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BBQ boot camp: Along with grilling lessons, events advocate for agriculture

BBQ Boot Camps teach people about barbecuing meat and provide information on the agriculture industry. Special to The Forum 1 / 2
Eric Berg, a meat scientist, researcher and professor at North Dakota State University’s Department of Animal Sciences, leads a BBQ Boot Camp session. Special to The Forum2 / 2

FARGO - When it comes to barbeque, some North Dakota State University animal scientists and Extension Service agents could be considered grill sergeants.

They put on several BBQ Boot Camps throughout the year, mostly in the summer, teaching people tips and tricks for properly barbecuing meat. Along with the lessons on topics like grilling and human nutrition, slow cooking and smoking, degrees of doneness, and spices, rubs and marinades, BBQ Boot Camps also provide information on the agriculture industry.

“If you have questions about animal welfare or barbeque sauce, we probably have an answer,” said David Newman, NDSU Extension swine specialist and BBQ Boot Camp director. “The point of the program is to advocate for agriculture. We’re seeing it more and more and more that agriculture has to play defense.”

While it’s educational, Eric Berg, a meat scientist, researcher and professor at NDSU’s Department of Animal Sciences and another program organizer, said it’s also entertaining.

“It gives us the opportunity to talk about where food comes from,” he said. “We have so much information at our fingertips, but people draw conclusions on such little information and it becomes dogma to them because they’ve heard it repeated more than once.”

At the end of the sessions, participants can fill their plates with a variety of barbequed meat and traditional barbecue side dishes.

More than 5,000 people in more than 25 cities have participated in BBQ Boot Camps so far.

“It’s a unique program,” Newman said. “There’s nothing like it anywhere in the country.”

The boot camps started in 2008 and have since spread beyond North Dakota’s borders. There was a BBQ Boot Camp held at Grill Fest in Minneapolis in May, and in September, BBQ Boot Camp will make an appearance at the National Pork Board in Texas.

Recently, in Moorhead, BBQ Boot Camp put on a mini program for the North Dakota Bankers Association.

“It was fantastic,” said Dorothy Lick, the association’s senior vice president of education. “It was a very interesting program, really educational, fantastic speakers. Our whole group really enjoyed it.”

Lick said she had high hopes and the boot camp exceeded her expectations.

“The food was delicious,” she said. “We learned a lot about the ag industry.”

The camps are taught by Animal Sciences department and Extension faculty, staff and graduate and undergraduate students.

Organizers work with local county extension service offices to host the events and help teach the sessions.

The program started, Berg said, because extension agents and animal scientists had been discussing how much the general public doesn’t know about where their food comes from.

At a hog roast at a wedding party, for example, Newman was once asked if it was a real pig, if it was the pig’s real skin, and how all the meat got inside the pig skin.

“When we started doing this program, it was just going to be a fun community event,” Newman said. “Then we realized there’s a need for ag education.”

Berg said he’s often asked whether the hormones in meat make girls reach puberty sooner. The short answer in his research, using animal models, has shown there is no effect.

Newman said he is often asked about the treatment of animals.

“The pig business has taken a bad rap from some people who are misinformed about production techniques,” he said. “No one cares more about the animals than the person who literally raises them and produces them. Unfortunately that farmer doesn’t always get the opportunity to visit with the consumer and allow them onto their farm and let them know that they’re very passionate about it.”

Just 50 years ago, about half of the United States population was involved in production agriculture, Newman said. But now, he said that number is less than 2 percent.

“Your average consumer doesn’t have an ag background, they didn’t come from a farm. Their parents didn’t come from a farm and in most cases, neither did their grandparents,” he said. “We need more than just the 2 percent to understand why agriculture is so critically important. A large percentage of people honestly do believe that meat, milk and eggs come from the grocery store.”

As the generational gap widens and people know less and less about where their food comes from, Newman said that’s going to make it difficult for food producers as people make decisions about food through voting and other legislative processes.

The BBQ Boot Camp program is partially supported by NDSU’s Animal Sciences Department, Extension Service, and the Agriculture Experiment Station.

If you go

What: BBQ Boot Camp

By: North Dakota State University animal scientists and Extension Service agents


  • 5 to 8 p.m. June 25 – Stump Lake, Lakota
  • Information booth at Red River Valley Fairgrounds July 8 to July 13
  • July 16 – Belcourt (time to be determined)
  • 1 to 5 p.m. Aug. 7 – Beulah Centennial

Online: To register, go to

Info: $50 to attend

Tracy Frank

Tracy Frank is a SheSays, Variety, and Farmer's Forum reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to

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