Texas BBQ, Small Town to Downtown by Wyatt McSpadden is as much a testament to changes in photography as it is to changes in the Texas barbecue scene.
One photo in the new book due out soon illustrates both. It’s a full-page shot of Leonard Botello IV, pit master at Truth Barbecue, sprinkling rub on briskets. Light reflects off the spices, gliding in gentle curves to the meat.
“I bet I shot maybe 400 frames to get that,” McSpadden said recently as he gave Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins and me a preview of the book. “It just wasn’t quite right. The framing wasn’t what I wanted.”
So, he kept shooting.
McSpadden used digital cameras (Nikon D700, D800 and D750) on his new book. He used a medium format film camera (Mamiya RZ67) with a tripod on his earlier book, Texas BBQ, published in 2009. The frame size then was 2 3/4 inches by 2 1/4 inches. He got nine frames to a roll of film and shot in both black & white and color, using two different film speeds — fast and slow — for each.
“I had to pay for processing,” he said, “so I was careful how much I shot.”
He estimates that he made nearly as many exposures to get that one shot of Botello as he did total for the first book.
“I couldn’t have done that on film,” McSpadden said of the dancing spices.
Botello and Truth also are an example of the second change, the spread of excellent Texas barbecue from small towns like Lockhart, Llano, Luling, Smithville and Taylor to the big cities, Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston. Truth started in Brenham and is opening a new place in Houston.
McSpadden’s first book, Texas BBQ, included 89 photos over 160 pages; the second 100 photos over the same number of pages. The new book has a forward by Aaron Franklin and an essay by Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor of Texas Monthly.
The publisher, University of Texas Press, is the same for both, as is the designer, Nancy McMillen, McSpadden’s wife.
“Part of the beauty of the books was working with my wife who I believe is a genius designer,” he said.
As for his favorite places to make barbecue photographs, McSpadden said he remains partial to Snow’s in Lexington. “It’s such a great place, the mixture of sunlight and smoke,” he said. And, Kreuz Market in Lockhart. “The pit room there is like a cathedral,” he said.
“For me, barbecue is a personal and emotional thing,” McSpadden added.
As we talked and looked at an advance copy of the new book during a meal at Brotherton’s Black Iron Barbecue in Pflugerville, Wilkins, an excellent photographer himself, took photos of McSpadden.
“Do you know how intimidating it is shooting The Godfather of barbecue photography,” Wilkins said, making a statement rather than asking a question.
Godfather is right. And this new Wyatt McSpadden book belongs in a barbecue lover’s library right next to the first.