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.

Barbecue Bros Book Club: “Texas BBQ: From Small Town to Downtown” by Wyatt McSpadden

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.

Texas photographer Wyatt McSpadden released a barbecue photo book just 9 years before this book, in 2009. So why a new book now? Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, a lot has happened in the world of barbecue in the past 10 years, particularly in Texas. In 2013, Texas Monthly hired a full-time barbecue editor in Daniel Vaughn (who lends McSpadden an essay for this book). Also, a little joint opened up in Austin just months after that first book’s release, and it changed everything. You may have heard of it – Franklin Barbecue. So yeah, there is quite a bit more ground to cover.

Now I haven’t yet read the first book (though its now at the top of my shortlist of barbecue books), but I get the impression that its very similar in nature. In “Texas BBQ, Small Town to Downtown,” Wyatt’s fantastic photography is front and center, of course and beautifully laid out by his wife Nancy McMillan.

Wyatt does write about a handful of joints that mean a great deal to him, from joints that remind him of the joints he went to growing up in Amarillo (like Prause Meat Market in xxx) to legendary places where he tasted his first transcendent bites of barbecue (Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor).

Wyatt’s passion is evident in those words as well as his gorgeous photography. He was there to document the rise of Aaron Franklin and Franklin Barbecue (Franklin provides the foreword, pictured above) and more than most, has criss-crossed the state for nearly 30 years, documenting every weathered nook and smoke-encrusted cranny.
“Texas BBQ: From Small Town to Downtown” is an essential barbecue book to add to your collection. I will say, North Carolina barbecue needs it’s own iteration of this book, and what a dream job that would be.

Available wherever you buy books. Official description:

In Texas BBQ, Wyatt McSpadden immortalized the barbecue joints of rural Texas in richly authentic photographs that made the people and places in his images appear as timeless as barbecue itself. The book found a wide, appreciative audience as barbecue surged to national popularity with the success of young urban pitmasters such as Austin’s Aaron Franklin, whose Franklin Barbecue has become the most-talked-about BBQ joint on the planet. Succulent, wood-smoked “old school” barbecue is now as easy to find in Dallas as in DeSoto, in Houston as in Hallettsville. In Texas BBQ, Small Town to Downtown, Wyatt McSpadden pays homage to this new urban barbecue scene, as well as to top-rated country joints, such as Snow’s in Lexington, that were under the radar or off the map when Texas BBQwas published.

Texas BBQ, Small Town to Downtown presents crave-inducing images of both the new—and the old—barbecue universe in almost every corner of the state, featuring some two dozen joints not included in the first book. In addition to Franklin and Snow’s, which have both occupied the top spot in Texas Monthly’s barbecue ratings, McSpadden portrays urban joints such as Dallas’s Pecan Lodge and Cattleack Barbecue and small-town favorites such as Whup’s Boomerang Bar-B-Que in Marlin. Accompanying his images are barbecue reflections by James Beard Award–winning pitmaster Aaron Franklin and Texas Monthly’s barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn. Their words and McSpadden’s photographs underscore how much has changed—and how much remains the same—since Texas BBQrevealed just how much good, old-fashioned ’cue there is in Texas.

Barbecue Bros Book Club: Foods That Make You Say Mmm-mmm by Bob Garner

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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.

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Monk: Bob Garner’s latest book, published in 2014, isn’t strictly a barbecue book per se. Instead it focuses on various favorite foods and drinks of North Carolina, though naturally barbecue is featured being that it is the state’s most popular food.

The barbecue chapter of the book covers the basics in terms of the history of barbecue in the state and how the two dominant styles of barbecue came to be. Where it does cover some new territory compared with previous barbecue books from Garner is the introduction of different styles of smokers into NC, comparing offset and rotisserie smokers imported from the midwest and Texas to the traditional NC brick barbecue pits with its direct heat method. Instead of an exhaustive list of all barbecue restaurants (which Garner previously covered in his Big Book of Barbecue), he instead showcases just four restaurants – one from the east (Skylight Inn), one from the piedmont (Lexington Barbecue), a new-style joint that serves beer while still smoking over wood (Hillsborough BBQ Company), and a regional chain (Smithfield’s Chicken and BBQ).

The book does contain recipes as well, and I particularly like that the recipe for “charcoal cooked pulled pork” is for a Lexington-style barbecue recipe smoked on a Weber charcoal grill.

The subsequent chapters of the book cover foods often eaten with barbecue like brunswick stew and collards as well as desserts such as banana pudding and peach cobbler. This is smartly done by Garner.

As for other barbecue-related items, the book also has later chapters on barbecue sauces found in stores, Texas Pete hot sauce, as well as soft drinks created in NC. Longtime readers and followers will note how much I love Cheerwine or Sun Drop with barbecue, and of course the history of those are featured.

“Foods That Make You Say Mmm-mmm” lovingly explores the food and drinks of North Carolina in a way that only a native North Carolinian can. It is very much a Bob Garner book – and that’s a very good thing.

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Barbecue Bros Book Club: Carolina ‘Cue by Our State Magazine

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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.

