Joyner’s Jacks Creek Bar B.Q. (2003)
Highway100 and 22A
Jacks Creek, TN
SUBJECT: Joe and Patty Joyner
DATE: March 27, 2003
INTERVIEWER: April Grayson
April Grayson: Could you tell me your name and the name of your business, please?
JJ: Ok, my name is Joe Joyner. Our business name is Joyner’s Jacks Creek Barbeque. We’re located seven miles east of Henderson, Tennessee, just a short drive. But there’s been barbeque at this location for many years. When I was young, growing up, my grandfather, this was the business that he came to to buy his barbeque. That was—let’s see, I’m 42—so whenever I was a youth—I mean, it’s been over forty years anyway that there’s been a business here, and I think prior to that it was many years before that.
So were you born and raised in this area?
JJ: I was born, I was actually—my dad was in the military—I was born on an army base. Fort Knox is where I was born. But my parents were reared in West Tennessee, here and the Mifflin area.
And you run the business with?
JJ: My wife, Patty.
And was she born and raised in this area? [Patty is helping someone in the kitchen and has not been able to join the interview yet.]
JJ: Yeah. Yeah, she was born in Jackson, Tennessee, so she’s lived here all of her life.
Do you mind telling me y’all’s ages and the years you were born, just for the record?
JJ: I was born in March of ’61. She was born in November of ’63.
So how long have you two owned this business?
JJ: We’ve owned the business six years, almost six years. Matter of fact—let’s see, this is March, April—in two months it will be six years exactly.
Ok. And how did you get into this business here?
JJ: I had worked in factory life, you know, right out of high school, and the opportunity come about that the business was up for sale. And just through past experience with our family, we would have sort of a community-type outing at our—it would be at my dad’s or next door neighbor’s house, but we would barbeque three hogs a summer, just to get folks together. Just have a little community get-together. That was my first experience with barbeque. Always enjoyed it!
Joe York: What kind of factory did you work at?
JJ: Well, I worked at Neil Products in an industrial park there. They made hose fittings for washing machines, things of that nature. You know, in-home appliance type stuff. I worked at American Home and Tile for twelve years. And of course they made ceramic tile, things associated with household furnishings, and got caught up in a layoff. They had sold the company to Dow Tile, and they moved a lot of the business down to Mexico, which sort of put some of us out of work up here. So from there, I worked for Proctor and Gamble. Had the opportunity to buy this place. I tried to do both at the same time, and it was just burning the candle at both ends. I was close to 40 years old, so it was sort of difficult for me to do both and worry about this place while I was at the factory and couldn’t—and at that place, it takes more dedication to do everything correctly there. And I found it difficult to do both of em, so…
So when you opened the business, did you start with just a couple of days a week, or how many?
JJ: No, since we’ve bought it, and prior to us owning it, it was open six days a week. Tuesday through Sunday, with Monday being the down day. You still end up doing your running to resupply out here. Basically it’s seven days a week, with the way our process is.[Patty joins us.]
So Patty, I know your parents are in the barbeque business. Did y’all come to this through—you mentioned your family, Joe—did y’all come to this through anybody that started the business before you, or were you first?
PJ: We were first. Like Joe said, we had the opportunity to buy it, and we milled over it for a couple of months, you know, not knowing if we should quit jobs and do it. And then we said, we’ll never know until we try it, so we both of us quit our jobs. Well, he worked for a little while, and I quit my job.
And what did you do before that?
PJ: I was a school cook, at the high school in Henderson. I did that for six years. Before that, worked at a newspaper, and daycare.
So, who taught y’all to barbeque?
JJ: Well, I had experience at it with the family get-togethers. It’s nothing that’s extremely difficult. Our process is totally different from the way we would throw it on a pit out in the back yard, or throw it under a barn and cook it with coals. Our process is different than that. And it’s simpler, not labor-intensive. Overhead is lower. There’s a lot of benefits of the way we do.
So, how do you do it? Could you tell me specifically?
JJ: Yeah. We use a, it’s an electric cooker that has smoking capabilities. The electricity is used for the heat, and the smoking is an element-type setup, where you place your wood on the element, and it creates the smoke within the cooker. It’s not cooked with the heat from the wood. It’s cooked with the heat from electricity. The smoking elements give it the smoke flavor.
