Writing the ABCs of BBQ


Does Daniel Vaughn have the best job in America?

A couple of weeks ago, the Dallas-based architect quit his day job to become what is probably the nation’s only full-time barbecue critic. He will be writing stories on the topic of Texas barbecue for Texas Monthly magazine’s Web site, and will also be contributing reviews every week of Texas barbecue joints and even places outside of Texas.

Incidentally, Texans tend to talk about Texas every chance they get. I used to live in Texas, and that is why both the previous paragraph and this one use the word “Texas” four times apiece. Don’t mess with it.

One more thing: In Texas, barbecue means one thing: smoked brisket. No ribs. It’s brisket that has been smoked, oh, at least 10 or 12 hours or so until it has developed a crusty outside, a deep red smoke ring just under the surface, and a tenderness that would inevitably be described as “falling off the bone” if brisket were attached to a bone, which it isn’t.

Sauce is usually served on the side, but when the meat has been cooked right it doesn’t even need it.

Anyway, Daniel Vaughn will travel around the state and beyond, tasting and comparing the barbecue everywhere he goes. What used to be merely a hobby has become a full-time gig.

Is Daniel Vaughn the luckiest guy in America?

He got the job because of his blog, which is called Full Custom Gospel BBQ. For that blog, he basically traveled around the state, tasting and comparing the barbecue everywhere he went. Which is to say he is doing the exact same thing, only now he is getting paid for it.

Right now, Mr. Vaughn must be in Heaven. He must be counting his lucky stars, he must be playing the lottery. He feels so lucky, he is probably asking out that girl he liked in high school who barely knew his name. Maybe she likes barbecue, too.

He is probably too busy dancing a jig right now to think about the down side. Every job has a down side. Not only will he have to contend with all of those calories and whatever damage that much beef will do to his heart and arteries, he will also feel the letdown that occurs when your hobby becomes your job.

I know a little something about that. At an earlier stage in my life, including those three years in Texas, I had a job that paid me essentially for indulging in one of my personal obsessions. It kept the job fascinating and gave me a focus and an interest that never flagged.

But it was never quite as much fun when it was a job as it had been when it was just an avocation. Doing something you love because you have to do it is never quite as satisfying as doing it just to do it.

So is Daniel Vaughn actually the unluckiest guy in America?

No. No he isn’t. Too much of a good thing is still a good thing. The man gets to eat barbecue every day, or almost every day. He gets to discuss the finer points of barbecue arcana with his fellow barbecue geeks. And then he gets to write about it.

And there, as they say in the barbecue business, is the rub. I do not know how good Mr. Vaughn is as an architect; we’ll assume for the sake of argument that he is outstanding. But there is a big difference between writing a blog and writing for a publication — especially a publication as heralded as Texas Monthly. The magazine is known both for its hard-hitting investigative reporting and its exceptional writing.

Mr. Vaughn will have to step up his game. The reviews on his blog are currently notable only for the breadth of his knowledge and experience. On the other hand, one story he has already written for Texas Monthly, poking holes in a New York critic’s praise for that city’s barbecue, was delightful. Charming. Well-written. Even funny. So there is hope for him yet.

A full-time barbecue critic. It has to be the best job in America.

Contact Daniel Neman at dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.