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Monk: Carolina ‘Cue is a collection of articles that appeared in Our State Magazine along with the full color photos that originally accompanied them. The stories move from west to east across the state as you read the book and while the heavy hitters – Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge, Lexington Barbecue, Stamey’s Barbecue, Allen & Son Barbeque, etc – get some coverage in the form of photos between articles, the articles themselves focus on some of the lesser-known joints in the state. And perhaps this makes sense, as the big guys have been covered the most both nationally and locally, so Our State is able to focus on the other places that haven’t had as much exposure.

Each article doesn’t focus on the food so much but rather the story behind the family and the building that makes the food – after all, it is subtitled “the people, places, and plates behind our favorite tradition”. No writer is featured more than twice but there is a cohesive voice and tone from article to article. At just under 100 pages, I breezed through the book in two short sittings but you could easily do it in one.

Carolina ‘Cue was compiled as of 2014 and features 27 restaurants in total (17 in articles, 10 in photos). In the table of contents it states that if you don’t see your favorite then they haven’t gotten there – yet. Here’s hoping a second version of the book can be published in another couple of years to continue the great storytelling project of the state’s favorite food.

Barbecue Bros Book Club: Barbecue by John Shelton Reed

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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.

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Monk: The Savor the South cookbook series from the University of North Carolina Press covers one “beloved food or tradition” of the South at a time (like bourbon or pecans – those books are written by Charlotte Observer food writer Kathleen Purvis). One of the latest in the series from 2016 is “Barbecue” from John Shelton Reed, who along with his wife wrote one of my favorite barbecue books ever, “Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue” back in 2008.

Reed acknowledges that the world doesn’t necessarily need another barbecue cookbook – heck, he himself already owns a couple dozen – which is why I appreciate that he attempts to make this particular cookbook more educational than the average one. In his usual dry humor tone, Reed gives a baseline of the history of southern barbecue in the Introduction chapter before exploring the variations in meats and sauces in the subsequent chapters. Finally, he moves on to sides and ultimately desserts by the end of the book.

I may or may not get around to the trying some of the recipes, but the history and education is what really makes “Barbecue” a good read.

Barbecue Bros Book Club: The One True Barbecue by Rien Fertel

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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.

IMG_8196A collection of profiles on whole hog pitmasters throughout the southeast, “The One True Barbecue” by Rien Fertel is an enjoyable if not somewhat controversial read. In particular, Fertel ruffled feathers with his chapters on Wilber Shirley and Ed Mitchell. He portrayed the former’s restaurant as a joint with a racial division of labor between the front of the house and the back and the latter as a marketing gimmick in overalls that cooks hogs in a non-traditional manner (hot and fast rather than the traditional low and slow). However fair Fertel’s representation may or may not be (and he is but one man with his opinion), the fact that he spoke with neither for the purposes of this book only added more embers to the burn barrel.

Fertel ties the profiles together through narrative, following his path from New Orleans to the Carolinas and back, with even a stop in Bushwick to visit Arrogant Swine. Each chapter not only explores the pitmaster(s) themselves but in some cases the history of an entire town with Ayden, NC and its two joints Skylight Inn and Bum’s. He particularly favors Scott’s-Parker’s Barbecue in Lexington, TN, visiting with pitmaster Ricky Parker in the first chapter and then his sons after his death in the last chapter. In between, Fertel visits 12 other whole hog joints in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, and the aforementioned Arrogant Swine in NY.

I enjoyed Fertel’s writing and found this to be a quick read that I devoured over just a few sittings. Fertel cut his teeth writing oral histories for The Southern Foodways Alliance, and his experience writing on southern food showed. A small complaint would be that the only color photographs are confined to a section at the center of the book – I would have loved to see them throughout as opposed to the smaller black and white ones within the chapters. In any case, I can’t recommend “The One True Barbecue” enough.

Monk

Barbecue Bros Book Club: Buxton Hall BBQ Book of Smoke by Elliott Moss

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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.

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“Buxton Hall BBQ Book of Smoke” is a book of recipes from Chef Elliott Moss, the head chef and pitmaster of, you guessed it, Buxton Hall Barbecue. It also functions as a coffee table book of sorts with its beautiful color photography. Finally, it also contains narrative from Moss; among other things, he explains the history of how Buxton Hall came to be, his own family history of barbecue, inspiration for the restaurant, and his philosophy when it comes to barbecue and food.

In terms of the recipes, Moss divides the book between pit smoking techniques and meats, favorite foods found at Buxton Hall, sides, and desserts. While this section of the book is heavy on the recipes themselves, Moss still gives a couple paragraphs introduction on each dish so his voice continues throughout the book past those initial pages.

This was a quick read but I enjoyed reading Elliott Moss’s writing on barbecue (his passion is quite evident) and particularly the food porn-y full color photography (something I wish more barbecue books would have). “Buxton Hall BBQ Book of Smoke” will sit on my shelf as a beautifully laid out reference book that I will go back to try some of the recipes and techniques in the future (hello, cinder block pit and burn barrel).

Monk

Barbecue Bros Book Club: The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America by Johnny Fugitt

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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.

