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.
Franklin Barbecue, Austin
A relative newcomer to the Hill Country circuit, Franklin Barbecue has nonetheless racked up all the honors that exist in this art form. Its specialty is Texas barbecue's most iconic product: Meat rubbed with salt and pepper and smoked low and slow over indirect heat to a melting texture. Pitmaster Aaron Franklin's fatty brisket justifies foodie terms like "bark" and "sugar cookie," which would be annoying were it not true that the meat may be indescribable to a layman (learn the BBQ man's insider vocab in Vaughn's book). As Vaughn tells us, "Waiting upwards of two hours just for barbecue seems ludicrous, but this is the only joint in the state – and therefore the world – where I can honestly say that it's worth the wait." Our recent stop clocked in at two and a half hours to the counter, at which point we got 2.5 pounds of brisket for two women and two babies. Though you'll come for that beef, Franklin's turkey, pork ribs, and the Tipsy Texan – a chopped brisket sandwich capped with beef sausage, red cabbage slaw, white onion, dill pickle, and the house's espresso barbecue sauce – reveal an outstanding all-around game.
Credit: Nicholas McWhirter