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.
John Mueller Meat Co., Austin
Credit: Nicholas McWhirter
After some hard living-induced fits and starts, modern legend John Mueller
, grandson of Louis Mueller, has made good with his recently opened digs on Austin's East Side. With a trailer setup, a stream of piped-in Texas music, and picnic tables, the place admirably captures that addictive, old-time backyard-barbecue feel. "He's famous for his smoky beef ribs, but the large pork spare ribs are no slouch either," Vaughn says. Mueller's already great brisket is getting better with each visit, and the meat's aggressive rub of black pepper and what Vaughn dubs "the stoutest crust in Texas" are matched by the cook's (don't call him a pitman, he insists) gruff exterior. Thanks to the butcher shop premise, you can also score homemade sausages and relishes to go.