The Ultimate BBQ Road Trip Slideshow
Day 1: Cowling's (Waverly, Va.)
Style: North Carolina
Opened in 1972 in the heart of peanut country, Cowling’s serves pit-cooked pork shoulders prepared over white oak and served with a tomato-based sauce including vinegar, sugar, and spices. Sides include a coleslaw of green and white cabbage and carrots, baked beans, and pan-fried cornbread.
Day 1: Parker's Barbecue (Wilson, N.C.)
Style: Eastern North Carolina
Founded by Ralph Parker, Graham Parker, and Henry Parker Brewer in 1946, Parker’s Barbecue serves more than 150 smoked pigs and 8,000 fried chickens to 20,000 customers each week, according to Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA). Not much has changed about Parker’s Barbecue since its opening. Longtime employees Kevin Lamm and Donald Williams now own the restaurant and the staff still wears white paper hats and aprons in the dining room. The only items that have been added to the original menu are string beans, hushpuppies, and fish.
Meat from the whole hogs is served with house vinegar-based sauce and a mustard-dressed slaw. The fried chicken is also worth a try. "It’s just chopped, vinegar-based barbecue. And yeah, come try you some. When it’s good — when it’s moist, you can tell," Lamm told SFA. Parker’s closes for one week each year, the week of Father’s Day.
Day 2: Grady's BBQ (Dudley, N.C.)
Style: Eastern North Carolina
Stephen and Gerri Grady took over Grady's BBQ in 1986, the year they got married, buying it from Mr. Grady's brother, who lasted only one day at the restaurant because he quickly discovered the restaurant business wasn’t for him. On their own first day as owners, the Gradys ran out of hog, hushpuppies, bread, and coleslaw within hours of opening.
Stephen grew up helping his pitmaster grandfather; Gerri grew up on a farm and helped her family roast whole hogs in ground-dug pits. Today, they slow-roast the animals over oak and hickory coals and serve the chopped meat with vinegar sauce. The Gradys also brew sweet tea on the stovetop, and make black-eyed peas, steamed cabbage, and boiled potatoes daily. Other staples include Brunswick stew, hushpuppies, and coleslaw. "Everybody seems to think theirs is better than the next person's and some of it’s right and some of it’s not. But we think ours is the best," Stephen Grady told SFA.
Day 2: The Pit (Raleigh, N.C.)
Style: Eastern North Carolina
The Pit opened almost five years ago in the warehouse district of downtown Raleigh. Greg Hatem, who is from Halifax County in eastern North Carolina and grew up cooking pigs each fall, came up with the idea to establish a serious restaurant to honor his state's best-known food, partnering with celebrated local pitmaster Ed Mitchell and including a full bar with cocktails, beer, and wine — an amenity rarely found at barbecue joints.
Mitchell left last year to open his own place, but The Pit remains a great Raleigh favorite for its signature eastern North Carolina-style chopped whole-hog barbecue. The hogs are raised free-range in North Carolina farms which meet the standards of the Animal Welfare Institute, and they’re cooked the way it’s been done for nearly 150 years in the region, for about 12 hours, with plenty of smoke from hickory and oak. The meat is removed from the carcasses, and everything is blended together — shoulders, legs, ribs, and belly meat with a bit of cracklins added. Then the pork is seasoned with The Pit’s special vinegar-based sauce, which gives it a hot, tangy flavor that’s just a little bit sweet. "When they’re done,” said Samantha Hatem, who handles media relations for her husband’s Empire Eats restaurant group, "the meat is so tender, you can cut it with a butter knife. It tastes great with a nice smoky flavor even without the sauce, but when you add the sauce? That’s perfect barbecue,"
Signature dishes include the chopped barbecue plate for $11.99, which includes two of more than a dozen side dishes, many of which change seasonally. One of the most popular is coleslaw.
Recipe: The Pit’s Coleslaw
Recipe: The Pit’s Barbecue Sauce
Day 3: Short Sugar's Pit Bar-B-Q (Reidsville, N.C.)
