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.
Pecan Lodge, Dallas
This tiny whitewashed stall hit the Dallas Farmers Market in 2009 to sell something rare in this neck of the state: top-notch smoked meat in the so-called Texas Triangle, the barbecue-poor urban region bordered by the freeways connecting Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. It takes more than the right patina to win over Vaughn. "Consistency is more important to me than history when it comes to good barbecue," he says. But sure enough, after only a few years in the business, owners Justin and Diane Fourton already sling consistently excellent mesquite-smoked meats. (The "pecan" in the name comes from the family ranch back in Abilene; native mesquite is the Fourtons' wood of choice.) Vaughn's tip: "They recently added a beef rib to the regular menu, and it already rivals those considered the best in the state."
Credit: Nicholas McWhirter