Wyatt McSpadden’s photography has been a mainstay of Texas Monthly for forty years. And though he’s shot many memorable subjects for us—who could forget Willie Nelson in a Santa hat?—he’s probably best known for stoking our hunger with his barbecue images. Wyatt has taken many of the photographs in our special 50 Best BBQ Joints issues as well as plenty of other smoked-meat stories. He’s spent much of his time on Texas’s wide-open backroads, hunting down overlooked, forgotten, or undiscovered rural gems. These days, though, with the rise of big-city barbecue, he’s stuck in traffic more often than he’d like.
Wyatt’s new book, Texas BBQ, Small Town to Downtown (University of Texas Press, August 1), takes us to a few slick urban spots, but it’s the out-of-the-way places that will likely stir more than an appetite in readers—they’ll stir a sense of adventure too. In the book’s photos, nine of which we’ve featured in these pages, Wyatt captures soot-stained pit houses and sturdy pitmasters who prove there’s plenty of old-time barbecue still to be discovered. And “discovered” is meant literally. Wyatt is a pioneer who has turned me on to more barbecue joints than anyone else I know. There aren’t many people who’ll find themselves driving along an FM road near the end of the day and suddenly make a U-turn because they’ve realized that the weathered sign hanging outside the shabby-looking storefront a few miles back didn’t say “barber”—it said “barbecue,” and they’re pretty sure the Open sign was lit up and maybe still will be by the time they make their way back.
Unfortunately, Wyatt finds hidden treasures less frequently these days. Though Texas barbecue is thriving in the cities, the small-town pits are slowly dying—as they close, they’re not being replaced. Wyatt has preserved the legacy of many of these spots, some of which don’t have the benefit of PR companies or even websites. But we need to make sure his work doesn’t merely serve posterity. You should buy this book, no doubt. (You’ll get to read a foreword by Aaron Franklin and an essay by yours truly.) But don’t just give it a look. Get in the car and use Wyatt as your guide. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to make some discoveries of your own. If you do, let me know. Nothing makes me happier than the rare experience of being one step ahead of Wyatt. (And don’t miss this Q&A with Wyatt about his new book with Texas Monthly photo editor Leslie Baldwin.)