Things have changed dramatically since we published our last list of the state’s top fifty barbecue joints, in 2008. Not only has there been an unprecedented flourishing of new joints (sixteen of the places on this year’s list were not open five years ago, including two of the top four), and not only has there been a corresponding flourishing of new barbecue blogs, books, and TV shows, but there’s also been a dramatic shift in how barbecue, or any other subject, is covered. Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, tablet and smartphone apps—the list of new media that were mostly nonexistent five years ago goes on and on. There are more tools for reaching readers than ever before, and just as important, most of those tools are now available to readers, meaning that they can cover a subject themselves if they think we’re doing a lousy job. In other words, the importance of barbecue as a subject, the potential for innovation, and the pressure to embrace change have never been greater. And the stakes are high.
In 2008 it was enough for us to publish our top fifty list, stick a video on our website, and move on. Not anymore.
With this issue, we’re launching our new TMBBQ franchise, a moon shot of a project that will transform the way this magazine covers smoked meat. TMBBQ is going to comprise many things: a dynamic website full of feature stories, reviews, news, interviews, and user-generated content; a series of barbecue events all over Texas and beyond; a mobile app that helps you find joints; social and print media; and more. Most of all, TMBBQ will be a community of people who are as crazy about this stuff as we are.
How crazy about it are we? Well, in pursuit of the fifty joints on this year’s list, our team of eaters traveled more than 33,000 miles and ate at an unprecedented 658 places. For this month’s cover, creative director T. J. Tucker lettered every word by hand —with barbecue sauce! (Sauce, of course, is not quintessential to Texas barbecue, as it is to other, lesser varieties, but it makes a fine ink.) Perhaps the best measure of our devotion is that we recently hired the only full-time barbecue editor in America. The lucky fellow is the Dallas-based food writer Daniel Vaughn, whose work you’ll read in this issue and daily on tmbbq.com and who will be hosting many of our TMBBQ events.
There will be people who question the need to spend so much time and energy covering smoked meat, or who wonder how we can possibly have that much to say on the subject. I feel sorry for those people. As “The 50 Best BBQ Joints … in the World!” makes clear, Texas barbecue is not just one of the greatest foods on earth, it’s one of the greatest subjects as well. And we intend to cover it that way.