Lots of our readers love red meat. They love steaks and burgers. They love barbecued beef and pork, as well as tacos stuffed with those meats—which is why we employ a barbecue editor and a taco editor. At the same time, many of our readers say they’re increasingly, or exclusively, eating vegetarian dishes. Executive editor Kathy Blackwell, who oversees our food coverage, helps make sure those Texans’ preferences get plenty of attention in everything from our acclaimed critic Patricia Sharpe’s restaurant reviews to José R. Ralat’s taco stories. We’re also publishing more vegetarian recipes, including one for chili from frequent contributor Paula Forbes that features a plant-based meat substitute, which we’re posting on texasmonthly.com as an addition to this month’s cover story.

That story, on the rising challenges that face ranchers and beef processors, was shepherded by editor-at-large Tom Foster and written by senior editor Eric Benson. Eric moved to Austin from New York seven years ago and quickly became, as he puts it, “a total geek about grilling and smoking.” He started with a Weber grill, then graduated to a Kamado Joe. But until recently, Eric says, he knew little about the supply chain for beef, or the ways in which this iconic Texas industry is adapting, including to criticism of its impact on global warming. “I was generally aware that producing beef is very resource-intensive,” Eric says. “But I didn’t know anything about the efforts of some ranchers to use grazing cattle to rebuild topsoil and regenerate carbon-sequestering grasslands.”

Accompanying Eric’s story are senior editor Jason Heid’s take on the fight between Texas A&M and Harvard over the health effects of eating meat, and barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn’s handy guide to specialty shops that sell some of the more rarefied varieties of Texas beef.

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Daniel, Kathy, and our events team are hard at work preparing for our annual BBQ Fest, which last fall celebrated its tenth anniversary and attracted 35 of the state’s top pitmasters and more than 3,900 of their fans. We’d been hoping the pandemic would ease up enough to allow us to host a smaller version of the event. But we’ve now decided that the prudent course is to make this year’s fest entirely virtual and to spread it over nine days, from October 24 to November 1.

During what we’re calling BBQ Fest: Backyard Edition, select barbecue joints from all over Texas will, for a limited time, offer special menu items—perhaps unusual sausages or delicacies such as pulled lamb and smoked goat—for delivery or pickup or, if restrictions allow, on-site dining. We’ll have details at texasmonthly.com/TMBBQFest, where we’re also selling a barbecue box stuffed with cooking tools, hats, and other goodies. For the fest’s finale, Daniel will host a show, via a livestream from his backyard in Dallas, where he maintains five smokers and three grills (including, he admits with some embarrassment, a gas-fired model). He’ll be cooking and tasting, interviewing top pitmasters for their tips, and answering readers’ questions. 

I hope you’ll join us in supporting the state’s pitmasters—whose struggles Daniel has chronicled on texasmonthly.com—as well as the growing number of Texans who are out of work and short on food. Please consider a donation to Feeding Texas, the state’s leading hunger-relief organization, serving all 254 of our counties.

I hope you’ll let me know what you think of our cover package and the rest of this issue of Texas Monthly.

This article originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Knives Out.” Subscribe today.