Barbecue Bros Book Club: “The Prophets of Smoked Meat” by Daniel Vaughn

Not that we’re anywhere close to being qualified enough to evaluate books but more so as a public service announcement we will periodically discuss barbecue and barbecue-related books.

Monk: Before Daniel Vaughn was BBQ Editor of Texas Monthly (but not before he was the BBQ Snob), he took a series of long range barbecue roadtrips across Texas spiraling out from his homebase of Dallas. Those trips, along with some profiles of notable pitmasters, form the narrative structure of this book, The Prophets of Smoked Meat, which was released in 2013 on Anthony Bourdain’s Ecco imprint.

Vaughn had been writing on his old Blogspot blog, Full Custom Gospel BBQ, going back to 2008 so was well versed in many of the great and not-so-great joints across Texas. Oddly enough, for a book that celebrates the best in Texas barbecue, for several long stretches of this book (particularly the Panhandle and East Texas trips) Vaughn experienced some quite severe barbecue droughts accompanied by photographer and friend Nicholas McWhirter and a rotating cast of friends and family. Based on this book alone, one might even come away with the impression that outside of a few truly transcendent joints (Snow’s, Franklin Barbecue, Louie Mueller, etc), there’s quite a lot of bad or mediocre barbecue in Texas. I can’t speak from personal experience, but it was interesting to this Texas barbecue novice nonetheless.

Vaughn’s writing has improved from years of full-time barbecue writing but his style here is informal and easy to read – about what you’d expect from a blogger-turned-author. I get a bit of a Hunter S. Thompson vibe in reading Vaughn’s pursuit of vices – in this case the Texas trinity – brisket, sausage, and pork ribs – as well as alcohol (but definitely not mescaline).

In addition to the barbecue roadtrips, there are 20 or so short profiles with recipes of notable pitmasters such as Tootsie Tomanetz of Snow’s BBQ, Wayne Mueller of Louie Mueller, Roy Perez of Kreuz Market, Greg Gatlin of Gatlin’s BBQ, and of course Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue.

An unexpected (for me, anyways) side effect of the book was the descriptions of the vast landscape and terrain of Texas, from the vastness of western plains to the Llano Estacado to the Hill Country to the bayou of east Texas. My Texas experience is limited primarily to the big cities, but this makes me want to spend a week driving in the remote areas of Texas.

The Prophets of Smoked Meat is essential reading for anyone interested in barbecue in 2019, not only because of Vaughn’s position as a BBQ Editor (perhaps still the only such full-time position in the US) but because of the dominance of Texas in American barbecue. As a NC barbecue fanboy, similar to how I felt after reading “Texas BBQ, Small Town to Downtown,” there needs to be one of these books for NC barbecue. Again, I’d happily volunteer my services for such a gig.

Available anywhere you buy books. Official description:

The debut title in the Anthony Bourdain Books line, The Prophets of Smoked Meat by “Barbecue Snob” Daniel Vaughn, author of the enormously popular blog Full Custom Gospel BBQ, is a rollicking journey through the heart of Texas Barbecue.

From brisket to ribs, beef to pork, mesquite to oak, this fully illustrated, comprehensive guide to Texas barbecue includes pit masters’ recipes, tales of the road—from country meat markets to roadside stands, sumptuous photography, and a panoramic look at the Lone Star State, where smoked meat is sacred.

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