Joe York: Do y’all get it from that drumstick factory?
JJ: It’s a hammer mill, is what it is.
JY: So, hammer handles?
JJ: Yeah, yeah. Hammer handles. It’s their culled wood, is what it is. They range anywhere from 3”x3” pieces that are 18 inches long to just whatever they throw away, we can use one way or the other.
What do—do you think there are advantages to using the type of cooker you do?
JJ: Oh definitely. It’s safer. Cleaner. You don’t have the labor involved with it. And not only the labor, but it’s cheaper to do it with electricity.
Can you explain to me, when you start off, what you do at first, and then what’s the process? How long is it?
JJ: Sure, with the size of the cookers and the way we handle it, it’s easier for us to handle it with it being half hogs, so we split all our hogs. Again, with the amount of volume we use, I cook—see, your hogs, you can get ‘em in any size that you want—with the volume that we do, I cook on the average about 300-pound hogs. Whereas, if you have someone that has to flip their hogs—which you don’t have to flip ‘em in this thing. But if you have to flip your hog, it takes two people to do it, and you start trying to turn over a 300-pound hog, it’s very, very difficult to do. So with our process, we can split ‘em and we don’t have to flip the hog. We cook ‘em skin side down. We cook ‘em, with the controls on it, you’d have to understand how the cooker basically works, whereas if you throw it on a pit, and you try to keep your temperature 180 to 200 degrees, consistent temperature. And with this one here, you set your thermostat. I set my thermostat at 300 degrees and there is a certain percentage of the time that the heat is on, that the elements are actually generating the heat. And about 30 percent out of the time cycle, there’s heat on. The rest of the time, it’s sort of resting. On the average, the temperature stays about 300 degrees, but once it gets to that, it’ll hold at 300 degrees, and the elements, when it gets to that temperature, the thermostat will allow it to rest and keep that temperature at the same degree all the time.
At what point do you put the wood on the smoker?
JJ: You put it on before, before you–actually I have two cookers, and they cook differently. One, you have to put the wood within the cooker itself, whereas the other one, you have a tube that’s mounted on the outside of the cooker, actually. And it filters the smoke through a little vent. But, depending on which one I use, if I put it—if I use the one that has the wood within the cooker, I have to put in on right then. I have to put the wood inside. But in the other one, you can put it on—you can start the hog cooking, and then maybe three hours later put your wood in.
JJ: About 16 to 18 hours, depending on the hog. Some of ‘em cook different, depending on the fat content, the leanness of the hog. They’re all different. But just a general time is 16, 16 hours is how long it takes to cook.
Are y’all the original owners of the business?
JJ: No, it was in existence.
Oh yeah. How many people—who was the?
JJ: I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know the history. The previous owner was Martha Byrd.
JJ: A Crowe family owned it. What was the name?
PJ: There’s been barbeque here for at least 70 years, sold from this spot.
JY: Did you say Crowe?
JJ: Crowe. C-R-O-W-E.
JY: From Crowe to Byrd.
Yeah, that’s pretty good, huh.
JJ: Byrd, B-Y-R-D.
So do you have a specialty? Do you serve pretty much the standard barbeque sandwich? What’s your menu?
JJ: Yeah. Barbeque. Pork barbeque. I mean, we throw ribs in, ribs and chickens. We have them available Wednesday through Saturday. But 95 percent of the sales is pork barbeque. And what makes this place, this area different is it’s whole hog. It’s not shoulders, where if you go to Memphis or you go to Jackson, most of these places are gonna serve you a pork shoulder. This is whole hog. You have the—and that’s what make this area so unique. You get 30, 40 miles out of this area, you’re not gonna find whole hog barbeque.
Why do you think that is?
JJ: Because of the, it’s so much simpler to throw a 15-pound shoulder on than it is to put a 250-pound hog on.
JJ: Probably because it’s the way it’s always been around here.
PJ: People expect it.
JJ: Yeah, that’s what they expect.
PJ: They expect whole hog.
JY: Do you think it’s better?
JJ: Oh yeah. There’s no doubt.
