For a while now, I've wanted to put together a Q&A with my friend Daniel "BBQ Snob" Vaughn. I finally took the time to come up with some questions, and Daniel was gracious enough to spend even more time answering them (But don't think I don't notice the thinly-veiled shot at me for my love affair with half chickens at BBQ joints.). I've known for almost two years, but I knew of him and his immensely popular BBQ blog, Full Custom Gospel BBQ, long before I met him. I started my blog not too long after he started his. Whereas I've pretty much stopped reviewing/rating BBQ joints, Daniel is going as strong as ever and remains the go-to source for Texas BBQ critiquing. I would love to know if anyone has eaten at more Texas BBQ joints than he. My guess is "no." It's been great to follow his body of work, and I'm delighted that he shows no signs of stopping. He's an invaluable asset to the institution of Texas BBQ and, at least within Texas BBQ circles, pretty much a rock star. To all his fans & groupies: No, I will not give out his cell phone number. Here's our conversation (answers from July 10):
Hometown - Wooster, Ohio
Occupation - Architect
Why did you start your blog? My friend Sam and I made a pilgrimage to Central Texas to eat at some of the best joints in Texas using the Texas Monthly Top 50 as our guide. I wanted to remember it all so I took a bunch of photos and recorded tasting notes at each one. When I got back home I needed an outlet for the information I'd collected, so eventually that became a BBQ blog.
How many Texas BBQ joints have you patronized? 375 to date.
How many miles have you covered for the blog? I haven't tried to tally it, but I assume it would be depressing given the price of gas.
What are some of the things you have learned about Texas BBQ during your outings? Most of them are closed on Sunday, don't serve beer, and have few menu items. They don't like websites, and their hours, even when posted, are usually unreliable.
What are your favorite menu items? Sliced brisket, with a few burnt end cuts
What are your least favorite menu items? If you're talking meat, I'd say that I rarely bother to order chicken. It's just barely BBQ anyway.
How often do you use sauce on your proteins? When I'm eating for fun, which isn't often. I love BBQ sauce, I just don't judge BBQ based on the sauce. I like it on the side for dipping bread into it. That's how I prefer to taste a joint's sauce.
How long do you wait after a meal to decide on its star rating? I usually record some notes immediately afterward and throw in my first impression right then.
What are your favorite side items? Fried okra and any soul food items. I get sick of slaw, beans and potato salad.
What's the best dessert you've had? Banana pudding is the State dessert as far as I'm concerned, and the banana pudding at Pecan Lodge in Dallas is phenomenal. It's so good that they run out pretty quickly.
What's your drink of choice when you eat BBQ? Dr. Pepper, but I switch to iced tea after my first joint if I'm in for a long day.
Which Texas BBQ joint have you patronized the most? I live in Dallas, so there are a few joints around town that I've made plenty of repeat visits to, but it's probably a toss up between Mac's and Peggy Sue. Peggy Sue was the first joint I ate at in Dallas the first week I moved here, and I started going to Mac's shortly after. Newer joints like Lockhart Smokehouse and Pecan Lodge both get plenty of business from me these days as well.
What's your least favorite thing about BBQ blogging? Setting up my reviews. It takes forever just to search for addresses and hours and to get it all formatted and upload photos. It's a beating because I can write the review in about as much time as it takes to format it.
What are your plans for the blog? What's to come? I plan to keep eating. As a new correspondent with Texas Monthly, I've got plenty of eating to do to keep adding content to the new Texas Monthly BBQ app.
What are your top picks for Texas BBQ in 2011? Pecan Lodge and Lockhart Smokehouse locally. Across the state, Franklin BBQ in Austin, Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Black's in Lockhart
What joints have you not been to that are high on your hit list? Vera's in Brownsville, Riverport BBQ in Jefferson, Gatlin's in Houston, Mustang Creek BBQ in Louise and I've tried to visit Ruthie's in Navasota twice with no luck.
What type of pork ribs do you prefer? St. Louis cut.
Beef ribs or pork ribs? There are some great beef short ribs out there, but I just love pork ribs too much to have them play second fiddle.
Beef sausage or pork sausage? Beef and pork mixture.
How many times have you ordered chicken? Turkey? I order turkey much more often, and most of the time my wife is along for the ride. She's not a fan of most BBQ items.
How often do people recognize you when you go to a BBQ joint? I've only been recongnized once on a first visit to my knowledge, and that was by Big Jim at Hashknife on the Chisholm in Peadenville, which is still my favorite name for any BBQ joint.
What's the highest # of joints you've hit in 1 day? 1 weekend? I've done 10 in a day twice and 16 in a weekend once.
How many pounds of brisket do you eat in an average week? It varies widely based on whether there's a multi-joint road trip involved, but I rarely go a week without eating at least a pound.
What's your favorite rotisserie BBQ? I love Brazilian churrascaria.
Your wife is a vegetarian. What does she think about your meat endeavors? She's not quite a vegetarian, but she prefers poultry that doesn't have a smoky flavor. She's incredibly supportive and very accommodating. I've called her a saint many times, even when she's out of ear-shot.
What's the oddest BBQ item you've eaten? Hog wings at Cripple Creek BBQ in Athens. They are smoked portions of a hog shank.
What factors go into your BBQ ratings? It's all about the meat, especially brisket and ribs. Sides, service and ambiance only come into play if the joint is sitting between stars.
When you order brisket, do you request a certain cut more than others? Only if they ask. I seek the same experience that any other customer would get so that users of the site know what to expect.
How often do you order BBQ sandwiches? What's your favorite? I only order sandwiches if they don't offer meat by the pound. It's usually the cheapest way to get a sample of brisket and ribs.
If you could only have BBQ from one city/town, which one would it be? Austin, Texas. I could eat Franklin brisket any and every day of the week. Then I could hit Lambert's or Ruby's when Franklin is closed. I'm guessing John Mueller's new place will bring something positive to the mix as well.
What's the best BBQ you've eaten outside of Texas? Smoque BBQ in Chicago. It's the only place I've had exemplary smoked brisket outside of Texas.