Daniel Vaughn had no intention of writing a book when he started his blog, Full Custom Gospel BBQ, let alone becoming the barbecue editor of Texas Monthly. "People read the blog and really began to use it as a resource," he recalls. Vaughn has been to hundreds of barbecue restaurants across Texas. As he explains on his blog, he uses a few simple criteria: "Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day."
His book, The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue, is a barbecue journal which includes around two hundred of the establishments discussed on the blog. Vaughn is not reserved when it comes to his opinion that Texas represents the barbecue capitol of the world. Better than Kansas City which he says people "tout paltry slices of gray beef covered in sweet ketchup," and better than Memphis "where they grill ribs over charcoal and fret about whether to hide the product under a pool of sugary sauce of cover it with flavored dust." As for the Carolinas, Vaughn says "they lift their noses and say through pursed, vinegary lips that they invented barbecue." In the June issue of Texas Monthly, Vaughn writes that the list of the best fifty barbecue spots in Texas is also "the fifty best barbecue joints in the world."
The number one spot went to Austin's Franklin Barbecue. Vaughn explains the ethos of a place like Franklin's, "it's not just about consistancy, its about the way the line of people waiting outside for barbecue has become a cultural phenomenon." While Austin remains the undisputed capitol of smoked meat, Vaughn has no doubts about Houston's potential in the barbecue arena. "It's an urban barbecue scene. To be honest, I thought that Houston had peaked two years ago. With two relatively new restaurants in the top fifty, Houston has shown how hard it is to predict these things." He's referring to Gatlin's BBQ and Catering, which received a 4.25 rating out of a possible 5, and Virgie's Bar-B-Que, which received a 4. Vaughn gives Gatlin's the edge on brisket, while Virgie's ribs come out on top between the two places.
Vaughn's book, which has been out for about a month, has the distinction of being the first to be published by Anthony Bourdain's ECCO Books. Vaughn says that was a result of "good timing and dumb luck." Vaughn had a chance meeting with literary agent David Hale Smith, who had recently joined the Inkwell Group that already represents Bourdain. He helped convince Vaughn that there could be some opportunity in compiling his barbecue memoirs into a book. Less than two years later, ECCO published The Prophets of Smoked Meat.
This weekend Houstonians have the unique opportunity to meet the Dallas resident. Vaughn will hold two book signings on this Saturday June 15. The first takes place from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. at Leibman's Fine Foods (14529 Memorial Dr. Houston, TX 77079) with Virgie's barbecue available. For those inside the loop, Vaughn will make a second appearance from 4:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. at the River Oaks Bookstore (3270 Westheimer Rd.Houston, TX 77098) with Gatlin's BBQ serving. Fans who can't make either signing, or just want to hear him take calls from people upset about Smitty's being dropped off the top 50, can hear Vaughn on the Cleverley Show on 650AM from 11:00 a.m. until noon.
Vaughn at the Houston Barbecue Festival with founders J.C. Reid and Michael Fulmer [-EHOU-]