Without a doubt, it’s the most anticipated and influential list of its kind in Texas and beyond: Texas Monthly’s Top 50 BBQ joints. It boosts business for those places that make it, and generates endless discussion among barbecue fans everywhere.
If you have any doubt about the appeal of the list, just Google Texas Monthly’s Top 50 BBQ, or check your Facebook and Twitter feeds over the past couple weeks. Or, view all the coverage the Posse has devoted to the list over the same span. Or, look at the longer lines at many of the top-ranked joints. A new Texas Monthly ranking has the power to monopolize smoked meat conversation, if your favorite spot ranks high, and maybe even more so, if it does not.
This year, Snow’s BBQ in Lexington displaced Franklin Barbecue at No. 1. Snow’s was also on top in 2008.
The process involved in compiling the list has evolved considerably in the 20 years since it first appeared, according to Pat Sharpe, food editor of Texas Monthly and the only person involved in all five incarnations of what some consider to be the Barbecue Bible.
This year’s list, in the June issue of the magazine, involved the most exhaustive vetting yet by Texas Monthly reviewers and utilized more experienced tasters to sample more joints than ever before, according to Sharpe and Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor of the magazine.
To get a better understanding of how Texas Monthly’s Top 50 BBQ list is compiled, I engaged Vaughn and Sharpe in an extended email discussion over several days.
“In 1997, 2003, and 2008, when we were still refining our methodology and before Texas barbecue became such a big deal, many places received a visit by one person,” Sharpe wrote.
A couple months before the appearance of the 2013 list, Vaughn joined the magazine’s staff. Based in Dallas, he previously wrote the popular Full Custom Gospel BBQ blog.
“For the four years leading up to this list I was on a scouting mission finding good BBQ across Texas,” Vaughn explained. “That was a luxury we didn't have in 2013. We used my work to help build our to-do list for the tasting team that started eating last November.”
Vaughn said he ate at about 400 joints during his scouting mission.
For the new list, two dozen tasters ate at more than 350 joints over six months. Most of the reviewers were editors and writers for the magazine. Vaughn and at least one other taster ate at each of the Top 50. Sharpe also visited every one of the Top 10 as the magazine finalized its rankings.
“This is more double- and triple-checking than in any previous year,” she said, adding that she and Vaughn “did revisit about half a dozen joints to decide on the top four in 2013.”
Another change to the magazine’s vetting process this year was the addition of Jimmy Ho to the tasting team. Ho, who writes the Smoking Ho barbecue blog, visited 49 joints. His total was second only to Vaughn among the tasters.
Vaughn said that Ho took on his assignment “with gusto,” covering all of Houston and areas to the southwest.
“As you noticed, Houston was well represented,” Vaughn wrote. “We double checked him with visits from Chris Reid, Pat, or myself.” Reid writes a barbecue column for the Houston Chronicle.
Sharpe said she visited a total of 36 joints for this year’s list, down from the 47 she reviewed in 2013. Reid, who also assisted with the 2013 list, visited 32.
As for writing chores, Sharpe said, Vaughn wrote 10 of the blurbs for the Top 50, she wrote nine and Ho six. Sharpe edited the copy, along with deputy editor Kate Rodemann.
So, is it too early to start looking forward to the next version of Texas Monthly's Top 50 BBQ list?
"We plan to keep it at every four years from here on out," Vaughn said. "The next list will come out in 2021."