January 22, 2017

Some people find their passion before entering a career field, while others find it along the way. For Jack Timmons ’82, it was only after two degrees and a 30-year career that he found what makes him tick: Central Texas-style barbecue.

Timmons is the owner of Jack’s BBQ in Seattle, where he has built a steadfast following of locals, visitors and food critics for his hearty brisket and ribs. Although he’s only been in business for less than three years, Timmons has found success with his slow-cooked, wood-smoked meat that, according to one Seattle blogger, “melts away at the tongue immediately.”

Despite his newfound success, however, Timmons was not always a pitmaster by trade. A Dallas native, he graduated from Texas A&M University with an electrical engineering degree not long before acquiring a job with Boeing, which eventually took him to Seattle. He eventually earned a master of science in computer information systems from Boston University in Brussels, which launched his 13-year career with Microsoft back in Seattle. It wasn’t until 2012 that his interest in the food business began.

Jack Timmons '82

“I always had a little smoker in my backyard, and barbecue was something I was interested in.  Seattle wasn’t famous for barbecue—they’re more about sauce and less about the meat, so it was kind of a hole in my life,” Timmons said.

In summer 2012, Timmons decided to take a two-week vacation to Texas to learn all he could about the state’s famous barbecue. He attended Barbecue Summer Camp and Beef 101, programs held by the Texas A&M meat science and animal science departments, respectively, that teach participants more about the barbecue craft and the industry as a whole. He also toured barbecue restaurants in Austin and talked to their pitmasters.

I signed up and went to Texas A&M for vacation,” Timmons said. “My wife wanted to go to Europe, but I said, ‘I'm going to College Station.’"

Upon returning to Seattle, Timmons started the Seattle Brisket Experience, which he describes as “barbecue raves.” He started an email list to give updates about upcoming events—at first, with just a few hundred Facebook friends, but eventually growing into a following of thousands. Seattle Brisket Experience events were held at breweries around the city, and for the price of a ticket, guests would be treated to live music and a plate of Timmons’ Texas barbecue.

“All of a sudden it was like the hottest ticket in town,” Timmons said. “So, I eventually found a building, and I opened Jack’s BBQ a little over two years ago. From there, it just took off.”

Timmons said despite being located so far away from his Texas roots, Jack’s BBQ has created for him a little slice of home in Seattle.

“One of the things that’s surprised me the most about this business is that when you move away from home, the things you miss are the people and the food,” he said. “But with this business, I’ve got the people and the food right here. We’ve got tons of Texans every single day in here, and tons of Aggies too. So, it’s been really gratifying.”

Carrying on the Texas Barbecue Tradition

Barbecue Summer Camp is a three-day event co-hosted by Foodways Texas and the Texas A&M meat science section of the animal science department that seeks to educate participants about Texas barbecue through hands-on experience and insight from popular pitmasters across the state.

The camp includes speaking panels on pit design, pit maintenance and different types of woods for smoking. There are also activities for applying different types of rubs, marinades and seasonings to meat, as well as instruction in cooking and cutting beef, pork and poultry products. In summer 2016, camp organizers added a second session because demand had increased so much since the program started in 2011.

A second camp called Camp Brisket, hosted two days each January, focuses specifically on techniques for barbecuing brisket. “Brisket is the challenge. It’s the most difficult cut to do. If you can get that done, you have mastered Texas barbecue,” said Dr. Jeff Savell, who helps coordinate and lead the camps as the E.M. “Manny” Rosenthal Chair in Animal Science.

The camps lure in barbecue enthusiasts from across the country. Demand has grown so high that this year’s Camp Brisket attendees were drawn by a lottery system.

“Some people are professionals and they actually have restaurants,” said Savell. “But most of them are backyard enthusiasts who are just trying to figure out how to best prepare barbecue.”

Savell added that he’s happy the camps have grown so popular—remembering that one couple even attended as part of their honeymoon—and noted that he’s always pleased when someone like Jack Timmons benefits.

“When Jack was getting ready to start his restaurant in Seattle, he stopped by College Station with a barbecue pit he’d bought in Houston and asked me to bless it,” Savell said. “I said that I hoped he found success in his new endeavor and that he could provide people in the Pacific Northwest the kind of barbecue they deserve.”

Dr. Jeff Savell, Jack Timmons '82 and Dr. Davey Griffin at Barbecue Summer Camp.