Here’s the Beef: Camp Brisket at Texas A&M

KSAT News anchor Mark Austin continues his quest for a perfect brisket

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – I bought my first smoker in 2019 and since then, I’ve devoured anything I could find about making good barbecue.

I knew my studies wouldn’t be complete without doing two things — 1) finding lots of experts and picking their brains, and 2) learning the science behind BBQ. I did both one weekend earlier this year and I want to share what I’ve learned just in time for the summer grilling season.

Held over two days in early January, Camp Brisket fills a large lecture hall with smoky BBQ pits pulled up out back. This conference drew people from 22 states and three countries (including a guy from southern Germany who waited over a year to attend). This class is a tough ticket to get. It sells out every year.

Keynote speaker Jess Pryles, who owns a company called Hardcore Carnivore and hosts “BBQuest” on Hulu, jokingly calls Camp Brisket a “roomful of meat nerds.”

“It’s really an interesting dynamic because all of our speakers are either professors or professional pitmasters and I’m sort of in this weird hybrid world of doing the professional side of things, but I’m also just the home cook,” Pryles said. “So much of the information that they get at camp is about restaurant cooking, and that actually takes a little bit of finessing to learn how to do that for home.”

People attending Camp Brisket get a crash course in meat sciences, learning cattle anatomy, beef harvesting, meat trimming, beef grading, knife and wood selection, pit design, panel discussions and extra time is taken for Q&A.

“I think the most common questions we get (at Camp Brisket) usually are ‘What’s the temperature?’ ‘What’s the temperature of the smoker?’ Or ‘What’s the temperature of the end-product?’ ‘Should I wrap or not wrap?’” said Dr. Jeffrey Savell, Vice Chancellor and Dean of the Agriculture and Life Sciences Department at Texas A&M.

Dr. Savell calls smoking a brisket a three-act play and repetition is key.

“The first act is getting the right product, getting the trim, getting the right seasoning on it, getting the fire built and such. Act two is everything that you need to cook and go through all of that. And then act three is the culmination where you remove it from the fire, let it rest, hold it, and let it just kind of get in good shape for the serving,”

Camp Brisket lecturers hammered home the value of letting a brisket rest once it comes off the smoker. Some experts call it the most important part of the entire process.

“The best thing to do is if you want brisket for supper, have it ready to go for lunch and properly hold it and such. But in that time, that four or five hours, it’s almost like the juices all get reabsorbed. It just everything becomes softer,” said Savell.

He adds one last key piece of advice for future pitmasters. Don’t change five things in your cook routine at one time. Savell says, “You’ll never know what worked.”

Between Camp Brisket lectures, briskets were served and rated for things like texture and taste. In the first blind taste test, most students seemed to prefer option C. It turned out to be a delicious Wagyu brisket — and it was the star of the show.

What did I learn? For a complete wrap-up of all the basics I’ve learned about smoking a brisket, check out this Q&A video on KSAT’s YouTube page:

About the Authors:

Mark Austin is well-known to South Texas viewers having spent the bulk of his decades-long TV news career at KSAT. He can be seen weekdays on San Antonio's top-rated 'Good Morning San Antonio' and 'GMSA @ 9.' Mark won Lone Star Emmys for Best Newscast in 2011 and 2017 and has covered every Spurs championship.

Sal Salazar is a photojournalist at KSAT 12. Before coming to KSAT in 1998, he worked at the Fox affiliate in San Antonio. Sal started off his career back in 1995 for the ABC Affiliate in Lubbock and has covered many high-profile news events since. In his free time, he enjoys spending time at home, gaming and loves traveling with his wife.