In Texas, barbecue isn't merely a savory cooking style but a matter of religious import. To know it requires education, discipline, a missionary sense of adventure . . . and likely a belt-hole puncher. Dedicated meat eater Daniel Vaughn, of the blog Full Custom Gospel BBQ, has made Texas's grand tradition his specialty and was a featured speaker at the recent 2013 Foodways Texas Symposium (this year's genius theme: Our Barbecue, Ourselves).
While researching his new book, 'The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue,' Vaughn crisscrossed more than 10,000 miles of Lone Star State highway and returned with culinary discoveries, arcana, and recipes from the state's distinct and storied barbecue regions and pitmasters. The book is an ode to what's been described as the country's only true vernacular food – one that changes with the lay of the land. Vaughn offers up Texas barbecue's basic premise as: "Simply seasoned meat cooked to tenderness over hardwood smoke." Yet in a state larger than France, such generalizations don't do justice to the bounty and incredible variations: Pork and sauce make appearances in the land of beef, and the tortilla joins white bread as the quintessential barbecue napkin. Still, despite the variety and volume of contenders, Vaughn says there are plenty of standouts and so gave us his top 10 picks that any visitor to Texas ought to experience.
Fargo's Pit BBQ, Bryan
In the central-southeast Brazos Valley, Vaughn exercised the prophet's rights, emerging from a moment of divine inspiration to lead the people to Fargo's. "This joint stands as one of my greatest finds," he says. "I hadn't seen any mention of them on statewide barbecue lists, when out of the corner of my eye I saw their sign with 'BBQ' painted in white. I hit the brakes and it turned out to be one of the best meals I've eaten." Fargo's recently moved into a new building, but Vaughn's return visits have determined that the charm remains, particularly in the smoky pork spare ribs and the crisp and juicy chicken. Pitmaster and owner Alan Caldwell guards his secrets closely; in this age of Internet-driven, deeply specialized consumption, Vaughn still doesn't know what kind of wood or smoker he uses.
Credit: Nicholas McWhirter