Style: North Carolina
Short Sugar's Pit Bar-B-Q was established in an old gas station in November, 1949, by current owner David B. Wilson’s father-in-law, Johnny Overby, in an area that didn’t have much barbecue at the time. The original restaurant only had counter service, but a dining room, takeout, and curb service were added in 1982. Short Sugar’s has won many awards over the years. In 1982, at an annual Barbecue Bowl organized by members of Congress from North and South Carolina, it won the blue ribbon.
Signature dishes include three North Carolina styles: sliced, chopped, and minced, all served with homemade sauce that is more brown than red. Popular sides include baked beans, potato salad, and slaw. While Short Sugar’s barbecue is its most popular offering, the homemade chili made from an 1949 original recipe from 1949 is also popular, as are the hot dogs, plain or with some of that chili. Johnny Overby formulated the original sauce recipe when he set up shop, and it hasn’t changed since. "We have a very distinct sauce which sets us apart from other barbecue restaurants," Wilson told The Daily Meal. Short Sugar's Pit Bar-B-Q does not sell its sauce commercially, but it does ship it throughout the U.S., including Hawaii, for those who can’t make the trip.
Day 3: Stamey's (Greensboro, N.C.)
Chip Stamey of Stamey’s carries on the tradition set forth by his grandfather, C. Warner Stamey, who studied and worked under Lexington pit-cooking pioneers Jess Swicegood and Sid Weaver in the 1920s. Warner eventually bought out his mentor Swicegood and renamed the operation, relocating it to Greensboro in 1953.
Stamey’s continues to fry up hushpuppies, the traditional barbecue side in North Carolina, and serve pork shoulders slow-cooked over hickory coals and doused with "dip." Patrons can order their ‘cue sliced or chopped. Plates are served with rolls, hushpuppies, or the signature ketchup-based slaw with red pepper, black pepper, sugar, and cabbage.
Day 4: Scott's Bar-B-Que (Hemingway, S.C.)
Style: South Carolina
Scott's, near Myrtle Beach, is the quintessential mom-and-pop restaurant, the mom and pop in question being Roosevelt "Rosie" Scott and his wife, Ella, who founded the place in 1972, according to SFA. The couple still runs the restaurant, with their son Rodney, who is the pitmaster. Scott's is open Thursday through Saturday only, and Rodney reportedly spends Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays cutting down trees and chopping wood for the restaurant’s pits.
The signature dish off the small menu (just pork, chicken, and smoked rib-eye, "a new local favorite") is the pulled pork plate, the meat served with a heap of crispy skin and some vinegar-based barbecue sauce on the side. "Extras" include boiled peanuts and more kettle-fried pork skins.
Scott’s hosts an annual community picnic in the spring, free for all. The Scott family times its family reunion to the event to ensure there is enough staff to serve everyone, so if you time your trip right, you can get some free barbecue and Southern hospitality.
Day 4: Maurice's BBQ Piggy Park (West Columbia, S.C.)
Style: South Carolina
Maurice’s BBQ Piggy Park has been an institution in the South — and founder Maurice Bessinger has been a polarizing figure — since 1953. Bessinger learned how to barbecue from his father, Joseph Bessinger, who owned a barbecue business in Holly Hill, S.C. After his father’s death, Maurice carried on the tradition with his own establishment. He also found time to head up the National Association for the Preservation of White People, and had to be forced by the Supreme Court to integrate his dining room.
Bessinger's sons, daughter, and grandchildren now run Piggy Park, which currently boasts some 11 locations around the Palmetto State, and Bessinger senior has retired and, he once said, changed his prejudicial beliefs after becoming a born-again Christian.
