Battle of the Barbecue

Written By: Judy Garrison

While the Lincoln-Douglas debates lasted more than three hours each and are considered to be the greatest contest of disagreements in American history, BBQ lovers might take umbrage. For as far back in time as folks have stoked the fire to heat, smoke or grill a slab of meat—beef, pork, chicken or goat—men have agreed to disagree that their ways of preparation and decoration are best.

NOT ONLY IS THE TYPE of meat important but what dresses it is as vital to the meat’s taste as the meat itself. And this is where the issue of barbecue gets sticky. 

Add geography to the tale, and the fight is only beginning. Take Memphis native Selena Robbins, for instance, who considers herself a BBQ snob. “I learned quickly what makes BBQ good, and I have high standards,” she says. “Pulled pork should be chunky, with pieces of the bark included. I hate Carolina style.” In Memphis, bring on the dry rub of garlic, paprika and more spices, and let the pork camp out for hours.

Speaking of the Carolinas, neither North nor South Carolina can agree on tasty barbecue. Those in North Carolina prefer pork shoulder or ribs brushed with spices-and-vinegar while smoking, then served with a vinegar-based sauce. South Carolinians concede to the choice of meat but that’s the end of that. These pitmasters bypass the twang of vinegar for the sweetness of a mustard-based brown sugar marinade.

Then there’s the meat-packing hub of Kansas City where everything is cooked slow and low over hickory wood and covered with a thick, sweet, pasty molasses and tomato recipe. A little further south, Central Texas serves heaping mounds of brisket (smoked over pecan or oak) and considers sauce an afterthought while in East Texas, equal parts chopped beef and pork, bun crowned, are smothered in hot sauce. And then there’s Alabama that blows up BBQ’s conventionality with its signature zesty mayonnaise-and-vinegar white sauce topping its pulled pork.

What is Georgia’s trademark style? Better known for Vidalia onions, peaches and peanuts than barbecue, Georgians consider themselves aficionados of all things smoked regardless if neigh-boring regions leave them out of the field guide. As All the Biscuits in Georgia writer Sam Burnham of Rome states, “It’s part of our culture, our identity as Southerners.” Quite possibly not having a definitive style allows Georgia’s BBQ lovers to freely pick and choose their personal favorite style.

“I’ve visited barbecue restaurants all over the United States,” says Jason Carter of Cumming, “and although I enjoy the different regional flairs, I have to say that Georgia is my personal favorite . . . it’s kind of a hodge-podge of flavor, from sweet and spicy to dry rubs to mustard-based sauces. You can always find something to please the barbecue-loving palate.

Always looking for local-only, out-of-the-way places are signatures of seekers of the best in barbecue and those who recognize that there is, indeed, an “art of barbecuing.

”There are moments when art and destiny collide. 

Fresh Air BBQ in Jackson, Georgia, taught Zack Edmonds the art of traditional wood fire cooking. When Jim’s Smokin’ Que in Blairsville was put on the market for sale in 2019, he, along with friend Chef Christine Cuviello, decided that a change of scenery and ownership of their restaurant would serve well their passion and commitment to the food industry.

Destiny opened the doors in January 2020, and the pandemic hit a month later. Never skipping a beat, Edmonds and Cuviello smoked and prepared feasts, and the community—as well as a far-reaching fan base—responded in mass.

“If there’s no smoke coming from the building, it’s probably not going to be good,” states Edmonds. “We smoke our meats fresh every week no matter the weather, whether it’s snowing in January or 100 degrees in August. We cook low and slow, meaning we cook at lower temperatures for a longer time. I think it gives our meat that perfectly smokey flavor that everyone is looking for. We only use charcoal and wood. No gas or electric heat here. It’s not the easiest way, but we think it leads to a superior product.”

Ranked by TripAdvisor as one of the top barbecue restaurants in America, Jim’s Smokin’ Que had a following long before its new ownership. Proudly stating he didn’t change any recipe or process, Edmonds understands that good barbecue doesn’t occur by accident.

