We knew that we were onto something big in hiring Daniel Vaughn as Texas Monthly's Barbecue Editor. We just didn't realize how big.
(Okay, actually we did.)
The hiring was also news—"A" section, not "Dining and Wine"—in the New York Times. The Times' Manny Fernandez sat down for lunch with Vaughn at Lockhart Smokehouse:
Mr. Vaughn, 35, gave polite but direct instructions to the man with the knife: a few slices and burnt ends of beef brisket, pork spareribs, jalapeño sausage, an end-cut pork chop, some of the clod (beef shoulder), three slices of smoked turkey. Before long, a $50 pile of Texas barbecue held together by sheets of butcher paper sat before him on the counter — he was ordering for himself and three others — and the cashier asked if he wanted any sides.
“No,” he replied. “We got pork.”...
Asked at the counter if he ever got tired of barbecue, Mr. Vaughn replied, without hesitation, “Not good barbecue.”
"The response has been overwhelming," Vaughn told Eat My Words after the announcement. "At the Houston BBQ Festival [last Sunday] there were literally dozens of strangers coming up to offer congratulations."
Vaughn's Twitter account, @BBQSnob, also added more than 1,500 followers in the days after the announcement, and recently passed 10,000 total. Vaughn continued:
Via social media, I am now keenly aware that I have the best/coolest/most enviable job on Earth. I also now know that the I will be held personally responsible for every selection and non-selection in the Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ list. That sound you hear is [Texas Monthly food editor)] Pat Sharpe's giant sigh of relief.
Vaughn officially starts on April 15; the TMBBQ Top 50 gets unveiled in the June issue. Monday, he posted his "Five Barbecue Myths That Should Be Dispelled" for CNN's Eatocracy site, including "Grilling=BBQ," "Fat is evil" and "'Falling off the bone' is a positive achievement."
A few of our favorite reactions to the news:
1. It's the best job in journalism. Maybe even the best job in America.
Until recently, the best job in journalism may have been BuzzFeed animals editor (and they're still hiring an associate). Before that, as Scott Reitz of the Dallas Observer noted, it might have been William Breathes, "the Denver Westword "ganja writer" (i.e., pot critic).
But now everyone but vegans and a few poor saps in Carolina or KC agrees: this is the best job. In fact, never have so many near-identical tweets been written in response to one hiring announcement.
Many tweeters dubbed it their own dream job, or wished they'd known about the opening. But all due respect, you haven’t done the work. As Fernandez wrote:
Mr. Vaughn estimates that, since he began keeping track in 2007, he has eaten at more than 600 barbecue joints in the country, with more than 500 of those being in Texas. In five days last week, he had eaten barbecue at six locations.
Many folks have also volunteered to be Vaughn's intern. Just remember: internships can often include lots of thankless tasks--though I was joking when I tweeted "it's all expense reports and sauce tasting" (and Daniel made it clear that he takes his critical obligations to eat even the worst barbecue seriously).
2. It's a new era for food journalism.
Bon Appetit’s Sam Dean suggested Vaughn's position was bound to kick off a new era of foodie specialization:
Historians will speak of the day that Texas Monthly hired a barbecue editor as the first day of the new era. Before Vaughn, there were "food critics" and "restaurant editors"; after Vaughn, the world of hyper-specialized food savants was born, a world of food journalists ruthlessly working their one microbeat until every atom of their chosen field has been reported on, eaten, and reviewed.
Dean parodied one paragraph in particular of Fernandez’s story, speculating on the Twitter handles, blog names, chosen footwear/t-shirts and previous employment for such jobs as “Portland Monthly’s first naturally fermented pickled editor, a position that exists at no other magazine in America."
Some of the others: "Milwaukee Journal's first cheese curd editor," "Albuquerque Magazine's first foodstuffs-made-out-of-masa editor," and "Southern Living's first heirloom grains editor."
Unacceptably, however, Dean's story was illustrated with a picture of baked, grilled, heavily sauced "barbecued (sic) ribs."
3. He's not really the first.
So charged Nicholas Graham of the N.C. Digital Heritage Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill:
[O]ne does get the impression from reading it that the Texans invented the job and that nobody had ever thought to do it before them.
The Times article says that the position “exists at no other magazine in America,” which may be technically true, but I’d like to point out that there was a Barbecue Editor in North Carolina more than 15 years ago. In 1996, the North Carolina Literary Review named poet and English professor William Harmon as its Barbecue Editor, a position that attracted some attention at the time, most notably from News & Observer columnist Dennis Rogers who lamented that he was passed over for the position.
Sure, but did the esteemed Professor Harmon QUIT HIS JOB to become Barbecue Editor? We think not (in fact, all these years later, it's not even mentioned on Harmon's UNC CV).
Read the entire post for some pointed and amusing comments back and forth between Graham, Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue co-author John Shelton Reed and Vaughn, as well as more background on Harmon's tenure.
4. He needs a workout plan
A more sobering note from Graham's article: he mentions TV personality, author, and barbecue expert Bob Garner, a man who ultimately had gastric bypass surgery, as someone else who's filled the same role Vaughn has.
“We have not discussed the health implications of being the Texas Monthly barbecue editor,” TM's Jake Silverstein told the Times. “He’s figured out how to make the barbecue lifestyle compatible with staying above ground.”
At D Magazine’s Side Dish, Carol Shih struck a more optimistic note in her fake timeline of Vaughn's tenure:
June 21, 2041 – Daniel Vaughn makes the Guinness Book of World Records for having visited over 4,000 BBQ joints without any health problems.
Also weighing in (sorry!), on Twitter, was former New York magazine restaurant critic Gael Greene:
Perhaps Vaughn can write an essay called "Confessions of an Average-Sized Dude."
5. But can he smoke brisket himself?
So BBQ Editor Vaughn can eat barbecue. I have an old hound dog that can eat BBQ. Can Editor Vaughn cook BBQ?
Vaughn actually answered this question in DFW.com's lengthy profile of him:
"I can cook a brisket," he says. "Can I cook a brisket as well as the best barbecue I've eaten? No. But I would feel a lot less legitimate in my criticism if I didn't know the effort that goes into actually making something decent."
"I can smoke a mean brisket," Vaughn elaborated to Eat My Words. "Vaughn's Backyard BBQ would get four stars in my rating system. Solid product with room for improvement."
IMO, Vaughn's comments in a recent review of one Rosebud, TX, joint are also germane to this discussion. "There rarely seems to be a correlation between barbecue competition prowess and great restaurant barbecue," he wrote.
(Photo courtesy of Daniel Vaughn; boots made by the J. L. Mercer Boot Company, San Angelo.)
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