January 13, 2015 / 6:58 PM / in 3 years

Grillers' dreams steeped in smoke at Texas Camp Brisket

Students at Camp Brisket listen to a lecture at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas January 9, 2015. REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (Reuters) - To the members of Camp Brisket, listening to Aaron Franklin discuss the role of smoke in slow-cooking a piece of meat was like watching Hank Aaron break down his home run swing or Joe Montana give tips on how to mount a Super Bowl winning drive.

About 100 campers came last week to Texas A&M University’s Meat Science and Technology Center to learn from the greatest pit masters in the state, including Franklin, to cook brisket. It can take a day to turn the somewhat cheap cut into a mouth-watering meal, but it takes years of dedication to make it sublime.

The cost was as high as $550 per person for the two-day event. Tickets sold out in less than five minutes.

To many aspiring grillers, this was barbecue fantasy camp.

“Next to football in Texas, barbecue is kind of a religion. These guys are like the coaches of the most successful football teams,” said Pat Reardon, a surgeon from Houston who came with his wife.

The big names at Camp Brisket may not bask in the same celebrity status as Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. But their restaurants, like Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor often have far more name recognition than most politicians.

In Franklin’s case, his Austin joint was sought out by President Barack Obama, who cut the long line with many apologies, to sample the brisket during a trip to the Texas capital last year.

The campers, including a TV executive, lawyers, doctors and a few members of the Texas diaspora who cannot find properly cooked meat in their new homes, have mostly mastered simpler staples of the barbecue menu such as pulled pork.

For many, brisket is the holy grail of grilling because of the assortment of variables that go into its cooking, which include trimming, seasoned rubs and hours of heat and smoke, a process that can take nearly a day to complete.

Students at Camp Brisket listen to a lecture at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas January 9, 2015. REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

“Cooking brisket is like playing golf. You do it right once and it is beautiful but then you have 20 bad and marginal shots on both ends of the success,” said camper Stuart Lapp.

To get campers on the right path, one cattle carcass was rolled out on meat rails to show the anatomy of the brisket cut. Two Texas A&M professors talked meat science. Three pit masters talked barbecue design and four master chefs gave tips on cooking the perfect brisket.

And 100 campers ate enough brisket to raise their cholesterol levels to counts that could cause a cardiologist to choke on a chopped beef sandwich.

The master of ceremonies was Jeff Savell, a Texas A&M distinguished professor in animal science, who parceled out wisdom on knives, foil wraps and how bringing people together around a grill can make the world a better place.

“We could solve this whole Middle East thing if they all came to barbecue camp,” he quipped

Mona Ridgeway, a gastroenterologist from Austin, bought admission to the camp for her husband, to raise his game on the grill.

“There is a lot of knowledge in this room and some of these people have celebrity status. You just want to get that knowledge and apply it,” she said.

Franklin had a few simple words of advice for all: “Patience, patience, patience.”

“Brisket is not ready until it’s ready and you can’t make it do what you want it to do. You can only guide a big old piece of meat like that and hope for the best.”

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz, editing by Jill Serjeant and David Gregorio

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