The Prophets of Smoked Meat
"How did a guy from Ohio become so obsessed with Texas barbecue?"
Let's change it up this week. This will be a book "review." I can read? Yup. It surprises me sometimes. Who knew the writer, Daniel Vaughn aka BBQ Snob, and I share such a similar background. That line from the book sums it up for the both of us in a way. I grew up in Parma, OH when I was a kid. My family moved to Texas in 1994, and I have lived in Texas since. My love for barbecue is evident in this blog.
When I heard Texas Monthly had hired a barbecue editor, I was intrigued. The new editor had written a book about his travels through Texas visiting BBQ joints. One day when my wife and I were at Costco, we saw his book. We had to buy The Prophets of Smoked Meat. It was under 20 bucks at Costco so I did not feel bad buying the book. I rarely read let alone buy a book. The last book I read cover to cover was Mockingjay, the last book in The Hunger Games trilogy.
Daniel Vaughn fell in love with barbecue and started his own blog. He was encouraged to put his barbecue adventures into print by agent David Hale Smith. It was the first book released by Anthony Bourdain's publishing company. It took me under a month to read the book. I read most of it at night right before bed. The only issue with that was that I went to bed hungry. Writing this "review" was tough because it brought back childhood memories of writing book reviews. That is not a good thing plus I did not find any Cliff Notes for this book. I will try to make it painless for you and me.
The concept of the book is pretty basic. Daniel Vaughn and his friend and photographer, Nicholas McWhirter, would travel through Texas trying various barbecue restaurants along the way. They ended up visiting over 200 restaurants and covering over ten thousand miles in Daniel's Audi. The Audi has been replaced recently after it was totaled. They should put that car in some kind of barbecue museum. Daniel and Nick would eat up to ten places in one day. After reading the book, I wanted to do something similar. I am not sure my wife will not be happy about that. I have an appetite, and I can definitely put away some food. Eating that much food day after day would have to be a drain on the body. When we took our pilgrimage to Lockhart, I was the winner of the day. We ate at three places that day, and I was fine and could have continued. I am not sure if I can do it day after day though. Props to the BBQ Snob for that.
The chapters are broken into regions. Daniel would cover sections of the state at a time. I cannot imagine trying places that are terrible over and over. It would be a waste of dollars and calories. He encountered a lot of places where the food was downright bad. Sometimes the sides/desserts were better than the barbecue. It also seems like there was not any good barbecue west of the Hill Country. There are also four styles of Texas barbecue: Hill Country, East Texas, South Texas, and Central Texas. Hill Country is typically cooked with direct heat at a faster rate. East Texas is mostly about drenching their meat in a thick sauce. South Texas is all about barbacoa. I love me some barbacoa. Barbacoa is a whole cow head smoked overnight in the ground. Central Texas' approach is slow and low with indirect heat. This has to be my favorite style.
The approach of the book is pretty straightforward. Daniel and Nick would visit a location, try their meats, and review it. At certain points in the book, it does get repetitive for me, and I am sure for them as well. You start to run out of ways to describe good or bad barbecue. There are pictures throughout the book of the places they visited. There are snippets in the book that go into details of a certain subject (example: fat and wood). The last part of the book is a profile of pitmasters that they met along the way. It also features how each one would smoke one of their meats. Nick took a lot of quality shots which definitely help break up the book at times.
In conclusion (basically how I concluded every paper in high school), I would recommend the book if you are a big barbecue fan or a "BBQ snob." With Christmas right around the corner, this would be an excellent gift to give. It is an easy read. I would pick up the book, and the pages would fly by. You can stop at any point and pick up the book later without missing a beat. I would advise not to read the book on an empty stomach or not be anywhere close to the state of Texas. I read it while I was in Cleveland for work and was screwed. There was no good barbecue to be found. Some of us believe Texas is the king of barbecue, and this book embodies that idea. The book definitely opens your eyes to the world of Texas barbecue.
I will leave you with a line from the book: "Ohioan by birth, but Texan by the grace of God." Amen.
Until next time, happy smoking...