Daniel Vaughn is a self-proclaimed “BBQ Snob” and “The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue” his first book, documents and celebrates the traditions and deliciousness that is Texas Barbecue. Not only is “Prophets” Daniel’s first book, it is also the first book published by Anthony Bourdain’s imprint. It is an amazing début for both.
This is not a cookbook. There are a few recipes at the back of the book that will give backyard pitmasters a chance to recreate smoked meat favorites from some of the best pitmasters in Texas, but don’t even begin to think of this book as a cookbook.
The word “bible” is highly overused in the BBQ/Grilling publishing world, there have been several so-called “bibles” published but none can even be considered a bible after the publication of Daniel Vaughn’s book.
Whether it’s the genesis of a Texas BBQ pitmaster or the revelation of how Aaron Franklin cooks his world-famous brisket this book is a testament to both the old and new of barbecue in Texas.
Daniel “BBQ Snob” Vaughn is an expert on Texas barbecue. He is the author and editor of the respected blog Full Custom Gospel BBQ and BBQ editor at Texas Monthly. A trained architect, he lives in Dallas with his wife and children.
“Prophets of Smoked Meat” brought back some memories I had long ago forgotten. My love of BBQ started in Texas. I still remember my trip to Luckenbach, during the Waylon, Willie and the Boys heyday of the 70′s when I tasted a perfectly smoked brisket for the first time. It’s a memory that has kept me searching for that taste through much of my adult life. If the legend of the BBQ Grail isn’t a myth, it surely is a Texas Brisket.
I remember the flavor like it was yesterday. I remember how the freshly smoked and sliced brisket seemed to just melt on my tongue. But the over the past 35 years, or so, I had forgotten about the spirit of Texas barbecue. “Prophets of Smoked Meat” gave me a ride down memory lane that I am so appreciative for.
It reminded me that Texas barbecue, especially brisket, is an attitude. It’s a way of life. It’s something that can’t just be repeated anywhere. There are lots and lots of Texas Barbecue joints outside of Texas, but I doubt they are able to recreate the entire Texas barbecue experience no matter how hard they try. Texas barbecue isn’t just smoked meat, it’s the culture that makes it what it is.
proph·et: noun \prä-fət\an effective or leading spokesman for a cause, doctrine, or group
I was pretty sure no book would be able to do Texas barbecue justice as well as Robb Walsh did in Legends of Texas Barbecue or Wyatt McSpadden’s artistic Texas BBQ. But Daniel Vaughn has written a book that captures every nuance that is barbecue in Texas. I think it’s safe to say that after visiting over 500 Texas BBQ establishments no single person knows more about Texas BBQ than the “BBQ Snob.”
The book kicks off with a map of 202 BBQ restaurants. The map legend allows you see not only where the joints are located but the type of wood used. As one would expect the most popular wood is Mesquite with oak varieties a close second.
Even though brisket might be king in Texas there are four different techniques for achieving smoked perfection.
“Hill Country” is known for a more “hot and fast” approach. Heavily salted brisket cooked over direct heat from mesquite charcoal.
“East Texas” style is closer to traditional southern BBQ. More often chopped than sliced and drenched in a sweet sauce.
“South Texas” style is best known for barbecoa or whole cow heads smoked until the meat is falling off the bone. You’ll find ribs and brisket too.
“Central Texas” is known for brisket. Low and slow with just salt and pepper. Don’t see sauce on the table? Don’t ask for it because sauce in the area is frowned upon.
As Daniel Vaughn and photographer Nicholas McWhirter traveled a particular area of Texas, sampling the various styles of smoked meat they documented the trips in great detail. At times it was more like reading someone’s diary instead of book about cooking.
Written in a personal and easy-going way the reader is able to understand that the BBQ really is about attitude/atmosphere almost as much as it is about the meat. Not only do you get to read about the people behind the pit you get a lesson into the intricacies that make for great BBQ. With sidebars about the “smoke ring” and “bark” or “smoking wood,” to name a couple, there is also plenty of knowledge spread throughout the book.
The bark (or crust) is the darkened exterior on a cut of smoked meat. The longer the meat is exposed directly to the smoke, the better defined the bark becomes.
One of the interesting aspects of the book is that, considering the lack of recipes in the book, the amount of BBQ knowledge imparted is still high. Being able to read about how the pitmasters go about their business is a great way to learn. It’s not so much the “how-to” that is enlightening about the this book, it just a feeling you get. Think about your favorite BBQ restaurant. Chances are the food is good, but if you really dig down deep into your BBQ soul you’ll come to the realization that there is something you can’t put your finger on. Something special that makes it your favorite place.
If you curious about why Texas BBQ is so popular then get “The Prophets of Smoked Meat.” If you think you know everything there is about Texas BBQ then get “The Prophets of Smoked Meat” to learn all the things you didn’t know you didn’t know.
Look, I’m not into trying to figure out what regional style of BBQ is the best. For me trying to decide t is just a waste of time, it’s all good. But after reading The Prophets of Smoked Meat” I certainly have a better understanding of why citizens of Texas are so proud of their BBQ traditions.
All excerpts and photographs are reprint, with permission, from The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue by Daniel Vaughn with photographs by Nicholas McWhirter. Published by Harper Collins, 2013.