Wearing my favorite BBQ t-shirt from Stanley’s while dining at our favorite vegan joint, The Loving Hut in Addison.

I’ve been a blogger for the past ten years, writing mainly about photojournalism and barbecue. I even helped start the now-defunct Dallas Morning News fantasy football blog in the early 2000’s.

Because I have a confession to make, this may be the toughest post I’ve ever had to write.

For six long weeks in February and March of this year, I walked in the shoes of the enemy. The co-founder of the Texas BBQ Posse became a vegan.

I’m the same guy who claimed victory over the meat-free world in 2010 when the Texas BBQ Posse cook team converted two vegetarians with Bryan Gooding’s first-place chicken at the first Blues, Bandits and Blues cookoff in Oak Cliff.

My life as a vegan started innocently enough when I went to a Christmas party at the home of our friends Ray and Susan Shepard. Ray is a serious barbecue expert and member of the championship Boys Can Smoke cook team out of Tulsa.

When I got my first smoker, Ray brought over a case of beer and a brisket and taught BBQ 101 in the driveway.

Since then we’ve cooked and drank beer together numerous times, with the love of barbecue always being at the center of it all.

If you can’t trust a guy like that, who can you trust?

Ray was looking good at the Xmas gathering. Though never a big guy, he had lost a noticeable amount of weight and looked really healthy.

Ray Shepard, left, and the Boys Can Smoke championship
cook team with their 1963 firetruck as a backdrop.

Wow, looking good my friend. How’d you do that?

My BBQ mentor explained that he had gone hardcore vegan. I almost had a heart attack.

Speaking of heart attacks, Ray had suffered a major one in his mid-thirties and tried to be careful about what he ate after that. Ten years later, he was starting to feel bad again. Last fall his heart doctor convinced him to read Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn.

It was a life changing decision for Ray and he was spreading the gospel now. He felt better than he had in a long time and was off all his heart meds for the first time in years. Former President Bill Clinton also followed the book to become a vegan and reverse his heart disease. The book is now universally known as “The Clinton diet.”

Ray talked on and we listened. My wife Michele was on high alert. She didn’t need to lose much weight, but wanted to get off her blood pressure and cholesterol meds. I had been looking to drop some weight, but not eating meat was never a consideration in achieving that goal.

Once we got through the holidays and got the new year started, we did the unimaginable and turned vegan.

Being a vegetarian means you don’t eat meat, but going vegan means you can’t eat meat OR any dairy products. This was going to be brutal for a cheeseburger lover like me.

This was possibly a long-term lifestyle change for Michele. Working in the veterinary world, she’s a hardcore animal lover and always felt a little guilty eating meat.

The same can’t be said for her husband, the BBQ Posse guy. I committed to six weeks of a meatless lifestyle, having no idea if I could make it even a week.

The vegan lifestyle was as foreign to me as speaking Chinese. Ray took us on our first shopping trip to Whole Foods, where we explored the large healthy and organic section of the store. I laughed out loud, we had never stepped foot in this part of the store in our previous trips there.

The bill was staggering on that first trip to Whole Foods, this vegan thing was going break the family budget wide open. We quickly learned to shop for some better deals at Sprouts and Trader Joe’s, which recently opened in Plano. In fact, I now buy the great majority of our groceries at Trader Joe’s, they have great products and good prices.

We’ve discovered a huge array of new foods and ways to cook them. How many ways can you prepare beans, which are the major protein substitution for not eating meat. There are about a thousand ways, trust me.

Amazingly enough, Posse friends Shannon Bankston and
Heather Hoff didn’t freak out too bad when I ordered the
four-side plate at Fatboy’s BBQ in Cooper.

So back to barbecue. A couple of weeks into the vegan life, Marshall Cooper and I took a ride out to visit our friends Shannon Bankston and Heather Hoff at Fatboy’s BBQ in Cooper. This was my big test.

Marshall stepped up and ordered the usual, a three-meat plate consisting of the holy trinity of Texas barbecue: brisket, ribs and sausage.

When it was my turn I mumbled something to Heather about a restrictive diet and how I’d have the four-side plate: cole slaw, potato salad, beans and corn on the cob. She looked at me kind of strangely but didn’t say anything.

I savored every single bite of my four-side plate, while Marshall raved about their meat offerings. I passed the test and proceeded to make it four more weeks until a planned BBQ trip to hit a few joints west of Dallas in mid-March, where I was going to test the BBQ waters again.

