Forward By Dr. Jeff Savell for Legends of Texas Barbecue

Here is the forward that Dr. Jeff Savell wrote for the revised edition Robb Walsh's "Legends of Texas Barbecue". He provided it for context.

My first encounter with Robb Walsh’s writings occurred one summer day about 10 years ago in a Harry & David’s store in San Marcos, Texas when my wife and I stopped in to do some shopping on the way back from a trip to San Antonio. While my wife was looking around the store, I saw a display of books entitled “Legends of Texas Barbecue” by Robb Walsh. What was interesting to me at the time was that this was the only cookbook in the store. I picked one of the books up and began to browse through it. What caught my attention was that the book was a mixture of detailed stories about barbecue as well as a recipe book, too. After reading some of the stories and seeing the variety of recipes, I made my impulse purchase, which now looking back, had a profound impact on how I have spent my life over the past six years.

I did read most of the book shortly thereafter and promptly put it on our cookbook shelf ready to come to our assistance when a good recipe was needed, but “Legends of Texas Barbecue” would play an even greater role with me than providing interesting stories and wonderful recipes. In the spring of 2009, Texas A&M University emailed a request to faculty to teach first-year seminars for incoming freshmen. These seminars were to be in the form of a one-hour course where small groups of freshmen would take a class in some interesting subject, where the subject was the least important part of the course, but rather that the student would be with 10 to 15 other freshmen with professors who would help nurture them as they made the transition from high school to college. There had been a few of these courses taught in 2008, and a shortlist of some of them was in the email. One of the courses taught that year was on baseball, and at that point, I got the idea that If you could teach a course on baseball to freshmen at Texas A&M University, then what about teaching a course on barbecue, specifically Texas Barbecue! 

A thought quickly came to me that I had the perfect textbook for this class because I had Robb Walsh’s “Legends of Texas Barbecue” at home and surely that would be a great text to use. I got with my colleague, Ray Riley, and we put in a request to teach one of the first-year seminars, which we called “Texas Barbecue,” and the course was approved to be taught in the fall of 2009. Several months later, I get an email from Robb Walsh seeking assistance with a story he was working on at the time about fajitas. I read his email and immediately replied to it, but instead of answering his questions on fajitas, I wrote back stating something like, “I know who you are, I am teaching a class on Texas Barbecue this fall, and I am using ‘Legends of Texas Barbecue’ as the textbook!” 

I did get around to helping Robb with his fajita questions, but I did so by inviting him to campus to do some hands-on instruction about the specific muscles used for fajitas and to meet him face to face. That encounter led me to invite Robb to participate in May 2009 in Beef 101, our three-day course on learning everything about beef from the live animal to the final products. The first freshmen class, UPAS 181 Texas Barbecue, was taught that fall, and Robb came and spoke to our students about how Texas Barbecue got its start. Although the course has had a variety of course designations (UPAS 181, UGST 181, ANSC 289, and now ANSC 117) over the years, Texas Barbecue is now a permanent part of our fall semesters with around 25 lucky freshmen taking the course, and with one of the best and most knowledgeable guest lecturers around, Robb Walsh, who personally autographs the students’ textbook, “Legends of Texas Barbecue.”

If the story ended here, it would be a great one, but there is more. I continued to meet with Robb frequently on a variety of topics, but with each meeting, he would discuss Southern Foodways Alliance and how important that organization was to preserving and celebrating the food culture in the South. Robb’s dream was to have
such an organization for Texas, and he began to enlist my help to make this happen. I told Robb that Texas A&M University would be glad to help out, but the model that was being used by the Southern Foodways Alliance, which focused more on cultural and historical documentation would need a different approach than what we could offer with our group being more of subject-matter experts in agriculture. Robb was persistent and kept telling me that there was some solution if you could get enough people together to make this happen. In July 2010, Robb, our group, and others called a meeting of 50 key leaders in the Texas food scene and held at Texas A&M University to form Foodways Texas, an organization now based at the University of Texas at Austin with the mission to preserve, promote, and celebrate the diverse food cultures of Texas.

Foodways Texas, to be successful, needed to conduct educational programs for its members. As we began to think about what would be programs of interest to people, the Texas Barbecue scene was undergoing a renaissance with help from new restaurants, the Food Network, and, of course, ever-growing social media where the latest and greatest new restaurant or menu item would be quickly known by a public that was in search of the best barbecue around. Robb thought that having a hands-on workshop would be a great way to capitalize on this increased interest in barbecue so we began planning the first Barbecue Summer Camp, a joint venture between Foodways Texas and Texas A&M University, and which was held in June