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.
Prause Meat Market, La Grange
Food historians have written extensively about how the meat market tradition in the small towns of Central Texas helped create the state's barbecue culture. Cuts that didn't sell were smoked and sold ready to eat, and offcuts were ground into sausage. Unlike most of the Central Texas greats, which have evolved into barbecue-only joints, Prause hasn't diverged much from its 1890s market roots: You can eat well and bring some home with you. "This joint more than any other still clings to the meat-market aspect," Vaughn says, making it a necessary stop for the devout BBQ traditionalist. "Take in a fine smoked pork chop and some homemade smoked sausage, then grab a thick porterhouse for grilling on your way out."
Credit: Nicholas McWhirter