JY: What do you think distinguishes it from a shoulder or?
JJ: Alright, you’re shoulder is a red, reddish-type meat, it’s a fattier. Whereas the whole hog, you have the whole anatomy of the hog. The ham is a leaner meat. It’s sort of got a reddish tint to it. You got the belly meat. A lot of folks call it belly meat. It’s actually where your bacon comes from. You notice your bacon, that’s where the bacon comes from, is from the belly of the hog. But it’s got a whitish tint to it. The middling—it’s called the middling, is what it’s called. It’s got a whitish tint. It’s layered with fat. It’s so tender, if it’s not overcooked, it’ll just basically melt in your mouth, it’s so soft. You got the tenderloin, which is a white meat, and it’s dry, extremely dry, I don’t know why. I guess the people nowadays are on this health kick—you know, “Pork the alternate white meat,” if you’ve heard the commercials. The tenderloin is white, it’s dry, people sort of specifically ask for it a lot of times. But in my opinion, it’s the worst part of the hog because it’s so dry.
JY: Do y’all keep your parts separate when you pull it out of the skin?
JJ: Well, you don’t pull it until they ask for it. I’ll show you a hog here in a minute. I’ll point out the anatomy to you if you’re not familiar with it.
What about sauce?
JY: We make our own.
You make you own sauce.
JJ: Yeah, it’s a vinegar-tomato-based sauce.
Do you do like a mild and a hot, or?
JJ: Yeah, mild and hot.
And do you automatically put that on a sandwich or the barbeque, or do you—?
JJ: No, if people want it on there, they can ask for it.
Do most people ask for it?
JJ: Oh yeah. Sauce is what makes the meat.
Goes hand in hand.
Have you tried a lot of other sauces in the area? How does yours compare? Do you know?
JJ: I don’t know. I don’t eat barbeque. [Laughs.] I eat it—I eat ours—and I just can’t, I just can’t make myself eat someone else’s barbeque. I don’t know why. I should, I guess, but we make a living at it, and we don’t…
What about your slaw and your other sides? What kind of sides do you serve here?
JJ: It’s pretty simple. We have baked beans and potato salad and slaw. Our slaw is a, it’s a mayonnaise-type slaw. It’s sort of off the norm for a lot of barbeque places.
Seems like red slaw is popular in Chester County.
JJ: Red slaw, it’s a ketchup slaw. We’ve tried it, we’ve tried all of ‘em. We’ve tried a vinegar-based slaw, and it’s just our preference to use the mayonnaise slaw.
When you took over the business, did you start using the method and the recipes that the previous owners did, or did you—?
JJ: We tried. The sauce recipe, we’ve altered it. I don’t know how they ever sold any barbeque with the recipe they left us, with the sauce recipe ‘cause it was extremely hot. They used so much pepper. We’ve done some adjusting from it. The slaw is totally different. The beans are totally different.
Do you use pork in your beans?
JJ: We use pork and beans, and we add barbeque sauce and bell peppers and a little bit of honey.
But you don’t pull some of the pulled pork, you don’t add to your beans?
JJ: We don’t because we get into the problem with the Health Department. You gotta keep your beans at a specific temperature—which we, you know, which we do—but in the process of warming ‘em up, if our inspector was to come in and find ‘em not quite up to temperature yet, he’s gonna throw ‘em out. So we don’t add any barbeque meat to it. We have on occasions, if we do a little catering then if somebody specifies some barbeque in there, you know, it’s not a problem to throw it in there, but we generally do not put barbeque in the beans, just for that reason.
And potato salad—do you do that, too?
JJ: Yeah. Potato salad. It’s bought off a food service truck. We don’t make it. It’s the only think that we don’t.
What about desserts? I hear that Patty and her dad [barbeque owner Bill Latham of Bill’s Barbeque in Henderson, TN] have a rivalry going with the fried pies.
JJ: Fried pies. Fried pies and no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookies. See we bought this business, and three years after we bought ours, they decided, well we’re gonna do it, you know. They have patterned their business from ours. So basically what they have, they stole from us. [Laughter]
So whose fried pies really are better?
JJ: I don’t know, I don’t eat ‘em. [Laughs] But Patty’s are very good. I’ve never eaten any of her dad’s, but I’m sure they’re good, too.
