Barbecue, which has always been religion in the South, has in recent years become a national obsession. Accordingly, the barbecue books are showing up: out this spring are Daniel Vaughn's Prophets of Smoked Meat (more on that later) and Houston food writer Robb Walsh's Barbecue Crossroads: Notes & Recipes From a Southern Odyssey.
Along with photographer O. Rufus Lovett, Walsh embarked on a road trip from Houston to the Carolinas, stopping at as many barbecue spots as possible along the way. Lovett's photography shows beautifully decaying signs, weathered hands stoking fires, embers glowing deep in dark metal caverns, and barbecue platters of all varieties. It's the story of an American tradition that's endangered, for all that it's in vogue. One gets a sense of urgency from Barbecue Crossroads: preserve these traditions before it's too late.
You will find photos and stories and interviews and, yes, recipes in the book. What you will not find are reviews, and that is on purpose. Writes Walsh in the introduction:
Barbecue Top 10 lists, ratings, and all the rest of it are, as the Buddhists would say, illusion. Bloggers, journalists, and magazine editors put scores on barbecue joints in order to convince the public (and ourselves) that we are the masters of the barbecue universe. But it's all a lot of smoke. What's here instead is a record of a pilgrimage and a documentation of the daily ritual of barbecue. Walsh says, "I realized that in twenty years of food writing, I had never actually written what I wanted to say about barbecue." Barbecue Crossroads is that book. After all, "The sausage has been smoked the same way for over a hundred years. It will still be here after we are gone." The book is out now from University of Texas Press (order on Amazon).