“I think the secret ingredient to bar-becue is time and commitment,” he believes. “I know that sounds cliché, but good barbecue doesn’t happen instantly or come from a warehouse packer. It takes time to do it right and a commitment to doing it right every time.”Doing double-duty as owners and chefs, Edmonds focuses on the meats and smokers while Cuviello crafts the homemade sides. The sauce is made fresh, and although Edmonds will share the secret to the smoked meats, the sauce recipes—Butt Sauce, Kick’N Butt Sauce, and Special Reserve Sauce—remain a mystery; however, bottles are available to take the mystery home. For many Southerners, the product is only as good as the stories that evolve from the experience. “There are two for me,” Edmonds recalls. “Late last year a man called and said his son had come back from serving our country overseas. The first thing he wanted was our ribs. They flew from out of state, rented a car, and had lunch with us and then flew back home the same day.

”His second story is just as touching. “A woman called late one night after we had closed to see if she could get some barbecue. I rounded some up for her and when she came to pick it up, she told me that it was for her father. He was having chemo for throat cancer the next day and the last thing he wanted to remember tasting was our pulled pork.”

“It’s stories and people like this that encourage me every day,” Edmonds says. For sure, barbecue is subjective yet grounded in regional history and the heart of the pitmaster. For Georgians, the sky is the limit for choices and tastes.

No debate; we have the best of all worlds, and if the taste we crave can’t be found next door, a barbecue road trip is always a good idea.

Some of our FAVORITE BBQ JOINTS in North Georgia

JIM’S SMOKIN’ QUE, Blairsville

Low and slow, Jim’s Smokin’ Que serves fall-off-the-bone ribs smothered in perfected Butt Sauce. Open Thursday through Saturday, co-owners Zachery Edmonds and Christine Cuviello loved the joint so much they bought it. Ribs rock and so do the Gouda Cheddar Cheese Grits. 

OLD COUNTRY PLACE, Canton

Tucked away in Hickory Flat Commons Shopping Center, Old Country Place touts its BBQ and bourbon. Try the Redneck Lasagna for a mac-and-cheese/Bruns-wick stew alternative experience.‘

CUE BARBECUE, locations in Milton, Cumming, Lawrenceville, Peachtree Corners

Want to build your own masterpiece for everything homemade? Add a fried egg or grilled pineapple to your platter of pork; ‘cue lets you go hog wild. It’s down-home Southern favorites with a kick.

ZEB’S BAR-B-Q, Danielsville

Drive through at Zeb’s for BBQ plates and Brunswick stew. Grab a burger and don’t forget to top your hot dog with slaw and stew. By the pound, pint or gallon, enjoy Zeb’s Wednesday through Saturday.

CROWE’S OPEN AIR BAR-B-QUE & CATERING, Madison

It’s been a local hang-out for almost 60 years. A family-owned business, Crowe’s serves South-ern BBQ with Carolina Style Sauce. A crowd favorite, The Jack Frost: deboned ribs on Texas toast with pimento cheese. You can’t go wrong with a deep-fried hot dog.

BAR-H-BARBECUE, Franklin Springs

Open Thursday through Saturday, Bar h serves the classic stew, bar-becue and chips. Enjoy Speedy’s Baby Back Ribs with sides of stew and beans.

MILLER BROTHERS RIB SHACK, Dalton

Eugene Miller didn’t set out to be a rib master, but when he joined his brother in 1978 selling ribs from his house, the people came. Buy large or small, chicken and pork for everyone.

POOLE’S BBQ, East Ellijay

Home to Taj-Ma-Hog, the Hog Rock Café and the Pig-Hill-of-Fame, Darvin Poole carries on his father Colonel Oscar Poole’s legacy of a community hot spot dishing out pulled pork and ribs plus beef and chicken, topping the hearty meal with fried pies. Add an extra $5 when paying and become part of the Pig-Hill-of-Fame and help community charities.

THE PINK PIG, Cherry Log

Doors open Thursday through Sunday for pit-cooked BBQ and iron pot, slow-cooked Brunswick stew. A family affair for three generations, Pig’s treats everyone like family. From BBQ pork sandwiches and sliders to chicken and banana pudding, come on in or pick it up on the way home. 

BACKSTREET BBQ, Hartwell

Open for drive-through, Back-street offers the basics, BBQ, ribs, chicken and stew. As they say, “Best BBQ by a dam site.” Hart-well Dam, that is. Their Brunswick stew made Georgia’s 100 Plates.

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