Score one for Texas, with the publication of The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue (Ecco, $29.99), a book about barbecue written by Dallas resident and blogger Daniel Vaughn.
The first book published on the Ecco imprint run by No Reservations' Anthony Bourdain, Prophets of Smoked Meat is a unique hybrid of travelogue, diary and religious tome. It details a series of road trips Vaughn and photographer Nicholas McWhirter took across the state, with reviews of nearly 200 barbecue spots. You come away knowing more than you could imagine about Texas barbecue, plus a certain degree of awe at Vaughn's descent into gluttony, conducted under the guise of scientific research.
The book's one true passion is the romanticizing, fetishizing and deifying of meat — from the "prophets" in the title to the pilgrimage imagery to the weirdly sexual two-page spreads.
Scattered throughout the book are amusing, authoritative sidebars on topics such as rotisserie ovens (bad), chopped beef (iffy) and banana pudding (good). It lists his top picks: Franklin Barbecue in Austin; Snow's in Lexington; Louie Mueller in Taylor; and two Lockhart spots, Kruez Market and Black's. It profiles 24 pitmasters, each with a recipe. Those constitute the only recipes in the book. As the book says, "The secret to transcendent barbecue isn't in the ingredients but in the technique."
Vaughn, an architect, created his "BBQ Snob" persona after co-founding his Full Custom Gospel BBQ barbecue blog in 2008. Merely by eating barbecue several times a week, he made himself an expert; now he's an author for whom Texas Monthly created a full-time barbecue editor position.
The book is clearly and carefully researched, and Vaughn's impersonal tone creates a sense of accountability. It'll make a great guide for many a BBQ road trip in the future. But the writing feels a tiny bit wan, with the players functioning as eating machines, going through the same motions. The book's real passion lies in its fetishizing and deifying of meat, glorious meat — from the "prophets" in the title to the pilgrimage imagery to the subliminally sexual two-page spreads. Carol Adams, please call home.
Referred to only obliquely in the acknowledgements is the book's juicy back story and how the circumstances of its publication so perfectly embody the changing times in journalism. Vaughn came to Bourdain's attention via "BBQ-gate," when a Best Barbecue story he wrote for D Magazine was used as source material by Dallas Morning News critic Leslie Brenner without attribution.
These days, a blogger with a specialty in a single topic can now leapfrog past old-school writers to a brave new world called ... books.