Meanwhile, Piggy Park's pigs, which are sourced from the restaurant’s own organic free-range farm, are pit-cooked over hickory coals for 24 hours — the chain spends $100,000 a year on wood — then basted with the restaurant’s own mustard-based Southern Golden BBQ Sauce. (There are also original hickory, spicy, and honey sauce varieties as well as a trio of vinegar pepper sauces — original, hot chipotle, and habanero.)
Day 5: Sweatman's BBQ (Holly Hill, S.C.)
Style: South Carolina
Harold "Bub" and Margie Sweatman opened their first Holly Hill barbecue restaurant in 1959. When the business failed, they cooked for special events for friends and families — but then tried again in 1977, buying an old farmhouse and converting it into Sweatman’s BBQ. At first, the Sweatmans raised their own hogs, but as business boomed, they turned to local markets. Only open on Fridays and Saturdays, Sweatman’s cooks whole hogs over oak and pecan wood for 12 to 14 hours, basting them with a mustard-based sauce. The late Senator Strom Thurmond was a fan of Sweatman’s, as are actor Ian McKellan and television personality Anthony Bourdain.
Day 5: Monroe's Smokehouse BBQ (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Style: Traditional Southern BBQ and Carolina Chopped Pork
Before there was Monroe's, there was RSVP Caterers, whose repertoire included barbecue. The barbecue was so popular that the proprietors, Keith Monroe Waller and Kimberly Waller, decided in 2007 to open a restaurant devoted to it. All the Monroe’s Smokehouse meats are slow-smoked with a dry rub, with sauce added at the customers’ discretion. "Monroe's is at the top of the list for this style of BBQ because we take no shortcuts," said Keith Waller. Monroe's Smokehouse’s signature meats are pulled pork, Carolina pork, beef brisket, and smoked wings, and the signature side dish is the collard greens, which are made with Carolina Sauce.
Day 6: Gators BBQ (Jacksonville, Fla.)
In addition to the expected offerings on John and Sandy Shepherd's menu at their Gators BBQ — brisket, sausage links, spareribs, and so on — there is actually some of its namesake: alligator, available as a starter or as a main dish with two sides and garlic bread. A bit out of the way off I-10, the cozy dining room packs a crowd Monday through Saturday, enjoying dishes like that gator or the two-meat smokehouse combo. There is a choice of five mostly mustard-based sauces.
Day 6: Paul's BBQ (Lexington, Ga.)
Each Friday, the family-run Paul’s BBQ smokes hogs in a pit behind the family house and transfers them to the restaurant, which used to be the small town’s general store. The menu is barbecue pork, sold sliced or stuffed between two pieces of white bread, with beans and coleslaw on the side, and Paul's is open only on Saturdays, from 9.30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Come early, especially during football season.
Day 7: Fresh Air Bar-B-Que (Jackson, Ga.)
Fresh Air Bar-B-Que has been serving barbecue at its original location since 1929. Dr. Joel Watkins, a veterinarian, opened the restaurant, but according to the Southern Foodways Alliance he did not cook pork, and served only beef. When George "Toots" Caston bought Fresh Air in 1952, he added hogs to the menu, according to SFA. The original pits could hold 19 whole hogs, and Brunswick stew was prepared in 25-gallon cast-iron pots. Today, the third generation of the Caston family is at the helm at the Jackson location and a second outpost in Macon, serving barbecue pork roasted over hickory and oak wood and slathered with a vinegar- and tomato-based sauce. "It’s something [our grandfather] instilled in us as children growing up, to have pride in what you did and to do the best job you could do at anything, no matter what it was," said George Barber, one of Caston’s grandchildren, to SFA.
Day 7: Dean's Barbecue (Jonesboro, Ga.)
Opened in 1947, Dean’s Barbecue is located in a small house with concrete floors and wooden tables. Diners can also opt to eat at outdoor picnic tables located beneath pecan trees. Open Wednesday through Saturday, the family-run restaurant roasts pigs in an outdoor pit over hickory and oak wood and serves only chopped or pulled pork with a sweet and tangy vinegar-based sauce.
