Our Interview with The TX Monthly BBQ Editor
An Interview with Daniel Vaughn, Barbecue Editor
WORDS BY KATIE CULBERT
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DENNY CULBERT
Barbecue. Heavily debated from state to state. Sauce, no sauce. Rubs, no rubs. Pork vs. beef. No other food has such a devoted following. It’s perhaps the most American food we have. Maybe that’s why barbecue has dedicated historians and festivals and a true cult following. And now, for the first time ever, it has its very own full-time, dedicated editor. Meet Daniel Vaughn aka @bbqsnob. He started a modest barbecue blog called Full Custom Gospel BBQ back in 2008. Within a few years, it quickly became the go-to guide for all things concerning Texas barbecue. Then just a year ago, he left his career as an architect in Dallas to accept the full-time barbecue editor position at Texas Monthly magazine. But he’s so much more than a barbecue editor. He’s a barbecue nerd, a barbecue ambassador, and certainly a barbecue snob.
I visited Vaughn in Dallas expecting to go all over town to his favorite barbecue spots. Instead, he said "I'm cooking." I thought fabulous. When Vaughn does barbecue, it is not just throwing a big old brisket on the pit. Creating barbecue is not an afterthought. It is ALL of his thoughts for that day and the days leading up to it. The menu - surprisingly no brisket - but just about everything else...beef short ribs, beef chuck, beef shank, pork steaks, and chicken. Plus, boudin I brought from Johnson’s Boucaniere. And to top it all off, he had a slew of different wines to taste and pair with each cut of meat. Quickly I realized that he doesn’t just eat barbecue and write about it. He lives and breathes barbecue. He understands the history of it, the science of it, the importance of it. It’s a sophisticated, very technical, and very beautiful art. Slowly, neighbors and friends start coming out of the woodwork. I’m sure he called most of them, but then again, maybe not. Somehow they all know when Vaughn is doing his thing. And when Vaughn is doing his thing, they definitely stop by. We gathered around the dining room table. Vaughn held court in the middle with a giant cutting board full of his day’s work. Surrounding the cutting board was a dish full of the best little potatoes (see recipe), eight or so bottles of wine, plus a bottle of whiskey. No plates, no utensils. Just really good, loud conversation fueled by a simple presentation of food that took time and thought and care. I cannot remember the last time I had more fun with a room full of strangers. I have felt the full custom gospel of barbecue from head to toe. Hopefully, it won't be the last time.
(Originally published in Runaway Dish vol. 3)
Where in the world did you come from and why did you start your barbecue blog?
I'm from Wooster, a small town in Ohio. I moved to Dallas thirteen years ago and started eating barbecue. After a long road trip through Central Texas eating nothing but smoked meat, I came back home and started a blog to keep track of my barbecue adventures.
What the hell is a barbecue editor?
I get paid to drive around Texas eating barbecue and writing about it. In addition to writing barbecue joint reviews, I interview pitmasters, report barbecue news and write a weekly column. Besides that I use my position to be an advocate for Texas barbecue whenever possible.
Do you feel like a celebrity?
No. I just eat a lot and write about it. You don't really get mobbed at the grocery store for that.
What do you look for when you go into a place to review? Do you have a checklist? Is it the overall feeling?
The feel of the place is important, but the brisket and ribs are really the focus. If they make their own sausage there are bonus points for that too, as long as it's good. There are also some other touches that will let you know how much effort they're putting in. Do they give you that knurled end of dry brisket that been sitting on the block for thirty minutes, or do they pull out a fresh one? It makes a big difference.
What sets apart great barbecue from just okay barbecue?
The biggest factor is doneness. It can be overdone because it was cooked or held in a warmer for too long, or undercooked because of impatience or lack of knowledge about how to cook it. When it's done well and it's fresh, then the meat is perfectly tender and moist. Missing that narrow window of doneness happens far more than nailing it perfectly.
What's your drink of choice when eating barbecue?
I like Dr. Pepper or half and half sweet/unsweet tea.
Do sides matter?
Only if the meat sucks or if my wife is along for the meal. She doesn't like barbecue.
Is there anything you will absolutely not tolerate when it comes to barbecue?
Yes. Militant requirements or rules about what barbecue is or isn't. Barbecue is an art where innovation is an important part of it's history. The definition of barbecue becomes more nuanced the longer you study it.
How did the whole book deal come about?
I was working on a book proposal at the same time that my literary agent started working for Inkwell in New York. Inkwell also represents Anthony Bourdain, and Bourdain had just announced that he wanted to publish a line of books. We finished up the proposal and my agent brought it to Bourdain's agent. He liked it enough to give us the go ahead, so (photographer) Nick McWhirter and I got back in the car to start the road trips for the book.
What are some of the perks to being a barbecue editor?
Discovering new barbecue joints is fun, but the biggest perk is being able to see the state of Texas. There are plenty of towns I'd never have a reason to visit except that they have a barbecue joint. Just yesterday I ate barbecue in the tiny Panhandle towns of Borger, Perryton, and Canadian. They're all in a pretty remote part of the Texas Panhandle, and none of them are really on the way to anything else. Because of my barbecue search, I got to see those towns in person and get a better understanding of the state.
What does barbecue mean to you?
Barbecue means long hours spent on an imperfect product that makes too small a profit. It deserves more respect and praise, and shouldn't come with an expectation of being cheap.
What's the future of barbecue?
Outside of the barbecue capitals like Texas, Memphis, KC and the Carolinas, barbecue is exploding in big cites like New York, Chicago and LA. I see it's popularity spreading to smaller cities across the country like Seattle or Denver. American barbecue will also continue to it's rise in popularity overseas. There are barbecue joints that have recently opened or that are in the works in the UK, Austria, France, Sweden, Hong Kong, Australia, and Tokyo. I don't see that popularity waning across the world, but the New Yorkers will likely get bored with it and move on to the next hot thing.
What advice do you have for the home barbecue pitmaster?
Go out to eat. But seriously, the best advice, especially for big cuts like brisket or pork shoulder, is to estimate how long the cut needs to cook, then start it two hours earlier than you need to.
Is every male friend that you have jealous of your job?
Mostly. It's a damn fun hobby to do for a living. m
Grab Vaughn’s book The Prophets of Smoked Meat for your next Texas road trip. Also, visit his Texas Monthly blog to read all things barbecuse twenty four hours a day! And most importantly, get on Instagram and Twitter and follow @bbqsnob. Prepare yourself for daily fatty brisket closeups.