Barbecue camp brings university meat science to consumers

A first-of-its-kind workshop series may have been called North Carolina Barbecue Camp, but its topics went beyond the state's traditional Eastern and Lexington styles as presenters delved into the cuisine of other national barbecue hot spots such as Memphis, Kansas City and Texas.

The event featured panel discussions, demonstrations and sumptuous meals that started off with a North Carolina-style pig picking and included beef and pork sausage, brisket and more.

NC State University's Meat Extension Specialist Dr. Dana Hanson organized the two-day event, along with the North Carolina Meat Packers Association.

"Barbecue is a hot topic among food trends, and the camp was designed to capitalize on that as a teachable moment," Hanson said. "We wanted to build on barbecue's popularity as a way to help educate consumers on how to prepare muscle foods so that they are not only safe but also taste good."

While North Dakota State and Texas A&;M universities regularly offer barbecue camps, this was NC State's first for adults, Hanson said. Three similar but shorter camps for 4-H'ers ages 8 to 18 are taking place this spring and summer in Raleigh, Tarboro and Fletcher.

The adult camp took place Friday and Saturday May 15-16 at the university's Meat Processing Laboratory and its Beef Education Unit. The 30 barbecue aficionados who attended the event included backyard cooks, barbecue cook-off competitors and aspiring restaurateurs who came from various walks of life – farmer, electrician, caterer, Extension agent and medical biller, among them.

After Hanson's introduction, barbecue writer and local TV favorite Bob Gardner of The Pit in Raleigh and Durham kicked off the camp with a talk on what he called the "the food of celebration and the food of politics," its history, various types of sauces and 21st century trends.

Then the participants suited up in plastic gowns and caps to enter the laboratory in two groups. NC State Meat Lab Manager Travis Tennant used a whole hog as well as various packaged beef cuts as he discussed which work best for barbecue, while Hanson and Bryan Bracewell of the famous Southside Market in Elgin, Texas, demonstrated how to make beef sausage. That sausage went on to become part of the next day's lunch.

Friday's events concluded with a pig picking and talk on the history of beer and barbecue. The next day, most participants got up early to join in a sausage biscuit breakfast sponsored by Neese's Sausage, May's Meat and Carolina Packers at the Beef Education Unit, part of the university's Lake Wheeler Road Field Laboratory.

Saturday's formal sessions focused on various barbecuing equipment and pit styles; building a good fire; grading, trimming, preparing then taste testing briskets for their tenderness, juiciness, flavor and overall appeal; and taking the guess work out of barbecuing.

Finally, Executive Chef Eddie Wilson of NC State's Talley Student Union discussed and demonstrated what Hanson called "chuckwagon cooking" – creating side dishes in Dutch ovens before events wrapped up with bluegrass, a social and, of course, a barbecue dinner.

Based on the positive response from participants, Hanson intends to begin offering the camp annually, likely on the weekend following the university's spring graduation.

"For our maiden voyage, so to speak, things turned out very well," Hanson said. "Just about everybody said they had a great time and learned a lot."