the U.S.
The first thing you need to do if you're interested in attending Camp Brisket is become a Foodways Texas member. The organization sends out lottery details and registration instructions to all its members in July; once you have those, you can register for the lottery drawing and keep your fingers crossed that you get one of the coveted spots.
Foodways Texas and Texas A&M also offer a Barbecue Summer Camp which looks at barbecue more broadly, with cooking and butchery demonstrations that focus on the different types of meat, smoke, and spices used in barbecue throughout Texas. Tickets are available through a lottery.