Day 8: Jim 'N Nick’s Bar-B-Q (Cumming, Ga.)
Style: "We don't really try to imitate regional styles like Memphis, Kansas City, etc. People in our home region definitely tend to prefer pulled pork with a tomato-based sauce for barbecue," said chef Drew Robinson of Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q to The Daily Meal.
Nick Pihakis founded Jim ‘N Nick’s with his father Jim in 1985, in Birmingham, Ala., and there are now 29 locations in seven states. The quality of the 'cue is much better than you'd expect from a growing chain. "Our philosophy has always been to serve the freshest product possible, cooked with the best methods and care to produce the best barbecue possible," said Jim 'N Nick’s chef Drew Robinson to The Daily Meal. "Our sauces and rubs are designed to complement that meat and not be the lead flavor or determine the 'style'."
Jim 'N Nick’s signature barbecue meal is the pulled pork sandwich and barbecue plate. The chain buys local whenever possible and is in the final stages of being able to source their own hogs and have them processed locally. Insisting on making everything from scratch daily, the restaurant does not have freezers
Jim 'N Nick's participates in and sponsors multiple barbecue festivals. For the past five years, they have been a mainstay at the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in New York City, and this year they sponsored and took part in the inaugural Big Denver Barbecue Block Party. The Memphis Jim 'N Nick’s is home to the Memphis in May barbecue competition, often referred to as the "Superbowl of Swine."
Day 8: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q (Decatur, Ala.)
Style: North Alabama
Bob Gibson worked for the L & N Railroad and hosted barbecues in his backyard on the weekends. He sold his barbecue from a few places until 1952, when he opened Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q on Sixth Avenue in Decatur. Gibson’s grandson, Don McLemore, took over in 1972. When the restaurant burned down in 1988, the family rebuilt it next door, salvaging the original neon sign, according to SFA. "We like what we do, and we’re very particular about our people that work here, how they process the meat and cook the meat and, again, how they treat people, and I think that’s the secret to our success," McLemore told SFA.
The restaurant’s signature smoked pork and chicken are roasted over a brick pit. The chicken is served with Gibson’s famous vinegar-based white sauce and the pork has a vinegar-based tomato sauce — though some diners insist on using the white sauce on the pork and ribs. Sides include a barbecue-stuffed baked potato. Save room for a slice of coconut cream Heaven High meringue pie, chocolate Heaven High meringue pie, or the lemon icebox pie.
Day 9: Top Hat Barbecue (Hayden, Ala.)
After working as a bread deliveryman for 49 years, Wilbur Pettit entered the barbecue restaurant business in 1952, buying and slightly renaming a local institution called the Top Hat Inn. Pettit's son Dale, a Baptist deacon, now runs the business and mans the pits. Top Hat's original barbecue sauce recipe — tomato-based, with about 20 ingredients, simmered 10 gallons at a time in a big steam kettle — came, strangely enough, from the kitchens of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. (It has been evolved since then.) The sauce is served with nearly everything at Top Hat, especially the signature ribs.
"Everybody has a way — they either skin them out, they rub them with salt, or they have a dried rub; everybody has a way that they do their own ribs, and we do ours in a way that they turn out extremely tender. They fall off the bone; you just pick the bone up, and they will fall apart. But that’s one of those secrets, you know," said Dale Pettit to SFA.
Pork shoulders and ribs are roasted over hickory wood carefully cut and shaped into logs 8 inches in diameter and 24 inches long. "We’ve always [given] God the glory for all our success, and he’s been faithful to us, and we’re 40 years here and still going wide open," said Pettit to SFA.
Day 9: Archibald's Bar-B-Q (Northport, Ala.)
George Archibald worked in a steel mill and his wife, Betty, worked at a paper mill for years before opening Archibald’s Bar-B-Q in their hometown of Northport in 1962. George Archibald Jr., and his sister, Paulette Washington, now run the business. The siblings serve ribs the same way their parents did: cooked over hickory with vinegar-based sauce and served in butcher paper with white bread. The secret sauce is so popular people have been known to come by with jars to take some home in.
