Texas Monthly is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and there have been many innovations in that time, including the hiring of the first barbecue editor of any national publication in the country.
Writing about the role of barbecue in Texas, this editor, Daniel Vaughn, found the first mention of barbecue in Texas Monthly magazine in its third issue, which tells you something about the importance of this edible in the history of the Lone Star State. .
Vaughn joined the Standard to reflect on how Texas barbecue has changed over the past five decades. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:
Texas Standard: The Texas Monthly has covered a lot in 50 years and I was surprised to read in your last article that the legendary pitmaster Louis Muller was in the third issue. Tell us a little more about it.
Daniel Vaughn: Yes, this is correct. You know, we have the top 50 barbecue problems that everyone knows about today. But we didn’t call it the top 50 back then, but it was our first roundup of the best BBQ in Texas. Louis Muller was there and we talked about pit master Fred Fontaine, who ran the pits there in Taylor.
I think that says something about the dominance of brisket and barbecue in general here in Texas.
Yes, it is – and the fact that such places still exist; we also talked about the Kreuz market then. You know, these places were loved then and still are loved 50 years later. However specifically I wrote about what was funny was that at the time a lot of these places were known not so much for their brisket but for other cuts of beef like shoulder blade which, you know, when you think about it today is something mind boggling .
Well, how did the brisket rise?
Well, you know, it all started with the fact that beef was cut into separate pieces at processing plants. Before that, you got beef in half carcasses, and a lot of those old meat market-style kebabs, that’s how they got their beef. And so what was not for sale ended up in a pit. But once they started to break down and could order beef straight from the factory in boxes and cuts, then brisket became a really profitable cut for many reasons, not least how inexpensive it is and mostly how long it takes. it still needed to be tender.
I’m surprised to find out how inexpensive it is. And I guess if you’re a pitmaster, you know, you want to focus not only on what’s most affordable, but also on what your customers say is the tastiest.
Yes, this is correct. And, you know, at the Kreuz Market, until recently, customers preferred brisket to brisket. I actually got a memento from Roy Perez, the pit master at the Kreuz Market – he had a calendar where he kept track of every bite he made from day to day so he could look back to the next year to see what they were done. a year earlier. And in 1999, which was the first year at their new facility in Lockhart, he cooked far more shoulder blades than brisket. And, just to remember, you know that about 24 years ago, this shoulder blade was much more popular than the brisket.
It’s a little overwhelming when you think we’re only talking about 50 years here – I mean, it’s a different way to look at; it wasn’t that long ago. And yet it seems like you’ve always had some different layers of brisket in the sense that, you know, there’s top quality brisket and there’s… I don’t want to call it inferior brisket, but it’s not first class.
Well, the idea that the premium brisket is more valuable than any other appeared even later. You know, I’ve talked to some beef vendors who said actually before the top 50 in 2013 for Texas Monthly where we named the brisket Franklin Barbecue – and they were the #1 BBQ at the time – they said the request for prime chest really jumped. But before that, no one wanted to pay extra for premium brisket. And these days, you know, our last top 10 that came out in our 2021 issue, eight of those places used top grade brisket. So it definitely made a difference in just a short amount of time.
May I ask if this is just a marketing ploy, or is there really something that needs to be seasoned with brisket? And can you taste the difference?
You can feel the difference, yes. But where it’s more obvious is on the lean side of the brisket, where the marbling really provides extra moisture and juiciness. And, you know, with premium brisket, with premium brisket, it’s more prominent and present in them more, and therefore makes the brisket more juicy, especially on the lean side.
Does the shoulder lump still have its fans?
The shoulder lump has its fans. But like I said, you know, when Roy followed this in ’99, they did 100 shoulder blades for 15 brisket. And he said that last weekend he made 70 brisket for 20 shoulder blades. And the Kreuz Market is one of the places where they still serve spatula; other than Lockhart, it’s almost impossible to get it these days. And so he really lost popularity.