During that time I discovered some great new restaurants, like the Spiral Diner in Dallas and The Loving Hut in Addison. It’s amazing what they can do with that soy protein, making it taste like just about any meat you’ve ever eaten. I even tried making barbecue tofu on my grill, but the results were less than appetizing.

During my vegan journey, I was buoyed by a couple of things along the way. The first occurred when Daniel Vaughn was named BBQ editor of Texas Monthly. Daniel had probably eaten more Texas barbecue, both good and bad, than anyone I know.

The New York Times wrote a story about his new gig at Texas Monthly, ending the piece with the following:

One of Mr. Vaughn’s co-workers at the architecture firm wanted to plan a goodbye lunch for him and asked him where he wanted it. His answer: Kalachandji’s, an Indian vegetarian restaurant. “I gotta eat my veggies,” he said.

Wow, Daniel is one of us, a closet vegan!

Another came on April 1st, when I saw a facebook post from Micklethwait Craft Meats. This trailer joint in Austin had been at the top of our “must visit” list for several months.

There was a beautiful photo of something that looked kind of like a sausage, with this caption:

Due to popular demand, starting this week we’ll be serving only vegetarian sausages. Here’s a pic of the cheddar cheese one we’ll be featuring.

Hot damn, pitmaster Tom Micklethwait understands vegetarians too. I can nibble on a bite of brisket while filling up on a delicious veggie sausage when the Posse makes its upcoming Austin BBQ Tour.

It wasn’t until I saw a Micklethwait facebook follower comment, “Good one, dude” that I knew I’d been had. Major April Fool’s Day punk’d. Well played Tom, well played.

But that veggie sausage might not be a bad idea down the road.

True to plan, I started eating meat again at six weeks in, just not every day. I’ve lost 15 pounds and feel great. My wife has pretty much adapted the vegan life,  but doesn’t hold the retreat to meat against me.

The difference is that my meat bar is much higher now. If I’m going to eat brisket, it better be damned good. Same with the other members of the holy trinity. I may even eat a veggie side for good measure.

I’m still working on that BBQ tofu idea, but until I perfect it — and that’s likely mission impossible — I’ll continue to search the Texas BBQ trail for the greatest smoked meats in the greatest state in the union.

Brilliant April Fool’s Day joke by Tom Micklethwait. The caption on his facebook page read: “Due to popular demand, starting this week we’ll be serving only vegetarian sausages. Here’s a pic of the cheddar cheese one we’ll be featuring.”

Leave a comment



cgurl03

5 years ago

It's great to hear when anyone adopts a healthier lifestyle 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

Dallas Frugal Foodie

5 years ago

Way to go. If we all insisted on only eating clean, "damn good" meat, we'd all be eating way less of it and it would be special. More nutrients from eating plants for all. Less animal torture, no more extreme pollution from factory farm livestock and an incredible drop in heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Thank you for doing this, writing this, and sharing.

Phil Lamb

5 years ago

Nice Job, Chris. Very commendable.

cookie

5 years ago

Very admirable! I find the idea of going vegan impossible as well, but I do try my best to eat TONS of veggies alongside my meats. I think picking quality over quantity is a great way to go. If you ever need tofu help, I am here! I love tofu and cook it lots of different ways and have even surprised many of carnivore friends into eating and liking tofu dishes. 🙂 You can see some of my recipes here: http://cookie-loves.com/?s=tofu

Athonwy

5 years ago

Good job on making a positive choice for your health! It's a great start, and I hope you will continue to explore meat-free options in the future. One thing I'd like to point out though, is that there is no such thing as a Vegan diet. What you were eating is a plant-based, or strict vegetarian, diet. Veganism is a commitment to animal freedom, not a style of eating. It's confusing because Vegans eat an all plant-based diet, and many people misuse the term, including a lot of famous people. Just like eating Kosher doesn't make you a Jew, eating plant-based doesn't make you a Vegan.

Again, many kudos to you for your experiment, I hope you and your wife's health continues to improve, and I have a recipe for you to try, because there IS good plant-based barbecue out there, and if anyone can make that it sounds like you can!

http://chowvegan.com/2008/05/28/bbq-pulled-jackfruit-sandwich/

Chris Wilkins

5 years ago

Wow, thanks to everyone for your kind words, encouragement and ideas. Looks like I have some great recipes for real vegan BBQ now! Special thanks to Athonwy, who pointed out the real meaning of Veganism. Though all this I hadn't heard that, it makes a lot of sense is certainly is food for thought. Cheers/Chris




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