Top Shelf in May: The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue by Daniel Vaughn
Reviewed by: Joe T., BBQ-Lovin’ Assistant Buyer
Growing up in Central Texas, my grandfather always liked to tell me (and anyone else within earshot) that God gave Texas to the Texans so that Texans could give to the world Texas Barbecue, and that true Texas Barbecue is Central Texas Barbecue. While it would be true that my grandfather was quite the Texas chauvinist, that doesn’t mean the spirit of that phrase hasn’t penetrated my soul to the point that I sometimes dream about slices of fatty brisket and smoked sausage with coleslaw and potato salad on the side. It is with that love that I approached newly appointed BBQ editor Daniel Vaughn’s book, The Prophets of Smoked Meat, with much excitement.
Detailing a year in which Vaughn and photographer Nicholas McWhirter made a series of extensive road trips to document hundreds of barbecue joints all over the great state of Texas, the book is a boon companion for any and all BBQ lovers. After detailing the four main geographic-based styles of smoking that make up the greater umbrella of Texas Barbecue (that would be Hill Country style, East Texas style, South Texas style, and the great Central Texas BBQ), Vaughn proceeds to visit each area of the state and eat at as many pit stops as he can. There is some massive, massive brisket eating in this book and that includes the all you can eat “World’s Largest Free BBQ” at the XIT Rodeo and Reunion that kicks off the book.
Each section of the state and book is written as a travelogue with Vaughn and McWhirter hitting the best, good, mediocre, and poor brisket, ribs, and sausage joints each area has to offer. Your favorites are well represented but, unfortunately, not always as one of Vaughn’s favorites. But Vaughn always puts a good spin on it when he’s served poor quality meats and always lets the reader keep in mind that he may have just hit the barbecue joint at a bad time and that the next visit might well earn better accolades.
(This is particularly meaningful for me as he failed to visit my hometown joint of Clem Mikeska’s Barbecue in Temple, Texas. This, of course, set me off as the Mikeskas are one of the few remaining great BBQ families, along with the Muellers in Lockhart. After reading the book, however, I had a meal there which didn’t quite hold up to the memories of the meats that I had in my childhood. Or maybe I just came at a bad hour or on a sub-par day. Alas, that is all too common in the world of Barbecue dining.)
But, of course, you’re asking yourself, Did he visit Franklin here in Austin and did he love it? And the answer to that is, of course, a thrilling “YES!” as anyone who has seen the episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation, in which Vaughan introduces Bourdain to the quality of that most excellent joint, can tell you.
I already can’t wait for the paperback edition of the book where hopefully Vaughn will have visited Micklethwait Craft Meats food trailer which is currently burning up the Austin smoked meats community with it’s high quality brisket and homemade pickles.
So, if you love smoked meats or are just starting to fall for the great sport of Texas Barbecue, The Prophets of Smoked Meat is the book for you. Don’t forget to take it with you on your next road trip as you never know just how good that mom and pop joint on that farm-to-market road might be.