Friday, July 4, 2014

Nonfiction: The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue by Daniel Vaughn

I thought for the 4th of July I would post about something very near and to me: Texas BBQ. I was fortunate to meet "BBQ Snob," author and editor of the blog Full Custom Gospel BBQ, and Texas Monthly editor Daniel Vaughn at the 2014 San Antonio edition of the Texas Book Festival. I then heard him talk about his book, The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue. During the question and answer portion, it was only natural that someone would ask him about the best BBQ joints in San Antonio. He then mentioned B&D Ice House, which a quick Google search on my phone told me I could walk to from my house. I had already bought the book before I had a chance to try B&D, but one bite of the brisket told me that this guy knew what he was talking about and I could trust the rest of his recommendations. But be warned, today's post is unashamedly all about Texas.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a nonfiction book that gives fairly detailed reviews about the BBQ joints all across the great state of Texas. Vaughn traveled, along with photographer Nicholas McWhirter, across every section of the state - which is slightly bigger then the entire country of France - trying every BBQ place along the way, most of them planned, but there were quite a few that were impromptu stops. The result is a book that covers 35 days, 10,343 miles, and 186 BBQ places. Each chapter covers a specific section of the state, starting with the Panhandle and ending with Central Texas, with Vaughn often stopping at the best places more than once as he comes across them in different trips. Vaughn is actually not a Texan by birth, having been born in Ohio, but as we like to say of those who eventually find their way here, he got here as soon as he could. Throughout the book, along with the reviews of various smoked meat - the "holy trinity" of which is brisket, sausage, and ribs - there are color pictures of not only the food, but also the people and surrounding sights. And in the back of the book, Vaughn not only included a very helpful and practical index, but also profiles of pitmasters (those who have become experts in producing the best smoked meat), and a final short list of what Vaughn has decided are the places to find the BBQ in Texas. But the one page I found myself referencing more than any other throughout my reading of the book, and one that I will continue to reference as I form my own BBQ trail, was the map of Texas at the front of the book that marks out where each restaurant is located, as well as what type of wood they use in their smoker.

My Verdict: If you live in Texas and love, or even like, BBQ, this is a book for you. If you enjoy driving out to middle-of-nowhere Texas, and the state has a lot of that, and finding hidden gems with great food, then you'll find this book incredibly useful. The pitmaster profiles even include some recipes so you can attempt to replicate their flavors and creations on your own. But while this book is certainly about Texas BBQ, it is also about the joys of the road trip, and just how much the vast state of Texas has to offer someone willing to just get in the car and drive. Vaughn encounters the loneliness and desolation of the miles between San Angelo and El Paso, the tension that comes from the Texas/Mexico border, the trees and views of northeast Texas, the popular urban areas that lie along I-35, I-10, and I-45, and almost everything in between. And while I was worried that there would end up being a mind-numbing repetition as Vaughn declares this place great, and that place bad, and this other place as mediocre, I can honestly say that I was never bored with this book. There is a lot of repetition, but I was always eager to see what Vaughn's ruling was going to be on every place he visited, even if he had already been there. 

Favorite Moment: In the pitmaster profiles, it is revealed that the beautiful plate of food that makes up the cover of the book came from a place in San Antonio, Texas known as Two Bros. BBQ Market. Such a seemingly small thing makes me even more proud to call San Antonio home. I have actually never been to Two Bros, but I guarantee you it is on my list.

Recommended Reading: I'm fairly certain this is the only food-related book I have ever covered on this blog, so I suppose I'll go with another book that explores life in small-town Texas. Karen Valby's Welcome to Utopia does exactly that as she talks about the real lives and struggles of the people who make up the extremely small town of Utopia, Texas.

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