“Take off your jacket, honey, make yourself comfortable,” Thelma Williams of Thelma’s in Houston tells a New York companion of Walsh’s during their visit to her place.
Thelma could just as well be welcoming readers as Walsh takes them on a tour of joints in Texas and throughout the south.
Walsh lets the people he encounters become the centerpiece. He liberally uses direct quotes to help reveal their character and carry his narrative.
He hits some big barbecue themes: barbecue and religion, barbecue and race, barbecue and beer, barbecue and barbecue contests.
And the photographs by Rufus Lovett are wonderful.
I do have a quibble. While Walsh laments the replacement of wood-fired artisans by “mass-production stainless steel ovens and a fast food version of barbecue,” he missed the ongoing old-school revival occurring in Austin and Dallas.
Barbecue fans in those cities have a growing — not declining — number of good alternatives to the gas-and-electric joints.
It’s a small blemish, especially considering lead times on books. And on a reviewer’s scale, it’s far outweighed by sections where Walsh writes about the barbecue masters he encounters, such as Rodney Scott of Scott’s Variety in Hemingway, South Carolina, who says he always listens to music when he cooks because it keeps him in a good mood.
“You can’t cook good food in a bad mood,” Scott tells Walsh. “You get the red pepper in your hand when you’re pissed off and who knows where you’re going to take it. While the hogs are cooking through the night, we listen to blues, R and B, country, but we leave the hip-hop alone. I love hip-hop, but not while you’re cooking. That comes later, when you’re chopping.”