Today, this blog is overrun by foodies who are the prophets of the smoking pit. Texas 'cue is sui generis. No brag, just fact. Once the meat's on the grill, don't be messin' with the lid. If this is (fair & balanced) writin' about good eatin' so be it.
[x Houston Fishwrap]
The Great State Of Barbecue
By Greg Morago
Tag Cloud of the following article
Daniel Vaughn says he'll pretty much stop under any sign in Texas that says "barbecue" or "smoked meat" on the off chance of finding "that diamond in the rough." Sometimes the barbecue is just OK; he keeps driving. And then sometimes he hits a pocket of gems that sends a shiver through him. It happened recently when a Houston friend steered him to East Texas in search of a particular style of fatty beef links that hail from the black-owned barbecue joints of Beaumont and Port Arthur.
"It was like stepping into history," the Dallas-based barbecue fan said of the juicy, fat-oozing sausages. "It was like finding an endangered species."
The world of Texas barbecue is vast, populated with thousands of barbecue enterprises big and small from venerable temples of 'cue that command national attention to unsung mom-and-pop joints that are known only to townies. And it's this enormous breadth of smoky landscape that the passionate disciples of Texas barbecue endeavor to chronicle. They're the ones who get up hours before the roosters to drive to a place they've heard has delectable brisket only one day a week. They're the ones staking out their place at the front of the line in front of a barbecue shack or trailer to ensure they get their fill before the ribs run out. And they're the ones tweeting enthusiasm, posting pictures on Facebook, checking in on Foursquare and blogging about their meals, all in the name of spreading their burnt-ends-fueled barbecue love. They're the new breed of social-media-savvy barbecue nerds (or "super-nerds," as barbecue master Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue in Austin called them in a recent Texas Monthly cover story about barbecue). Call them barbecue geeks, barbecue fanboys or barbecue warriors. Vaughn's Twitter handle is @bbqsnob, and his blogspot sports a name that reeks of barbecue's artisan nature and near-religious fervor: FullCustomGospelBBQ.
"I'm not afraid of labels," he said, adding that he doesn't mind being called a barbecue nerd. "As long as you're furthering the message of great Texas barbecue, it's fine with me."
Vaughn is among a growing group of barbecue fans who are traversing the state to discover, document and promote Texas barbecue culture. Using the tools of social media, whether casually or with great purpose, they are enlarging the public discourse on Texas barbecue.
"People talking about barbecue is a good thing," said Drew Thornley, a UT business law professor whose blog ManUpTexasBBQ is aiming to make itself a comprehensive forum for Texas barbecue information. "What I'm hearing in conversations I've had with people who have lived here for a long time is they're experiencing a huge Texas barbecue renaissance."
Thornley says that dedicated blogs and a growing number of barbecue-loving social media users are ramping up the profile of the state's most iconic food. "Now anybody with a phone can be a critic or a fan or post a picture. You don't even need words, you just need a picture with meat and you'll get followers," he said.
ManUpTexasBBQ was launched in August 2008 by an Alabama native who moved to Austin and was admittedly both annoyed and fascinated by the love Texans have for their state. "I thought I'd take something I love food and something Texas loves barbecue and go from there," Thornley said of beginning his fledgling site dedicated to Texas barbecue joints. "When we first started out there was no real chatter or blogging going on about barbecue," he said. "Now there's a wave of enthusiasm sweeping Central Texas, and we're riding that wave."
That wave has driven enough traffic to his blog that Thornley has branched out with an enterprise called the Q Card, which offers discounts and specials at about 120 barbecue establishments including well-known practitioners such as Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, JMueller BBQ in Austin and Snow's BBQ in Lexington.
When he isn't teaching, Thornley is crisscrossing the state looking for places such as Sisterdale Smokehouse in Sisterdale, which is open only the first and third weekend of each month. Thornley plans to write soon about hidden gems of Central Texas, which he said includes Opie's Barbecue of Spicewood, Milt's Pit BBQ in Kyle, Johnny's Steaks & Bar-Be-Que in Salado and Gonzales Food Market in Gonzales (known for its lamb ribs).
Thornley doesn't see anything wrong with the term "barbecue nerd," but he wouldn't call himself that, he says. "I see myself as a barbecue messenger, a middleman or facilitator for all things Texas barbecue," he said. "It's all passion. If this became work to me, I wouldn't do it."
