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BACK OF THE OK I BY BRAD TYER Jerky Boy SUMMERTIME, AND THE LIVING IS BEEFY. 13 y the time you read this, it will officially be summertime, and I’ve got heat on the brain and meat on my mind. Partly that’s a result of a seasonal impulse toward backyard grillinga custom that apparently tracks back to a time when summer days in Texas were warm, but not yet competitively hot with an actual charcoal fire. Partly it’s the result of having my head buried these last several months in photographer Wyatt McSpadden’s big, beautiful Texas BBQ book, published by University of Texas Press back in March. And partly it’s because summer is my favorite time for long weekend drives, which I could hardly afford last year, and so am making up for with a vengeance now. Summer drives and Texas BBQ were made for each other. You could say the same thing for the Spoetzl Brewery’s new mesquite-infused Shiner Smokehaus, but you might end up telling it to a judge. Texas BBQ is an appetizer to the real thing, with its impeccably well-informed essay by veteran food writer John Morthland and an oddly tangential introduction by Jim Harrison, who is a hell of a writer in other contexts, including the gustatory, but who doesn’t seem to have much to do with Texas or BBQ. He does, however, have a nationally recognized name in quality-lit circles, and he seems properly appreciative of McSpadden’s skills behind a lens. McSpadden’s photos are gorgeous in their blocks of grimy color and grit. They rightly romanticize a culinary culture that has a lot of merit, a lot of history and a lot of appeal. But if you look at these fetishistic pictures of knives and fires and smoke and grates too long, you can start to think that BBQ is little more than the sum total of its sexy implements. You have to bring your imagination to bear if you want to see through the beefmaster mythology to the uncomfortable fact underneath, which is that the state’s iconic cuisine is an elaborately gruesome endeavor, its char-crusted pits just the final link in a food chain that relies onno pretty way to put itmechanized mass murder. This is a book of photos about BBQ culture, BBQ people and BBQ restaurants that does not contain a single photograph of anything even close to a whole cow or pig. Nobody would buy the book that showed the whole story. Not for their coffee table. But Texas BBQ doesn’t seem out to make any particular arguments aside from the obvious onethe aesthetic appeal of the accoutrements of smoking meatso there’s no reason to judge it too harshly for forgoing the animal-rights rhetoric. Coffee-table books have compensating raisons d’tre. For instance: I’ve been referring to the book as a supplemental itinerary and wish list during an ongoing BBQ binge, which has so far been largely contained within the Central Texas environs of Austin, which is happily no cause for complaint. I followed Texas Monthly’s and found no reason to dispute the standing, eating my personal Trinity plate of ribs and brisket and sausage, no sides, at 9:30 one especially fine morning this spring. Four hours later, up the road at Louie Mueller’s BBQ in Taylor, I skipped my usual pork ribs to make room for a beef version that came on a bone heavy enough to kill a possum with. I know from McSpadden’s book I have to try Taylor Caf in Taylor, too. That day, I just couldn’t. So far, in addition to the above, I’ve been to Black’s, Kreuz Market and Smitty’s, all in Lockhart; Meyer’s Smokehouse in Elgin; Luling City Market; Salt Lick in Driftwood; and Ruby’s and Park House in Austin. I know, I know: I’ve got a long way to go, miles of meat before I sleep. But for the record, my own personal all-round high marks so far amount to a tie between Snow’s and Smitty’s. I like Snow’s sausage besta matter of personal preference for the slightly coarser filler grind. For pork ribs, my slight nod to Snow’s. Smitty’s medieval pit dungeon gives it the clear edge in the all-important ambience cate gory. On the brisket I could go either way, depending on the day. I haven’t found any reason to disagree with John Morthland that the best pork chop in the known universe is found at Kreuz Market, but I can’t agree that that chop stands at the absolute pinnacle of the sport. It’s a pork chop, fer chrissake. It may be one of the most delicious things ever to melt in a mortal mouth, but in a senseit’s hardly 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 26, 2009