Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Event Coverage: University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture's Smoking School

 [FTC Standard Disclosure] We received no compensation for this post and we paid full price for our admission. 

What a fun weekend! Alexis and I attended the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture's (UTIA) Smoking School. The class agenda was focused on brisket and ribs. We learned a good bit, saw old friends, made new friends, and ate well. 

Univerity of Tenneessee Institute of Agriculture Smoking Shool 2021

If you've never taken a grilling or BBQ class, I highly recommend doing so. Even if you are a proficient griller, this is the best way to add skills, expand your repertoire, and challenge your existing notions. I can't share recipes or all of the details but here's a recap of this event.

About The Event

The 2021 Smoking School is the first such program offered by the UTIA and I would say it was a smoking success. The UTIA is about research, academics, and outreach, so Smoking School fits nicely into its mission. The content UTIA brought as a learning institution was a nice addition to the usual BBQ class agendas. 

The event was sponsored by several Tennessee companies and organizations, including:

Univerity of Tenneessee Institute of Agriculture Smoking Shool 2021

About The Instructor

The class was taught by George Ewart, who is a triple-threat being an architect, restauranteur, and 2nd generation pitmaster. In the professional competition circuit, George's team won grand championships, won the Tennessee State BBQ Championship, and did well at the Jack Daniels Invitational, a world championship. George is also one of the owners of Dead End BBQ, which was listed in John Fugitt's book as one of The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America.


The event was held on campus in the Brehm Animal Science arena and it was a fabulous site for this class. The facilities were designed for learning so it makes sense that this was one of the best facilities in which I've ever taken a BBQ class.

  • The facilities were clean and spacious. 
  • Two massive video screens show an overhead view and a close-up front view so everyone in the arena can see the action. 
  • The audio system made it easy to hear speakers.
  • Large fans kept the arena cool and comfortable for the entire class. 
  • We were welcomed with a hearty breakfast casserole.
  • A wide selection of beverages was available throughout the day.
  • Recipes, handouts, and other information were organized in a nice spiral-bound notebook.
  • Parking was free, abundant, and close.


First up, we started in on doing a glazed BBQ sparerib with 9 flavors in the profile. George walked us through his rib process from start to finish. 

Univerity of Tenneessee Institute of Agriculture Smoking Shool 2021
We spent a good bit of time discussing the different types of pork ribs - back ribs, spare ribs, country-style ribs, and variations of each.

George explained how the location from where a rib comes on the hog dictates the flavor of the meat. In short, back ribs meat tastes like pork chops and spare ribs taste like pork belly.

Univerity of Tenneessee Institute of Agriculture Smoking Shool 2021
Spare ribs are 65% meat while loin back ribs are 58% meat.

George demonstrated how to trim spare ribs St. Louis style and a few potential uses for the rib tips.

I won't give all or even most of George's tricks, but one thing he does that I like is he starts with a light coat of black pepper even though there is black pepper in his rib rub. I've learned this from him before and have used it myself.

We put the ribs on, meat side down, which was a major change for me. I have always done my ribs meat side up until the wrap and then I go meat side down. That's why you take classes - to challenge your notions and try new techniques.

Demonstrating the wrap ingredients. One idea he gave that blew my mind was to save the rib juices after the wrap and use that to cook your collard greens. I will be cooking some ribs just to try that idea out, genius!

Team members from Dead End BBQ unwrapping the ribs...

...and glazing them to go back onto the smoker.

The final result was quite a tasty rib. It was a sweet rib but not sickenly sweet like competition ribs, I think the black pepper helped. The slight char of the brown sugar stood out from the rest of the sweet flavors in a way that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Is Livestock Destroying The Environment?

You hear a lot about cattle being responsible for global warming. The agriculture industry takes that seriously and has taken steps to make beef more sustainable. For example, compared to 1977, today's beef industry produces an equivalent amount of beef with 33% less cattle. 


George covered his brisket process from procurement to plate. Good brisket starts with the steer, so we talked about the beef grading process in the US, steer size, and brands. In general, George likes a USDA Prime grade brisket. But because beef is graded at a break in the ribeye, it is improtant to visually examine the brisket since it may or may not have the same marbling that the ribeye did.

The 4t Champion Smoker sure is a pretty rig, isn't it?

George showing the muscle and fat composition of a whole brisket. He discussed how that affects the cooking process and the final product.

The goal of trimming the brisket is uniform shape and size. 

Good teachers give you something that sticks in your mind. George did just that by sharing his tip for knowing the width he is shooting for when trimming a brisket. It should be about the size of a griddle spatula. Great visualization and mnemonic at the same time.

George trims the sides of his brisket much more aggressively than I do. I'm giving his method a go on a brisket this coming weekend.

Checking to see if the brisket is ready for wrapping.

We discussed flavor profiles and how this style varies from a Texas systle brisket. We also talked final internal temps and how that differs for an eating brisket vs a competition style brisket.

George slices his brisket differently than I've always done. I slice across the grain while George squares his off with the bottom of the flat, so "sort of across the grain but not exactly". He does this for the difference in texture. 

Sliced brisket with The Mayor's Beans. I could tell a slight difference in the texture which results from pulling the brisket at 195f and slicing across the bottom. The beans were delicious too, of course since we started with Bush's Beans.

Food Safety

With 48 million food-bourne illnesses in the US each year, it was fitting that this class dedicated a section on food safety. Food Scientist, Rob Williams, talked about the importance of tying action to principles. Planning ahead can prevent cross-contamination and cross-contact. 

Rob encouraged everyone to Clean - Separate - Cook - Chill.


I have taken more BBQ and grilling classes than I can count and I have taught dozens myself. I have a pretty good frame of reference when I say this was a fantastic class and worth more than the admission price ($100). The organization, instructor, content, and facilities were top notch.

Tennessee is rich with agriculture and BBQ and this event has what it takes to become a sucessful annual event. In additon to George Ewart, they could bring in TN pitmasters like Carey Bringle, Pat Martin, and Ricky Parker. Whole hog would be fun and if it grows to a multi-day experience, a field trip to a working ranch would be cool. I think this is the start of something exceptional that will become as revered as Camp Brisket at Texas A & M one day. I'd say the sky is the limit for this event.

Congratulations to the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture on a superb BBQ class and an auspicious beginning.

Richard S. gets his Smoking School certificate from George.