Where can you find the best barbecue in Texas? Photographer Wyatt McSpadden knows.

Wyatt McSpadden traveled across Texas photographing the grub that binds the state together: barbecue

WORDS Jess Swanson
August 2018

It’s no secret in Amarillo, Texas—where 65-year-old photographer Wyatt McSpadden grew up—that the best barbecue isn’t found in big-city joints with buzzy Yelp reviews, but in unassuming small towns specked across the Lone Star State. “People are going to have different thoughts about this,” warns McSpadden whose book Texas BBQ, Small Town to Downtown comes out this month. “Texans are very passionate and opinionated about their barbecue.” 


As high-end barbecue blossoms in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, McSpadden juxtaposes the old with the new, capturing the kitchens at dozens of spots across the state—and, of course, ordering some beef brisket along the way. “I don’t mind the smoke or the heat,” he says. “I find it exhilarating.” 


A photographer for 42 years, McSpadden has been eating the chopped beef sandwich at Doug’s, his hometown barbecue, for 60 years. Back then, a sandwich cost 25 cents. Today, it’s $4.95. Other than the inflation, “the space, menu, it’s all pretty much the same,” he says. McSpadden finds the “new guys” are cooking in that old style: with wood rather than gas, for 12 to 14 hours at a time, trying to “replicate the food but never the vibe” of the veteran spots.  


It’s that vibe that attracts McSpadden to the smoky pits more than any meal would. “The people are so hardworking,” he says, “and the way the smoke is illuminated in the daylight is beautiful and constantly changing.”

Jess Swanson

Jess Swanson is the senior editor at American Way and Celebrated Living. She graduated from Columbia University School of Journalism. Her reporting has taken her from the python-infested Everglades swamps to a bubbling onsen in Tokyo to a lava-spouting volcano in Nicaragua.


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