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With all due respect to the assembled face-wipers on page 6, the brains, not to mention the gullet and the stomach, behind our latest list of the best barbecue joints in Texas is executive editor Pat Sharpe. Who else could it possibly be? For a generation or more, Pat’s led the charge on every massive food service piece we’ve produced: handpicking the reviewers, refining the criteria and methodology, approving the list of restaurants to be rated and dishes to be devoured, and doing the vast majority of the eating. In 2006 she wolfed down so many tacos over so few days that her gag reflex should have been paid time and a half. Last year it was all steak all the time; at one point in the fall, I was sure I heard her moo. This year it’s been an orgy of brisket, sausage, and sauce. Let’s just say I can smell something smoky from all the way down the hall.
This is no mere exercise, gluttony for gluttony’s sake. There is real value and power and import in what Pat and her merry band of expense-account diners put themselves through. We may be talking about food, but the readers of this magazine care about it just as much as any other subject—maybe more. How well the Speaker is managing the Texas House, for that matter, or whether the A&M football coach is meeting the high expectations of the Aggies has little direct impact on the life of the average Texan. But if we tell you to eat at a great new Mexican place that turns out to be lousy or if we road test and print a recipe from a celebrated chef that we promise will impress your in-laws and instead leaves them retching—well, let’s just say the impact on one’s life is indeed direct. Surely you accept that this is journalism we’re talking about, with no less care and doggedness required in the reporting, and no less energy and precision evident in the writing, and no less worthy of a strategic and thoughtful presentation than the usual long-form narrative and investigative fare.
And while we’re on the question of food versus theoretically more serious pursuits, let me observe, as I have before, that I consider Pat a world-class journalist—every bit as deserving of that descriptor as, say, our famously sobersided senior executive editor Paul Burka is. (You might say Pat is the Paul of food. I might say Paul is the Pat of politics.) The two actually have a lot in common. Like Paul, Pat’s been at it for more than thirty years and has the gold-standard brand to show for it. Her institutional memory in her world rivals his in his. She has encountered greatness, rare as it is, and he has too, though it may be even rarer at the Capitol. Of course, Pat has eaten more than her share of bad meals, and Paul has seen more than his share of bad politics. Most important, Pat has the same unimpeachable integrity and finely calibrated moral compass that Paul does, the same commitment to letting the facts of a story be the driver, relationships or niceties or the closely held views of the editor or anyone else be damned. I always know I can count on them to tell me, and you, the truth.
In the case of this month’s barbecue story (“BBQ08”), the truth turned out to be that the best joint in Texas right now—Snow’s, in Lexington—is one that none of us, Pat or anyone else, had even heard of until a few months ago. The safe thing to do would have been to bury it in the top fifty. Instead, she pronounced it better than Kreuz Market and Smitty’s, better than Louie Mueller and Luling’s City Market and Llano’s once mighty Murderers’ Row of mainstays. That’s fearlessness. That’s leadership. That’s journalism. Which is to say, that’s Pat.
Why cowboys still matter, a soldier’s story, a West Texas backyard feast, the deer slayers of Iraan, and the match made in hell that is Kinky Friedman and Bill O’Reilly.