Well, when people come in and order, do the majority of customers order a sandwich or a plate?
JJ: A sandwich, most of the time.
And do you automatically put slaw, or do you ask?
JJ: No. If they want it on there, we put it on, but we don’t— You know, everybody has different tastes. I don’t eat slaw on mine.
Joe doesn’t either. [Laughs]
JJ: I’m not a big slaw fan, but a lot of folks just think they can’t eat one without it.
So when you moved in here, did you change the structure of the building or the atmosphere of the restaurant much? How important is that?
JJ: Not really. We didn’t deviate much. We added the television. I’m a big NASCAR fan, and I use to miss it when—I mean, this is your life. When you run a business like this, this is your life. And you’re here, and we try to make it as comfortable as we can.
Do most people sit down, or is it a lot of carry-out?
JJ: It depends on the time of day. We generally have a decent lunch crowd, and most of the time, prior to 11:00, most of it’s carry out. And after 1:00 a lot of it is carried out. Every day’s different. I would say the percentage of eat-in is about 25 percent. The rest of it is carry out.
So what about your customers? Is it mostly repeat customers? Do you get a lot of new people?
JJ: Oh yeah. I mean, that’s how you stay in business. You gotta have the repeat customers. This barbeque here has been all over the world. We have some folks that go to Freed-Hardeman [University] that have carried it—I know for a fact that it’s been to Russia. It’s been to Hawaii. So it’s been more than just the boundaries of West Tennessee. But your business thrives on repeat customers. That’s the only way to stay in business.
So do you think in this area, since there’s a lot of barbeque places, do people pick one and they’re real loyal to that one? They don’t kind of cross over and try—?
JJ: No, no.
They find their favorite.
Joe York: Do you ever have any defectors? People that come over from—?
JJ: Yeah, and I’m sure we have defectors going the other way. You would think with the population of West Tennessee, you wouldn’t have so many barbeque restaurants within a 10-mile radius, but there’s quite a few of ‘em.
Yeah, there is. What do you think is special about Chester County in particular, because—?
JJ: The whole hog.
JJ: That’s it.
Because we’ve ventured out over the county line a few times, and it definitely seems to be the capital.
JJ: Yeah. It all has to do with the whole hog barbeque. That’s the only thing I can pinpoint.
Joe York: How much do you cook in a week?
JJ: It varies. Like I said, we cook 300-pound hogs, which is a lot of times 50 to 75 pounds heavier than what a lot of the other places… I mean, depending on the time of the year. Wintertime, you sell three hogs, you’re doing good. Fourth of July—I mean, it’s the biggest barbeque period, and you never know. Last Fourth of July was slow, and I think it all had to with the economy. Plus, if it falls on a weekend, you’re gonna do exceptionally well. This year should be real well because I think Fourth of July is on a Friday. So you’ll have, you’ll have a four-day stretch there where you’ll do exceptionally well. But this type of business, you thrive on trying to do as much as you can during the summer and put back a little money ‘cause the wintertime, it gets pretty slow.
So, you talked about the number of hogs you cook a week, depending, but about how many people does that serve? Like, say, three hogs.
JJ: I can give you an idea. Out of a 300-pound hog—if it’s a good hog, there’s not a lot of waste involved in it like some of them. They’re all different. If you have one that’s real fatty, it’s not gonna yield the meat that you need. If you have some that are lean, that are extremely lean, you have a tendency to lose meat because it dries out so much. But the key is not overcooking it and getting a good mix of a leany-fatty hog. But you can yield approximately 80 pounds of meat out of a 300-pound hog. I can. Now you go to someone that’s gonna cook it on an open pit with the coals and the dirt that gets up in it, this and that, their yield is not gonna be what ours will be. I can’t tell you how much they would get out of it ‘cause I don’t do it that way, but I can guarantee you our yield will be higher. Eighty pounds of meat will feed 240 people, 250, somewhere like that.
So Patty, how do y’all split up the work here? Who does what? Or do y’all just share?
JJ: Why did you ask her that? [Laughter]
PJ: Well, I do the baked goods, of course. He does the cooking of the ribs, the chicken, and the hogs. I help him load the hogs, so I participate in that. That’s not a fun job.
