"If you look back at Texas in the 1890s, 1880s, you were likely to see whole hog, whole goat, whole sheep, on an open-pit trench dug in the ground. That was Texas BBQ. People didn't just move to Texas all of a sudden and start smoking brisket. Those traditions took a while to evolve.
"For the most part, the beginnings of Texas BBQ had a lot more to do with slaves coming in from the East. As you moved further West and beef became more prevalent, you saw more beef. When German sausage guys moved in, they probably didn't use beef for that.
"If you ordered beef barbecue, you used to get whatever they happened to be cutting at the time. As far as the brisket goes, nobody used to ever complain about it being dry. Now you definitely hear about it. That has something to do with Yelp culture, where everyone's a critic, but once you experience that great brisket experience, you know what to ask for, what to complain about. Once you've eaten on the mountaintop, you don't want to go back to the valley." - Daniel Vaughn, Texas Monthly BBQ editor
"BBQ has always been very popular and approachable. If you track BBQ back into its origins, it has always been a cuisine that lent itself to family reunions and picnics and political gatherings. It's always been a food that you fed to a crowd. Historically, it's always been a cuisine that's centered itself around a few cuts of meat. Brisket, pork butt. This process of using fire and trying to cook something great out of it.
"I go back in my mind to 9/11. When that happened, we as a country took stock of our lives. We're such an immediate society. Nobody's waiting for a letter anymore. You get BBQ, and it's this grounding food, slower cooked food. It takes time; it doesn't discriminate. I think after 9/11, we stepped back and asked if we were living life too fast. Things that are American started to really resonate with people." - Tuffy Stone, Q Barbeque (Richmond, VA)
"Where it is and where it's going today is so much different than where it was in the past. I was working for my father, who took over from his father. I looked at it as more of a form of indentured servitude. I saw how hard my father worked, how many hours and days, how we never went on vacation. From my perspective, it wasn't the career that I wanted at that age. I saw it as too difficult, too straining. Not forgiving or flexible enough to have a family. By high school, I didn't think this way of doing things would make it long term. There had to be a cheaper, automated way to do it without relying so heavily on one person. But we're shooting for 100% quality. In the McDonald's model, they figured out how to hit 70%.
"But then something happened. There was this weird convergence of heightened foodie interest, hobbyists, overlay with a medium by which they can share with others. When Food Network came on the scene, it changed everything. There was this hipster movement and all of the hole-in-the-wall places became in vogue. Ideas were percolating in backyards. This was in 2005-07.
"BBQ started as a means to maintain the product. It was a necessity to preserve a product. So the new guys look at the old tradition and like the craftsmanship. They don't see themselves as merchants, but as artists. So they focus very heavily on cooking for cooking's sake. The whole thing has evolved.
"Today's kids, this generation of thirty-somethings that are blowing up the barbecue scene, they're following their hearts and not their pocketbooks. It gives a certain level of quality that you just wouldn't receive otherwise. Love and necessity bring about two separate results. Everything is focused on detail. When you have to do something, you do just enough to get by. There's so much bad BBQ because people are doing it just to get by. - Wayne Mueller, Louie Mueller Barbecue (Taylor, TX)
Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's national food and drink team. He lives in Austin, TX, the barbecue capital of the known universe. Follow him to the moistest brisket at @Dannosphere.
[We want to thank our illustrious crew of contributors, which included some of the biggest names in barbecue: Wayne Mueller, Louie Mueller Barbecue (Taylor, TX); Sam Jones, Skylight Inn (Ayden, NC); Kent Black, Black's Barbecue (Lockhart, TX); Daniel Vaughn, TX Monthly BBQ editor; Doug Worgul, Oklahoma Joe's Bar-B-Que (Kansas City, KS); Ash Fulk, Hill Country Barbecue Market (New York, NY); Doug Pickering, D.W.P. The Grill MD (Dallas, TX); Brad Orrison and Hobson Cherry, The Shed (Ocean Springs, MS); Kevin Bludso, Bludso's BBQ (Los Angeles, CA); Tuffy Stone, Q Barbeque (Richmond, VA); Rick Monk, Lexington Barbecue (Lexington, NC); Adam Perry Lang, Chef and Author of Serious Barbecue (Los Angeles, CA); Mike Mills, 17th Street Barbecue (Murphysboro, IL); Ken Hess, Big Bob Gibson's (Decatur, AL).]