"I’ve been in the barbecue business all my life," said George Archibald Jr.to SFAof the secret to the restaurant’s success. "This is just a small little place. I just build a fire and keep the fire low and cook it slow."
Day 10: The Little Dooey (Starkville, Miss.)
Founded by Barry and Margaret Ann Wood in 1985, The Little Dooey is named after the Wood family’s term for a fun gathering of family and friends, "a little dooey." The husband-and-wife team decided to open the restaurant after successfully serving their barbecue at a Starkville rest stop. The Little Dooey menu includes pulled pork, ribs, chicken, and catfish along with appetizers like dooey (a fried smoked sausage) on a stick and dooey nachos (Fritos topped with baked beans, pulled pork, shredded cheese, onions, jalapeños, and sauce).
Day 10: Leatha's Bar-B-Que Inn (Hattiesburg, Miss.)
It was here at this old-school barbecue joint that Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods feasted on raccoon and possum, but the more traditional pork is also featured on Leatha’s Bar-B-Que Inn’s menu. The ramshackle spot has been in business for more than 70-years, smoking tender ribs and baking homemade pecan pies.
Day 11: Grayson Bar-B-Que (Clarence, La.)
This no-frills, hole-in-the-wall barbecue shack serves its signature pork sandwiches on house-made buns from a long counter; the kitchen staff smokes the pork out back. There’s no liquor or tea at Grayson Bar-B-Que, just canned sodas to wash down the hearty and inexpensive pork plates and ham sandwiches coated in brown sauce that have kept locals coming here year after year.
Day 11: Church of Holy Smoke (Huntsville, Texas)
The Church of Holy Smoke began as a fundraiser for the New Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville. The idea for the restaurant began when Annie May Ward cooked barbecue outside the church while the pastor and her husband worked to build the church. According to the Southern Foodways Alliance, people driving by would stop and ask if they could buy the barbecue and, at the insistence of the pastor and her husband, Ward began by selling sandwiches, according to SFA.
As word spread, the church built a restaurant for Ward, with proceeds going to running the church. When Ward had a stroke in 2003, parishioners Horace and May Archie began helping out at the restaurant, and in 2004, they took over. Mr. Archie mans the pit and Mrs. Archie cooks the sides and serves diners. Meat is smoked over red and white oak wood with a little hickory, pecan, and mesquite mixed in toward the end of the cooking process to add flavor to the brisket. The restaurant is open Wednesdays to Saturdays only; on busy days, customers are sometimes seated in the church’s cafeteria.
Day 12: Smitty's Market (Lockhart, Texas)
Smitty’s Market, housed in the old Kreuz Market space, is considerably smaller than the transplanted Kreuz, but has the patina of age and a time-worn ambience. Here, Nina Schmidt Sells keeps things simple, serving barbecue and sausage with just bread, crackers, pickles, onions, tomatoes, avocado, and cheese, as at the original Kreuz, on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays only.
Day 12: Kreuz Market (Lockhart, Texas)
Style: German-Style Barbecue
Kreuz Market was founded by Charles Kreuz (pronounced "krites" in these parts) in 1900, originally a meat market and a grocery store, according to SFA. Like most markets at the time, it pit-barbecued the better cuts of meat and made sausage out of the lesser cuts. Customers bought barbecue and sausage and garnishes like bread, crackers, pickles, onions, tomatoes, and cheese from the grocery store, and ate it straight off butcher paper. The business was passed on to Kreuz’s sons, who ran it until 1948. That year, Edgar A. "Smitty" Schmidt bought the place, phased out the groceries, but continued to serve the same barbecue and sausage. Cabbage knives were chained to the tables so that customers could cut their meat (but not take home the cutlery). Schmidt’s son, Rick Schmidt, bought the business, and when he and his sister Nina went their separate ways, he moved, along with the Kreuz name, to a cavernous new 560-seat location nearby, opening in 1999. Nina kept the old location (see next slide). Today, Kreuz boasts eight 16-foot pits for barbecuing meat (it cooks for four to six hours, a short period by industry standards) and for grilling approximately 15,000 rings of sausage each week. The original menu has expanded to include baked beans, German potato salad, sauerkraut, and dipped ice cream.