Joe York: What’s that like?
PJ: Well, when he goes and gets the hogs, he goes and pick ‘em up one day a week. He’ll split ‘em, and we have to carry ‘em a half at a time in the cooler. So there’s a lot of lifting.
JJ: You can imagine a 300-pound hog, dead weight. It’s not the easiest thing to carry around.
Probably not the most pleasant experience.
JJ: It’s not, at all.
PJ: It’s nasty.
JJ: And there’s a difference, too, in the hogs. If they’re chilled, they’re a lot easier to handle, but we pick ‘em up as they’re hot. They’ve just been processed that day.
Do y’all get them from Hays [Slaughterhouse in Lexington, Tennessee] or another?
JJ: That’s where we pick ‘em up. I actually buy my hogs from a guy that’s in the business of raising ‘em.
But Hays slaughters ‘em for you.
JJ: Slaughters ‘em. Yeah. That’s where we go to pick ‘em up. But a chilled hog is a lot easier to manhandle than a hot hog. ‘Cause if you got a leg, it’s flopping here and there, and it’s just a little bit more of a chore.
PJ: Most of the time, I’ve got to help him put ‘em in the cooker. He’s got a rack that’s about the size of about half a hog. Once he gets it ready, he’ll roll it in and I’ll get one end, he’ll get the other. Sometimes he’ll do it himself, but it’s easier for both of us do some so he don’t get hurt. ‘Cause they can be heavy.
So you said it was, it’s a pretty much a seven day a week kind of business. Do y’all have kids?
PJ: Oh yeah. Well, we have teenagers. Yeah, they’re grown.
Do they help out here at all?
PJ: Only when they have to. [Laughs] Only when they have to.
Do you think they have any interest whatsoever in going into the barbeque business?
JJ: Oh no.
PJ: No, uh-uh.
JJ: No, they see how our life is. You have to make a living doing something, you know. We’re reserved to the fact that this is it for a while. It’s an 18-hour-a-day job most times. One way or another.
How do you see the future? Do you see it as a real long term thing, or are you just gonna take it as it comes?
JJ: I don’t know. I don’t know.
PJ: I don’t want to. [Laughs] It can be trying at times.
JJ: You know the hardest thing about it—the hours are not bad. I mean, not everybody wants to work as many hours as we do, but when you deal with the public seven days a week, and you got Miss Sally down here that’s had a bad day, and she comes in and she makes your day a bad day by her attitude. The hardest thing is dealing with the public every single day. And we try and do the best that we can. There’s a lot of unpleasant people in the world. But that’s the hardest thing.
What’s your favorite part? [Pause] Do you have one? [Laughter]
JJ: You don’t go hungry! And then again, dealing with the public can be your favorite part of it, too. It’s a little strange.
Depends on the person.
JJ and PJ: Yeah.
So, dinner. When it’s dinnertime at your house for your kids and you, I mean, is it barbeque, or do you do other stuff?
PJ: No, we do other stuff. We hardly ever take it home. Hardly ever.
JJ: I eat too much of it. If we carry it home, I eat too much of it. I can reserve myself to eat one sandwich when I’m here, but if I carry a pound home, I’m liable to eat three-quarters of it.
PJ: For some reason, it smells and tastes different once we get out of the atmosphere of it. It’s different.
JJ: Absolutely. Like I was telling you earlier, you know, we don’t smell it. We don’t smell it. When I pull up in the morning, I can smell it then, but it’s only for just a few minutes, and then I just get immune to it.
JJ: It’s strange. I guess your mind blocks it out for some reason.
But it tastes better, I mean it tastes different at home?
PJ: It tastes different. Smells different.
So do your kids ever eat barbeque? Do they ever come in to eat barbeque, or do they just pretty much stay away?
PJ: Well, we’ve got a 21-year-old son. He works in town, so for lunch, he’ll usually go to Mama and Daddy’s ‘cause it’s closer. And our daughter, she’s married and has a baby, so we like for her to come out here, so we can see the baby. And of course she’ll eat when she gets out here. You know, they’re like us, they don’t eat it all the time.
