Just Like Heaven: BBQ Lore and more
Here's an article published in a recent issue of Spirit, the Southwest Airlines in-house publication. One of the things I love about barbecue are the subtle differences that define different regional and personal styles. I think all of these places are national treasures.
LOUIE MUELLER BBQ This top-ranked joint in Taylor, Texas, still looks the same as it did back when I first discovered barbecue in 1980.
TEXAN WYATT MCSPADDEN HAS SPENT YEARS SEARCHING OUT THE NATION’S BEST BARBECUE FOR BUSINESS AND PLEASURE. WHY? “BECAUSE I LOVE IT !” HE ANSWERS SIMPLY.
I have personally discovered the best barbecue on Earth.
Photographs and text by Wyatt McSpadden
I come from a long line of carnivores, real steak people. I didn’t encounter authentic barbecue, though, until a seed company salesman named Benny Green took me to Louie Mueller’s in Taylor, Texas. I’d never eaten such wonderful meat—so smoky and tender—and the place looked fantastic, saturated with decades of smoke from serving this mouthwatering food to farmers, railroaders, and traveling salesmen. My favorite places to eat at—and photograph—are the familyowned, small-town, one-of-a-kind joints whose trade is plied with secret sauces, special wood, and an ancient pit.
ARTHUR BRYANT’S BBQ Their thick sandwiches (left), made in Kansas City, are famous for their sauce. The recipe is a closely guarded secret.
SONNY BRYAN’S SMOKEHOUSE sits at the heart of bustling Dallas, but its sign is reminiscent of another era. The barbecue is bigger—and better—in the Lone Star State.
LOUIE MUELLER BBQ The tables in this Taylor, Texas restaurant are set with the essentials—toothpicks. Mueller started roasting meats in the back of his food store in 1946. He moved to the current location in 1959. Before BBQ, the building hosted basketball.
CITY MARKET The wall menu at this historic spot in Luling, Texas doesn’t tell you that it serves its BBQ without forks or plates.
DREAMLAND The woodstove (left) is the only source of heat in this eclectic dining room in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Kansas City police officers would probably argue that Arthur Bryant’s is king.
KREUZ MARKET Roy Perez, pitmaster, stands among what has been called the “world’s largest” wood pile, in Lockhart, Texas.
LEXINGTON BARBEQUE Depending on which direction the wind blows, a pleasant, smoky smell can cover the area. This particular day was quiet—only one pit of Lexington’s six was going.
SMITTY’S MARKET The hallway and dining room are part of a beautiful smoke-saturated building, where BBQ has been served for more than a century. I think of these places as living museums, where today’s customers order and dine in the same space, and eat the same food that folks have been enjoying for decades.
COOPER’S PIT BAR-B-Q Their “cowboy-style” pit is all about variety.
L.C.’S BAR-B-Q In Kansas City, owner L.C. has a table at the far side of the dining room where he holds court. He leaves the cooking to his crew and spends his time reliving all his hunting and fishing adventures.
COOPER’S PIT BAR-B-Q Danny Martinez stands in front of the firebox in Mason, Texas.
LEXINGTON BARBEQUE This North Carolina favorite has its own secret ingredient: Rick Earnhardt (above), pitmaster and sixth cousin to the late NASCAR racer Dale Earnhardt.
DREAMLAND William Spencer gets ready to throw a rack of ribs into the pit at the original Dreamland location in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Several locations exist now, but this spot is the real deal, serving pork ribs only, with no sides except for white bread.