Have you read Daniel Vaughn's book, The Prophets of Smoked Meat? You probably have not. The first book released on Anthony Bourdain's Ecco imprint won't be available until May 14. Flimsy, black-and-white, pre-release copies known as galleys of the book went out to various media outlets in March, and reviews have slowly been trickling in.
For the most part, coverage of Vaughn's debut has been the positive sort of cheerleading that marks much pre-release coverage. Posts like the one published here on City of Ate gave potential readers a little taste of what to expect should they pick up a copy of the book but didn't delve in deep or offer any hard-hitting commentary.
Yesterday, though, a group blog called the Texas BBQ Posse published a more detailed piece on Vaughn's book, including some harsh criticism. "This book about food is most unappetizing," writes Gary Jacobson in the review he claims was painful for him to write. If it truly was painful, perhaps he should have been a little bit nicer about it.
Jacobson describes page after page of negative barbecue commentary that left the bitter taste of creosote in his mouth. He expected The Prophets of Smoked Meat "to be a celebration of great Texas barbecue because there is plenty to cheer, including an ongoing BBQ renaissance in both Austin and Dallas." Instead he describes a book so riddled with negativity he can barely stomach it.
The review is a second post from the Posse about Vaughn's book in as many weeks. The first, also penned by Jacobson, divulges Vaughn's list of the five best barbecue joints in Texas. While Vaughn might have considered embargoing the chapter before releasing the book to the press, the move seems a little underhanded -- tantamount to disclosing the end of a mystery novel before a book even hits shelves. (And without a spoiler alert!) In tandem, the two posts read like they're penned by a writer who's sore he didn't get a book deal of his own.
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Jacobson's review highlights something I've heard Vaughn say quite politely, but I'll confidently say with more candor -- most of the barbecue available in Texas actually sucks. The majority of barbecue joints use low-quality meat, cook with gas instead of wood, are largely inconsistent, and the sides ... oh, the sides. The barbecue legends you read about -- Pecan Lodge, Louie Mueller, Snow's and more -- represent a very small percentage of the pits that turn out brisket jerky across the state.
So it would seem to me that Vaughn's book, which covers 10,000 masochistic miles of driving, would most likely be filled with a few shoe-leather zingers when describing the tough, dry brisket widely available in Texas. Vaughn could have spent hundreds of pages stroking pit-masters everywhere and weaving romantic tales about smoke-kissed beef along quiet country roads in the towns that are slowly collapsing outside of urban centers.
It would have been nice to read. But it wouldn't have been factual. He could have focused only on the best of the best, and written a sunny and masturbatory romance about the wonders of Texas barbecue, but that doesn't exactly sound like an Anthony Bourdain book, either.
Instead Vaughn decided to describe something more in line with what most of us would encounter if we were insane enough to spend more than three oil changes worth of driving, stuffing our guts with smoked meat. There's honesty in that sort of coverage that some will find appealing and others will obviously find as bitter as black smoke.