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Eric Berg, a professor of meat science at North Dakota State University, discusses the science of flavor and taste at the BBQ Boot Camp event held at the NDSU Beef Cattle Research Complex in Fargo on May 23, 2017.(Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

Smokey sell-out: NDSU's BBQ Boot Camp offers fun, info

FARGO, N.D. — North Dakota State University served up a heaping helping of nutritional and food safety information along with flavor enhancing tips at the season's first BBQ Bootcamp event.

The Fargo event on May 23 was the first in this city for a few years. It was a sell-out with 180 registrations, said Eric Berg, an NDSU meat science professor and co-director for the event at the NDSU Beef Cattle Research Complex.

"The lure, of course, is to learn more about outdoor cookery," he said. But it also communicates the role of NDSU — a "land grant" university whose mission is research and outreach. "There's a lot of misconceptions out there, so this face-to-face interaction is really cool, to ask me, a meat scientist, about questions that concern them."

Eager event-goers were separated into four smaller groups and took turns at educational stations where they learned from faculty and graduate students about new cooking methods and practices, meat cut selection, food safety and nutrition, and equipment for barbecue and grilling.

Eager, again

Dallas Loff came with a group of buddies from Colfax, N.D.

"We did it in 2015," said Loff, who is a farmer. "This was the first one of the season so I was kind of eager to do it again. I found it very information and plus, they feed you."

The event cost $30 per individual, including the eats.

NDSU President Dean Bresciani attended for the start of the event and said the sell-out response after years of offering the events is "phenomenal" evidence that the public values Extension education.

"I think we may be at the epicenter of the appreciation of the (meat) industry," he said, smiling.

Boot campers went through stations involving spices, marinates and rubs; degree-of-doneness, involving nutrition and the science of flavor, taste and texture; grilling (high heat) and barbecue (slow, long); and a live animal section.

They also learned about slow cooking and smoking; grilling and grilling techniques and "degree of doneness" for beef steaks, pork and lamb chops. The red meat species are the main focus, but turkey growers are among the sponsors.

"One big take-home is everyone will leave here with a meat thermometer," said Eric Berg. "That's the biggest thing for making the ideal outdoor cookery — for food safety but also for ultimate deliciousness."

'Old Spice'

Paul Berg, an NDSU professor emeritus of animal science (Eric's father, jokingly referred to as "Old Spice") talked about spices, rubs and marinates. One tip involves putting spices on fully-thawed meat 10 minutes before putting them on the grill. They talked about building on a standard "carnivore rub," which is simple — salt, pepper and granulated garlic, as well as alternatives such as Italian spices.

The event setting provided a unique opportunity to tour a modern feedlot research facility. Event-goers heard about modern practices beef producers use to humanely treat their animals while maximizing production, and about quality assurance programs sponsored by commodity organizations.

Billy Ogdahl, NDSU beef unit manager, and Trent Gilbery, BCRC manager, talked about animal care and answered questions on a number of topics, including yield. (An NDSU steer produces about 610 pounds of meat products for every 1,000 pounds of live weight.)

Boot campers often have questions about the differences between grass-fed, organic, natural and other kinds of production techniques.

Eric Berg, who recently was named the first North Dakotan to be elected president-elect of the American Meat Science Association, said the "BBQ Boot Camp" concept migrated from South Dakota State University and was started at NDSU in 2008 at Carrington, N.D.

Nine years later, the SDSU team recently visited to compare notes, and Arkansas State University is starting a similar event. Next year will be the 10th anniversary.

"Maybe we'll have to do something special," Eric Berg said.

Initially, NDSU conducted six to eight of the BBQ Boot Camps across the state, but with recent budget cutbacks, they've been out of the public limelight for a couple of years, focusing largely in the Red River Valley. Last year, the university did a few private events. This year they plan at least four events.

To inquire about future programs, contact Lisa Dubbels, lisa.dubbels@ndsu.edu.

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