Monday, May 18, 2009

Texas BBQ, The Book

As both a connoisseur and critic of barbecue in its many manifestations, I am not easily swayed by other critics, much less books on the subject. But I gotta say, nothing comes close to the wonderful book of photographs and essays focusing on the Central Texas barbecue belt that my colleague Wyatt McSpadden has put together for the University of Texas Press. John Morthland's essay sets the table (no silverware required) and Jim Harrison's essay pumps up the whole carnivore thang. But McSpadden's images are the star here, focusing on the cuisine's basic elements - meat, pits, wood, fire, knives and the men who make the ritual happen. He chose the some of best locations to zone in on - Kreuz Market and Smitty's in Lockhart, Louie Mueller's in Taylor, Gonzales Food Market in Gonzales, the New Zion Missionary Babtist Church in Huntsville, Hallettsville, Prause Meat Market in LaGrange, Luling City Market (best in Texas and the world, I think) - and the best people manning the pits, especially his portraits of Roy Perez, all muscle and grit framed by his mutton-chop sideburns.

This isn't a complete guide or a cookbook - Robb Walsh's book is still the best in those respects. What McSpadden achieves is getting to the heart of the culture of Texas barbecue, peeling back the crust to reveal its smoldering soul.

From the butcher paper inner cover images to the school desk seats at Sonny Bryan's in Dallas, the smudged walls at Smitty's and the faded signage ("If the Bears kill, we'll cook it") at Mama & Papa B's in Waco, Wyatt McSpadden captures the essence of Texas barbecue so well, you can smell the smoke every time you turn the page. It doesn't get any better than that.

(in case you can't tell, the following are my own BBQ photographs, not Wyatt's)

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