July 29, 2004
Barbecue Battles (My Favorite Barbecue Restaurants)

If you want to start a spirited discussion (a literal food fight) , gather food lovers from Alabama, North Carolina and Texas and ask them which state serves the best barbecue. Omnivore that I proudly am, I have a soft spot in my stomach for all three. Alabama's smoky pulled pork with tomato-based sauce is most readily available, and a sandwich of pulled pork and cole slaw is a regular lunch when I'm hurried for lunch. North Carolina offers a sauce heavier in vinegar, but often bright, tangy and refreshing. Texas BBQ disdains pork for beef, smoking briskets to a tender, spicy version of heaven.

Here are my favorite places for barbecue:

Top Hat Barbecue, Blount Springs, Alabama: If you are looking for ambiance, pass this restaurant on US Highway 31 by. If you can look past the torn upholstery on the seats and the occasional fly inside the place, you can eat some great pulled pork. Perfectly smoked, moist meat paired with a slightly sweet tomato-based sauce make this my favorite place for BBQ (and the fried catfish is pretty good, too).

Johnny's Bar-B-Q, Cullman, Alabama: In the city where the leading tourist attraction is a monk's version of Jerusalem in miniature (Ave Maria Grotto) is one of my favorite restaurants. Johnny's is not fancy, but the pork is always smoky without being overpowering, and never dry. The tomato-based sauce is spiked with heat and is always a pleasant surprise.

Stubbs BBQ, Austin, Texas: Stubbs' Brisket may not be the best in Texas (or even Austin), but when you combine the food with the bar and especially the music venue, you have a winner. I've had many late dinners at Stubbs before seeing a show during SXSW or my trips to the city, and have never been disappointed with either the food, the beer, or the music.

The Rendezvous, Memphis, Tennessee: The rendezvous is all about their ribs. Dry-rubbed and falling off the bone, they are worth a trip to Memphis by themselves.

Dreamland, Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Many years ago I spent a year going to every Alabama football game in Tuscaloosa with a friend, not for the football, but for the lunch or dinner at Dreamland. Back then they served a minimalistic menu: only their dreamy ribs and white bread on butcher paper, but it made the trip worthwhile.

Big Bob Gibson's, Decatur, AL: A local favorite recently commended by the Wall Street Journal for their overnight delivery offerings, this is where we usually pick up our BBQ fix. The pork is good and the sauces, especially their white sauce built with mayonnaise and vinegar that is tangy without overpowering the pork or chicken.

Posted by david on July 29, 2004


I posted a bit about barbecue a few days ago. It is a subject that induces passion.

I'm starting to favor pork in all of it's forms. If you're ever in Nellysford, Virginia you'd have to add The Blue Ridge Pig to your list. It's to die for. I bought 3 pounds of their pulled pork and brought it home.

Posted by: kelly on July 31, 2004 02:07 PM

Pork is pretty healthy, especially in its leaner forms. We're eating much more pork, fish and chicken over the last few years and have cut back our beef input.

Posted by: david on July 31, 2004 07:52 PM

Gibson's has been acclaimed by a few 'culinary experts' in the past, such as Food & Wine magazine.

It's good stuff.

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