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.
Louie Mueller Barbecue, Taylor
"When God made beef ribs, he did so with the intention that Wayne Mueller would coat them in coarse black pepper and smoke them over post oak," Vaughn says. Louie Mueller was the first stop in Vaughn's virgin Central Texas barbecue tour in 2006, and for good reason. The reverent come in droves to the state's barbecue heartland. Here, Louis Mueller opened a grocery store in 1946 with a barbecue sideshow that begat a dynasty. Son Bobby took over in 1974, grandson Wayne has tended the fires since 2008, and grandson John is also a very well regarded pitman. On that signature rib: "How Mueller can take a tough cut of meat, gnarled with fat, and turn it into beef that's more buttery than a croissant, I'll never know," Vaughn says admiringly.
Credit: Nicholas McWhirter