On cooking on an open pit: Well it’s kind of bad on my eyes sometimes, but I guess I’ve been doing it for so long so I just done learned to deal with it. I cry every once in a while but [Laughs]—I cry every once in a while but that’s just how I make my living, so I just go ahead on.
1016 N. Washington Ave.
Brownsville, TN 38012
Helen Turner’s joint is one of the smokiest barbecue spots around. Located a mile off tiny Brownsville’s town-center, Mrs. Turner cooks on an open pit; a simple, yet effective operation: bricks, metal fencing, hot coals, plenty of smoke, and meat. It is all contained within a screened-in back porch resulting in billows of woody smoke. She admits that the fumes make her cry sometimes.
A long-time barbecue employee of the present location’s various incarnations, Helen seized the opportunity to make the business her own back in 1996. She is one of only a handful of female pit-cooks in the country.
We first visited Helen’s Bar-B-Q in 2003 as part of our initial foray into documenting rural Tennessee ‘cue. Visit the original Helen’s Bar-B-Q.
Date of interview: July 17, 2008 Interviewer: Rien T. Fertel Photographer: Rien T. Fertel