Day 13: Franklin Barbecue (Austin, Texas)
Style: Central Texas Barbecue
Opened in 2009 by Aaron and Stacy Franklin, Franklin Barbecue started serving barbecue from a little vintage trailer, but has since moved into a brick-and-mortar location, and has just announced plans to expand the cooking facilities. At Franklin Barbecue, meats are served by the pound, with a focus on all-natural brisket and pork spareribs. "We still do it the old-fashioned way; we spend long hours smoking the meats over oak," said the folks at Franklin Barbecue to The Daily Meal. "Order brisket by the pound and get your choice of lean or fatty. Throw it on a piece of white bread with pickles and onions, and go to town."
Day 13: Taylor Café (Taylor, Texas)
At 88-years-old, pitmaster Vencil Mares is still serving what some connoisseurs consider the best brisket in the Texas Hill Country, along with turkey, sausage links, and other meats. Mares learned his craft at nearby Southside Market in Elgin, before buying the Taylor Café in 1949, according to the SFA. Mares seasons his brisket two days ahead and roasts it in a pit with post oak wood for five to six hours. The brisket is served with a sauce based on ketchup, with lemon juice, onion, celery, brown sugar, butter, and Louisiana hot sauce added. Taylor Café, which is more than a century old, has not changed much since its opening. Telltale signs include an aging jukebox, old-fashioned cash register, and mismatched bar stools.
Day 14: Smokin' Joe's BBQ and RV Park (Davis, Okla.)
Fall-off-the-bone ribs, thick-cut bologna, dill pickles, and more are on offer at Smokin’ Joe’s. While the tabs may be a bit higher than at other places on this list, the massive portions easily yield enough for two to three people, especially the chopped brisket sandwich, with mounds of meat that fall from the Texas toast. With only a handful of tables, most diners take the ‘cue to go and eat in their RVs, which can conveniently be parked out back — hence, the "RV Park" part of the name.
Day 14: Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue (Kansas City, Kan.)
Don’t let its unlikely location in a gas station put you off from dining at Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue. Jeff Stehney named the restaurant for the first smoker he purchased, back in 1991 — an Oklahoma Joe’s 24" model. Stehney and a handful of friends, who dubbed themselves the Slaughterhouse Five, started entering barbecue competitions with the smoker, and won eight grand championship awards. He then went into partnership with Oklahoma Joe's Smoker Company founder Joe Don Davidson, opening his first restaurant in Stillwater, Okla., site of Davidson's company headquarters, in 1996. Eight months later, he opened in Kansas City. Three locations now serve chicken and pork plates and sandwiches including the house specialty, a pulled pork sandwich.
Day 15: Arthur Bryant's (Kansas City, Mo.)
Probably the most famous barbecue restaurant in America — thanks largely to the efforts of Kansas City-born writer Calvin Trillin, who wrote in Playboy, back in 1974, that it was "possibly the single best restaurant in the world" — Arthur Bryant’s grew out of a place owned by Henry Perry, the so-called "father of Kansas City barbecue." When Perry died in 1940, Charlie Bryant, one of his employees, took it over, and after his death, his brother Arthur assumed ownership. Baseball players and fans alike, along with U.S. presidents, movie stars, and other notables, have been flocking to it ever since for its hickory- and oak wood-smoked ribs slathered in a tangy vinegar sauce. Arthur Bryant passed away in 1982, at 80, in the middle of working a shift, but the restaurant continues to thrive.