JJ: But she normally eats when she comes out. She likes chicken. We’ve got a pulled chicken sandwich.
PJ: Yeah, a pulled chicken sandwich.
JJ: We pull the meat off a barbequed chicken and make a sandwich.
Wow, that sounds good.
Joe York: How long can a pig sit around after you cook it?
JJ: Well, with this cooker here, it’ll hold it at a steady temperature. You don’t have the problem of coals getting cold, and your holding temperature needs to stay around 140 degrees. You can hold a hog for, probably for three days. You can hold one for three days. I’m not saying that it’s gonna be good after that first day or the second day, but the longer you hold it, the more of the fat eventually creeps out of the meat.
So it gets drier?
JJ: Yeah, it’ll get dry, yeah. But we very, very, very seldom carry one over a day. We’ve done it long enough we know approximately how much we’re gonna need from day to day. And I cook every single night. I don’t do it like some of the others. They may cook twice a week, be open five days. I cook my meat every single night.
So do you put on the hog at closing time and it’s done by the next day?
JJ: Yeah, generally how I do it. Plus, time of the year has a bearing on how long it takes a hog to cook, too. Normally, wintertime, it’s gonna take a little longer, because just the outside temperature is gonna create a little longer cooking time.[A beeper goes off in the kitchen]
PJ: You want me to go get that?
JJ: I’ll go do it. [He goes to the kitchen.]
So, Patty, describe a typical day as far as what time you get here, what time you leave, and all that.
PJ: Well, Joe gets here before I do. He tries to get here, during the week, about 7:30. Toward the end of the week, he tries to get here about 7:00 because that’s when he does his chicken and ribs. I get here 8:00, 9:00, 9:30. I go and exercise before I come. And during the week we try to close about 6:00, 6:30, and on the weekend we’re here sometimes 7:30, 8:00. We’re putting in anywhere from 12 to 13, 14 hours a day sometimes.
What time do you start serving?
PJ: Oh gosh, we’ve got people that come in 8:00 in the morning, and that’s what they eat for breakfast. [Laughs] Yeah, you might have some stragglers come through in the morning. Most people about 11:00. … The middle of the afternoon you’ll have a slow down period, and then it’ll pick up about 4:00 to 5:00 and be busy then the rest of the time.
Do y’all ever do barbeque contests?
PJ: No. We don’t have time. [Laughs] We have people ask us that all the time: why don’t we go to the Memphis in May? We don’t have time. This is it. It’s hard to let somebody else come in and run your business while you go do something. Mama and Daddy, before they opened their place, Mama and Daddy would do ours on the weekend. Our daughter played softball, and they would run it then Saturday and Sunday. If you don’t have somebody like that you can trust, it’s just hard to, hard to let somebody do it.
JJ: Plus they wouldn’t do it the way you would do it yourself. A lot of times when you, if you’re gonna pay somebody to come in and watch it for you, they’re not gonna be as careful with the quality of sandwich like she or I would. Because your repeat customers, that’s what keeps you in business.
So do you have any—I know it’s about time for the lunch crowd, so I will let you go—but do you have any like final philosophy of barbeque you want to share?
JJ: No. It’s good for you. [Laughs] Matter of opinion.
PJ: People think the whiter meat is better for ‘em, but I don’t know if it is or not. I mean, it comes from a hog. You know. [Laughs]
JJ: Naa, barbeque is barbeque.
PJ: Yeah. They come in and want white meat.
You think that is because of health reasons?
PJ and JJ: Yeah, oh yeah.
PJ: Yeah, we got these people watching their cholesterol and high blood pressure, and diabetics say that I’ve got to watch what I eat, I’m eating white meat.
JJ: I’m gonna tell you something…we have individuals that come in that are, I won’t say obese, but they are overweight, and they’ll want the “lean white meat.” And then they’ll go over here, and they’ll buy ‘em a candy bar to eat with it.
PJ: Real Coke. [Laughs]
JJ: I don’t know, it’s just a mental thing.
Well, thank y’all very much for talking to us.
JJ: I’ve enjoyed it! It’s not often I get to sit down and talk about it. You want to see the hog?
Yeah, that’d be great.
Date of interview:
March 27, 2003