To Texans, barbecue is elemental. Succulent, savory, perfumed with smoke and spice, it transcends the term “comfort food.” It’s downright heavenly, and it’s also a staff of Texas life. Like a dust storm or a downpour, barbecue is a force of Texas nature, a stalwart tie to the state’s cultural and culinary history. Though the word is often shortened to “BBQ,” the tradition of barbecue stands Texas-tall.
Photographer Wyatt McSpadden has spent some twenty years documenting barbecue—specifically, the authentic family-owned cafes that are small-town mainstays. Traveling tens of thousands of miles, McSpadden has crisscrossed the state to visit scores of barbecue purveyors, from fabled sites like Kreuz’s in Lockhart to remote spots like the Lazy H Smokehouse in Kirbyville. Color or black-and-white, wide angle or close up, his pictures convey the tradition and charm of barbecue. They allow the viewer to experience each place through all five senses. The shots of cooking meat and spiraling smoke make taste and smell almost tangible. McSpadden also captures the shabby appeal of the joints themselves, from huge, concrete-floored dining halls to tiny, un-air-conditioned shacks. Most of all, McSpadden conveys the primal physicality of barbecue—the heat of fire, the heft of meat, the slickness of juices—and also records ubiquitous touches such as ancient scarred carving blocks, torn screen doors and peeling linoleum, and toothpicks in a recycled pepper sauce jar.