Day 15: BB's Lawnside (Kansas City, Mo.)
Style: Kansas City
Blues and barbecue are on the menu at BB’s Lawnside, which slow roasts and smokes its sausage, chicken, beef, and pork in a 60-year-old pit. Husband-and-wife team Lindsay and Jo Shannon left their jobs in sales and advertising to open BB’s Lawnside in 1990. The menu includes Lindsay’s Kansas City-style barbecue and Jo’s Louisiana gumbo, red beans and rice, and jambalaya — all accompanied by live blues most nights.
Day 16: Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue (Kansas City, Mo.)
Style: Kansas City
Russ Fiorella opened Smokestack BBQ in 1957. His eldest son, Jack, worked at Smokestack until 1974, and then started his own place, Fiorella’s Jack Stack. Over the years, Fiorella's has opened three more locations and the menu has expanded from the original six item-menu Jack borrowed from his father to include hickory-smoked lamb ribs, Angus beef steaks, brisket, beef, and the restaurant's signature Kansas City beef, pork, and ham burnt ends.
Day 16: BBQ Station (Cassville, Mo.)
Located in a former gas station, this small, hole-in-the wall barbecue joint on Main Street is known for its ribs and brisket, and its warm baked potato salad. Order at the counter, where BBQ Station’s meat is cut to order, before you sit in the nostalgic dining room or take some for the road.
Day 17: McClard's Bar-B-Q (Hot Springs, Ark.)
Located in Hot Springs National Park, McClard’s Bar-B-Q Restaurant was started in 1928 by Alex and Gladys McClard, then owners of the Westside Tourist Court hotel. When one of their guests couldn’t afford the $10 bill for his two-month stay, he asked if he could pay instead with a recipe for what he claimed was the greatest barbecue sauce in the world. The claim must have been true, since the Westside Tourist Court became Westside Bar-B-Q. In 1942, McClard’s moved to its current location, where carhops once served barbecued goat, ribs, and sandwiches to travelers on the go.
Today, the second, third, and fourth generations of the McClard family pit-cook 7,000 pounds of hickory-smoked beef, pork, and ribs and sides like coleslaw, spicy barbecue beans, and hot tamales every morning Tuesday through Saturday.
Day 17: Craig Brothers Café (De Valls Bluff, Ark.)
Located about halfway between Little Rock and Memphis, Craig Brothers was started by brothers Lawrence Craig, a former cook on a Mississippi River boat, and Leslie Craig in 1947. Today, Lawrence’s son Robert overseas the restaurant’s operation. Uncured ham, ribs, pork, pork sausage, and chicken are cooked over hickory smoke in an outdoor pit. Order the sliced pork sandwich, slathered in a brownish-orange sauce involving apples and bell peppers, mild, medium, or hot, with green apple slaw on top.
Day 18: Jones Bar-B-Q Diner (Marianna, Ark.)
Jones Bar-B-Q began on Walter Jones’ back porch, where he sold barbecue pork with a vinegar-based sauce to neighbors on Fridays and Saturdays. His son Hubert carried on the tradition, serving the same barbecue from a two-story shotgun building near the Mississippi River. Today, his son, James and his wife Betty continue to cook pork shoulder in a primitive cinder block pit and serve Jones Bar-B-Q’s legendary pork shoulder sandwiches on white bread.
Day 18: Abe's Bar-B-Q (Clarksdale, Miss.)
Abe’s Bar-B-Q has been offering Mississippians and their guests "swine dining" since 1924. Its current location, at the fabled crossroads of highways 49 and 61 (where blues pioneer Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil in return for prowess on the guitar), hosts musicians like ZZ Top, Paul Simon, and Conway Twitty, road-trippers, and locals alike, all in search of Abe's barbecued pork and beef, ribs, and bundles of hot tamales (a Mississippi tradition) served with crackers and slaw.
Day 19: Cozy Corner Restaurant (Memphis, Tenn.)
