Full Custom Gospel BBQ Guru Daniel Vaughn Takes a Statewide Tour
Anyone who has recently researched Texas barbecue joints figures out real quick that the arbiter of solid, unbiased, no B.S. information is a blogsite known as "Full Custom Gospel BBQ," started in 2008 by a barbecue-phile named Daniel “BBQ Snob” Vaughn. Now Vaughn has literally written the book on the subject of Texas barbecue.
The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue
Daniel Vaughn, with photographer Nicholas McWhirter
Anthony Bourdain/Ecco, 384 pp, $29.99
Vaughn moved to Dallas in 2001 as a barbecue-clueless Ohioan and after a few days in the city, tried his first Texas (albeit Dallas) barbecue at the urging of a buddy. He was hooked immediately, and started trying other Dallas barbecue spots. In 2006, after hearing from a friend that the Dallas barbecue he had learned to love so fervently was actually vastly inferior compared to the ‘cue from the Centex Barbecue Belt, Vaughn planned a three-day, sixteen-restaurant pilgrimage to the high holy temples of Central Texas to see what all the fuss was about, and it changed him forever. He and his blog mates, the so-called “Prophets of Smoked Meat", are now the go-to site for all things Texas ‘cue."
The mid-30’s Vaughn looks like the nerdy architect that he once was, before recently being named the nation’s first-ever magazine BBQ editor over at Texas Monthly. For the last seven years Vaughn and his cohorts have zealously crisscrossed the state, logging tens of thousands of miles, and eating at an estimated 450+ Texas barbecue joints (600+ if you include other states), while offering no-holds-barred reviews of each, including interviews with pitmasters, and offering the backstory and history of many of the joints.
Vaughn’s first book, The Prophets of Smoked Meat, is due out on May 14, about a month after he ends his career as a Dallas architect and hooks up with Texas Monthly; it’s a feel-good example of avocation becomes vocation. Vaughn’s book is also the debut release from Anthony Bourdain’s new publishing imprint, Ecco. To quote Bourdain on Vaughn’s food sleuthing skills, “…the Yoda of Barbecue, a man of impeccable smoked meat credentials, known most notoriously as the guy upon whose tireless quest for slow-cooked meat-related wisdom mainstream media shamelessly piggybacks.”
This book is essentially the colorful and entertaining road trip narrative of a quest for Texas barbecue, sliced into eight geographic portions which cover 186 different smoky spots along 10,343 miles of Texas highway. Photographer Nicholas McWhirter rode shotgun along the way, taking notes and chronicling the journey in deliciously brilliant images (do NOT read this book when you are hungry). The book is about the journey as well as the many nuances that affect the outcome of brilliantly cooked barbecue; nuances that over time become second nature to a talented pitmaster, a culinary skill usually learned from years and years of being flanked by cords of hardwood, and sweating at the side of a large smoker that has entertained herds of cattle and pigs. As Vaughn puts it, “… the secret to the transcendent barbecue isn’t in the ingredients, but in the technique.”
Following the manifesto of Full Custom, Vaughn and McWhirter concern themselves with brisket (the King of Texas Barbecue), ribs, both porcine and bovine, pulled pork, and will examine sausage “… if there's anything that they do special with their sausage, like make it themselves or have it made for them with some sort of special recipe, then I certainly want to try it.” And what of sauce? “Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy.”
Throughout the course of the book, Vaughn interjects sidebars on topics such as “rub”, “sauce”, “wood”, “rotisserie ovens”, etc. Decidedly biased, he reveals his philosophy on these topics; on rotisserie ovens: “If it’s roast beef you’re after, then let some high school-aged part-timer set the wheels in motion on your rotisserie smoker. But if great barbecue is the goal, then you’ll need a real pitmaster…”
In the back are 20 recipes from some of the best Texas smoked meat masters, but they can be deceiving. Vaughn says that Aaron Franklin “has no secrets with his recipe”, and it’s all laid out there for you to reproduce. But if a recipe is all it took to cook brisket like Franklin's, or ribs like Vergie’s, or barbacoa like Vera’s, this book, and the Full Custom BBQ website would be pointless. The nuance, the skill, the technique is what makes the book (and the website) valuable.
Vaughn does an admirable job of covering the state, knows his topic better than anyone else, and it’s a dammed entertaining read. I was a little surprised not to find a detailed list of contact information for the restaurants covered in the book, but you can access the Full Custom site for that info; the dude is no dummy. If you are a reader or an eater of smoked meat you will really enjoy this book. I’d suggest using it as the blueprint for your own barbecue pilgrimage.
Both author Daniel Vaughn and photographer Nick McWhirter will be featured speakers at this weekend's Foodways Texas Symposium, Our Barbecue, Ourselves.