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Monk: From October 2013 to October 2014, barbecue writer Johnny Fugitt ate at 365+ barbecue restaurants across the lower 48 United States and compiled his own rankings into a book, The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America. His rankings were not based on marketing or TV exposure or from compiling previous lists together into one mega list (as many barbecue lists tend to be), but by one man driving across the US in a Subaru judging barbecue through his own palate.

Speedy and I met up with Johnny last year in Charlotte and was able to get a private tour of the commissary kitchen of Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen where they smoke their meat and do their prep work for the food truck. We’ve continued to keep in touch with him via email and Twitter and consider him a friend of the blog. Full disclosure and all that: Johnny was kind enough to provide complimentary signed copies of his book to both Speedy and me. Though Speedy forgot and bought another one from Amazon anyways (never a bad thing to support a writer, however).

Speedy: That’s right, Monk. I was being supportive, not forgetful. Anyway, in terms of the book itself, I really like the way Johnny went about it. There’s so much subjectivity to these lists that Johnny made sure to tell the story behind why he did this in the first place, his methodology, and a little bit about each trip he took. He was very specific about both what he liked and didn’t like at each place.

Monk: As for the list itself, it’s broken up between ranking his top 25 and then the remaining 75 restaurants are unranked and listed by state. While there are some of the usual suspects on the list, there are some glaring omissions that he wasn’t able to get to (Scott’s Bar-B-Que, La Barbecue, or Killen’s Barbecue) or some that folks might scratch their head at (a non-Franklin or La Barbecue Austin pick for #1 overall, a Florida joint in the top 5, etc). But that’s ok, because that was the whole point of the book.

For NC and specifically Charlotte, I was happy to see some of our favorites represented on the list. We covered this in a previous post, but Midwood Smokehouse and Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen were both decently represented in the book – both in terms of the restaurants themselves on the unranked list of 75 but also particular dishes (brisket for Midwood and brunswick stew and sauce for Boone’s). Speedy, what were your thoughts on the list?

Speedy: As I mentioned above, I like the way Johnny went about it, but of course, I don’t agree with the rankings 100%. I think it’s a little Texas heavy and anything that doesn’t have Lexington BBQ in the top 25 (it does make the top 100), doesn’t line up with my taste completely. However, I think that’s the point. What I do like is that anywhere in the continental 48 I go, I know someone has been there before me to figure out if there’s anywhere worth trying. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Monk: Agreed. If I had any minor complaints, I would have liked to have seen full color photos, but I’m assuming that came down to a budget issue. In any case, while I may not agree completely with how the rankings shook out, I can’t fault Johnny’s hustle. Definitely a worthy read.

Barbecue Bros Book Club: Barbecue Crossroads by Robb Walsh and O. Rufus Lovett

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Not that I’m 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.

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Barbecue Crossroads: Notes & Recipes from a Southern Odyssey, written by multi James Beard Award-winning author Robb Walsh (who I had the pleasure of meeting earlier this year) with photographs by O. Rufus Lovett, is exactly the type of book I’d love to research and write some  day. The two take a roadtrip from Texas to the Carolinas and back, discovering and investigating the traditions and regional styles of barbecue in the American South. Its a travelogue that doesn’t just focus on the restaurants the two visit but also the community barbecues that don’t often get covered in the typical barbecue book. It also contains recipes and some of the most vivid color photography of barbecue culture – seriously, with enough practice in maybe a few decades I’ll be able to take photos half as good as Lovett.

Texas, Memphis, and North Carolina are well represented in the book but Grant of Marie, Let’s Eat! was a little miffed that they only devoted 5 pages to Georgia barbecue due to a perceived lack of effort or trying. This did not bother me as much as it did him, but then again thats easy to say for someone from North Carolina. Who knows what the reasons may be, but I can understand that time and resources are limited and they may have wanted to focus in predestined locations known. In any case, I really enjoyed this book and blew right through it in a matter of  a few days and would recommend it to any barbecue blogger.

Monk

Barbecue Bros Book Club: Barbecue: The History of An American Institution by Robert Moss

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Not that I’m 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. First up is what I would consider an essential book to understanding barbecue.

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In order to better understand where barbecue is heading today, I think its vital to understand the history and foundation of barbecue in the US. Robert Moss is a barbecue historian from Charleston and the current barbecue editor of Southern Living Magazine, so he is as qualified as any to write about the origins of barbecue in the United States and how the regional styles popped up. And that is exactly what he does in Barbecue: An American Institution. In it, he traces the Caribbean origins of the word to the American roots in Virginia – thats right, South Carolina, you are decidedly not the birthplace of barbecue despite what your ludicrous campaign says – through the decline during the fast food era and its current rebirth.

Moss’s book is comprehensive in its documentation of barbecue’s trends across America, and while it does devote some space to detailing the regional styles of barbecue (North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina, etc) if you are looking for more in-depth knowledge about a particular style you will have to look elsewhere. Still, this is as good a starting place as ever if you are looking to read up on American barbecue. Lots of great archival photos and ads are sprinkled throughout as are some barbecue-related recipes. Highly recommended.

Monk