Raymond and Desiree Robinson came from Memphis originally, but moved to Denver to operate a barbecue restaurant there. In 1977, they returned home and founded Cozy Corner, now run by Desiree (Raymond died in 2001), with the help of three more generations of Robinsons (down to the toddler who occasionally greets guests), according to SFA.
Pork is cooked in an aquarium-style barbecue pit in the front of the restaurant. Sliced pork sandwiches and plates, barbecued Cornish hens, and smoked turkey (on special order) are specialties.
Day 19: Payne's Bar-B-Q (Memphis, Tenn.)
Payne’s was opened in a converted gas station by Horton Payne and his mother, Emily, in 1972, but after his death at the age of 35, in 1984, his wife, Flora, took over. Today, she and the Paynes' son Ron turn the pork shoulders over hickory coals in a recessed pit set into the wall behind the counter. A mild sauce simmers all afternoon on the stove and hot sauce is dispensed from an old liquid soap bottle. The specialty here is pork shoulder sandwich topped with neon-green mustard-based coleslaw. "I pray over this food," said Flora Payne in an interview with SFA. "Bless it."
Day 20: J & N BBQ (Bono, Ark.)
After suffering a back injury, Jim Vaughn went from working as a mechanic to toiling as a barbecue pitmaster, opening J & N BBQ with his wife, Nora, in 1996. The couple had provided smoked meats and sides for community gatherings for years, and when they opened J & N, they served those same dishes from a small red and white trailer, according to SFA.
Today, their grandson Barry Vaughn does the cooking. He makes ribs, chicken, beef, hamburgers, and hot dogs on charcoal, but J & N will also cook 'coon (raccoon), deer, wild turkey, and other game that locals bring. J & N uses a vinegar-based sauce of sugar, garlic salt, cayenne, black pepper, salt, and ketchup. Order the meat cup, a tall cup with barbecue meat in the bottom, sauce, a layer of beans, and an optional layer of slaw on top.
Day 20: 17th Street Bar & Grill (Murphysboro, Ill.)
Mike Mills, known as "The Legend," started barbecuing using his grandmother Mama Landess’ sauce and his father’s expertise at the pit. He barbecued throughout his early life at family events and for friends’ celebrations and in parking lots before opening the first 17th Street Bar & Grill in 1985. Since that first restaurant, three more have opened in Southern Illinois and two in Las Vegas, under the name Memphis Championship Barbecue.
The Memphis-style barbecue served by Mills is dry rubbed with savory "Magic Dust" combined with a swizzle of sauce and smoked over applewood. "17th Street BBQ is the best example of Memphis-style barbecue because of the flavor profile and the care and love that goes into each rack of ribs," said Mills' daughter, Amy Mills, to The Daily Meal.
17th Street is famous for its baby back ribs and tangy pit beans. Mills’ ribs have won numerous awards, including a record-setting four World Champion and three Grand World Champion trophies at Memphis in May and Grand Champion overall at the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue Cooking Contest. The beans are an unusual mixture of five different types of beans and special spices.
Day 21: Scott's-Parker's Barbecue (Lexington, Tenn.)
Early Scott was 54 years old when he gave up driving school buses to start Scott’s Barbecue. In 1976 he took on, and took in, a troubled teenager named Ricky Parker, who worked at his side and learned the pitmaster's art. Parker took over the place after Scott's death and now, with the help of his son Zach, he roasts whole hogs over hickory coals. Diners order pork sandwiches, shoulder or belly meat, with vinegar-based sauce. The fried pies are famous.
Day 21: Bar-B-Que Shack (Hopkinsville, Ky.)
Open-pit hickory-smoked pork, chicken, beef, and lamb are the mainstays that have kept locals coming back year after year to this no-frills establishment. The signature side dishes at Bar-B-Que Shack are hot slaw, a spicy slaw with a red dressing, and burgoo, a Civil War-era stew from Kentucky made with pulled pork, carrots, and beans.