Not a critical know-it-all
To J.C. Reid, a Houston food writer and barbecue enthusiast, the term "nerd" suggests the overly aggressive side of barbecue passion the critical know-it-alls who unmercifully scrutinize barbecue and demand perfection. "I would never do that," he said. "There's a lot of people who aren't knowledgeable about barbecue and how much effort it takes. What distinguishes myself and others is that we understand how much work is involved, and that's what we communicate to other people."
That communication has made Reid a respected go-to source for local barbecue fans itching to make a run for Central Texas barbecue. Reid, whose food and travel writing can be found here, has led several expeditions himself. But it bothered Reid that his barbecue fraternity constantly left out Houston from the barbecue buzz. So in October he launched the Houston Barbecue Project with the intent to shine the light on lesser-known Houston barbecue joints.
"Most of the media and publicity goes to central Texas and Austin, which is absolutely justified, but we've forgotten what a great treasure of barbecue we have here in Houston," he said. "I think there's a lack of appreciation for the barbecue we have in Houston."
HouBBQ is precisely the local expertise Anthony Compofelice appreciates when it comes to indulging his passion for all things barbecue.
"There are foodies who are into certain types of food. I'm into barbecue. I'm not into fancy foods I'm into the down-in-the-smoke barbecue," said the Houston resident who works in strategic planning for an energy company. "You could call it the school of barbecue. I want to learn as much as I can."
That drive led him on many barbecue runs; caused him to purchase a "pretty big" smoker for his home; to compete in barbecue cook-offs; to take a course in butchering and barbecue science at Texas A&M; and to visit the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo's World's Champtionship Bar-B-Que Contest last weekend. It's all part of indulging the barbecue geek in him the same impulse that drives him to tweet about his barbecue exploits. Go ahead and call him a barbecue nerd, he said. "I appreciate the term. Barbecue is a science. It's art and science, so 'nerd' has that science element to it," he said. "There's so much of that in barbecue. It's appropriate. A student of barbecue? That's great. If I could have a diploma in barbecue that would be awesome."
Campofelice's Twitter feed is "pretty much all barbecue," he admits.
Power of the barbecue geek
The power and profile of the barbecue geek has never been higher, suggests Aaron Franklin, owner of the highly praised Franklin Barbecue, who Texas Monthly dubbed "the master" in a February cover story on barbecue. Franklin Barbecue began in a trailer for just over a year before opening a bricks-and-mortar store in Austin in March 2011.
"The first time we started getting busy at the trailer was after FullCustomGospel and then ManUpTexas found us. The Internet stuff is enormous," he said. "They're people who are really nerdy and passionate about barbecue."
But the work of those nerds who recognized the genius of his barbecue helped put him on the map, he admits.
The barbecue nerd in him appreciates the interest that fellow nerds have taken in his business.
"I think it's great. People have been slaving over hot fires for generations. People who wouldn't otherwise be recognized are now being recognized," he said.
"I think it's pretty cool people care so much about a certain genre of food."
But to someone like Daniel Vaughn, barbecue is not just any food. It's Texas barbecue. And he's happy his blog is among those that are changing the face of the business.
"I just wrote about Fargo's (Pit BBQ in Bryan). It had gotten good local reviews but never was a shop overrun with customers. I gave them six stars, my highest rating, and in just the last three weeks their business has gone through the roof," he said.
His barbecue passion and perspective are paying off: Vaughn has been tapped to write a book for Anthony Bourdain's new line of books published under HarperCollins' Ecco imprint.
The book, to be called Prophets of Smoked Meat, is a great example of the power of the barbecue nerd. And he's happy to be in their company.
"The barbecue nerds and geeks have probably enjoyed barbecue most of their lives but came to the realization, by eating at these places, that it can be so much better," he said.
"It's like eating good chocolate. Once you taste it, everything else tastes like (expletive). It's the same with barbecue. Eventually you see the light." Ω
[Greg Morago is food editor for the Houston Chronicle. He writes about food trends and restaurants for the weekly Flavor section as well as the Chronicle's new Good Life section on Sunday. He also blogs about food news for the Chronicle's Fork & Cork blog. Morago previously worked at The Hartford Courant in Hartford, CT, where he was an arts and entertainment editor and writer as well as restaurant critic for the Courant's Sunday magazine. Morago is a member of The James Beard Foundation and a judge for the society’s annual national restaurant awards.]
Copyright © 2012 Hearst Communications Inc.
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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.
Copyright © 2012 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves