In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 30 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Mark Graham. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.
If you tend to the fires from which smoked brisket is rendered, be mindful: The BBQ Snob is watching. The self-proclaimed Prophet of Smoked Meat eyes your every move, silently judging as you lay that brisket down on a cutting board, watching the corners of that massive hunk of jet-black beef. Do they spring back as it lands, or do they settle and exhale, the relaxed sigh of well-cooked meat?
As you liberate each slice with a serrated blade, he watches the effort it takes. Easy knife work is an indicator of tender meat; too much labor and he knows the brisket is tough. It's all a precursor to that moment when Daniel Vaughn, architect by weekday and protein prognosticator by long, long weekend, takes his first bite.
Too often, tough, dry, flavorless meats draw wrath and disappointment. But when the stars align -- when a pitmaster knows and respects his brisket -- a gossamer webbing of inter-muscular fat and smoky, tender meat melt away, leaving only a glimpse into the heavens in their wake. This is what Vaughn has spent years of his life looking for. And the disciples on his blog, Full Custom Gospel BBQ, are growing.
Vaughn is 34 and easy to joke with over beers -- a guy you'd love to have at your family cookout, as long as he's not watching you work the grill. He hails from small-town Ohio, winding up in Dallas by way of New Orleans after a woman caught his eye, and then his heart. She dragged him to Texas, where he found barbecue -- his second love and new religion.
What started as a simple journal keeping track of his exploits became useful to other people as the site's archives grew. Reviews collected by the hundreds, culminating in stories in D Magazine and Texas Monthly. But it was the blessing of a celebrity carnivore that cemented Vaughn as a prophet worth following. When Anthony Bourdain himself anoints you the BBQ Yoda, readers really take notice. The acknowledgment culminated in a yet-to-be-aired appearance on No Reservations and even a deal for a book, a grease-stained tome that compiles nearly five years of smoky reverence. And luckily, Vaughn is still hungry.
See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.