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As a kid I wished I could breathe fire like the cartoon dragons on TV. Barbecue research is the closest I’ll ever come. Eat enough smoked meat in one day and you’ll feel as if hickory coals are smoldering in your belly, the fumes curling from your lips like Don Draper mid-cigarette.
The classic order at the Skylight Inn in Ayden, North Carolina—about ninety miles from Raleigh—is a tray, rather than a sandwich, that includes a small red-and-white-checkered tub mounded with frilly, pink-beige pork; a thin, rectangular slab of unsweetened cornbread glossed with hog fat; and a boat of milky, minced coleslaw.
At Louie Mueller Barbecue in taylor, texas—about thirty-five miles northeast of downtown Austin—I pick up my butcher paper–lined tray from the counter, walk past neon beer signs and a collage of business cards pinned to a singed-looking wall, and plant myself at a communal table with one other fellow.
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