Georgia BBQ

Georgia State Icon

Introduction by John T. Edge

“Get ten people together, and where the Irish would start a fight, Georgians will start a barbecue.” That quote, from a 1954 Saturday Evening Post article, lacks political correctness, but it packs a wallop. Rufus Jarmon, the author, drove home his point by quoting a nineteenth century observer:

“The barbecue is to Georgia what the clambake is to Rhode Island, what a…canvasback duck [dinner] is to a Marylander, what a Saturday night pork-and-beans supper is to a Bostonian.”

In other words, barbecue, as cooked and savored in Georgia, is not merely a food. It’s an event, where the bonds of community are celebrated, the tethers of tradition strengthened. At the 2002 Southern Foodways Symposium, Jim Auchmutey of Atlanta pondered the import of barbecue at one particular type of event – the political rally:

“Eugene Talmadge kicked off his first campaign for governor in 1932 with a huge barbecue that drew 10,000 people to his hometown of McRae, in middle Georgia. Farmers donated scores of pigs and goats and cows and chickens. A local man, Norman Graham, known as the Barbecue King, was appointed to oversee the cooking, which took 36 hours to complete.”

“A crowd of townspeople came out to watch, as if the barbecueing and not the speechmaking were the point of it all. In The Wild Man from Sugar Creek, William Anderson described the scene on the night before, as they fired up the Brunswick stew pots: ‘Insects swirled and buzzed crazily into the string of naked light bulbs that wound over the pits giving a hard brightness to the cooking area. So many bugs flew into the kettles of stew — drawn there by its sweet aroma — that no pepper had to be added for flavor. As one of the men explained, “Bugs was good spice.’”

Alongside the tradition of political barbecues, the state also has enjoyed a long and storied commercial barbecue tradition. Among the old-line favorites are Fresh Air Barbecue of Flovilla, the tin roofed temple of pork sandwiches and slaw, which opened in 1929 and is now operated by the descendants of Toots Caston. And then there’s Harold’s Barbecue, in the shadow of the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, where the Hembree family has been making Brunswick stew and crackling cornbread since 1947.

Barbecue in Georgia is not restricted to one style, although most pitmaster now work with hams and shoulders instead of whole hogs. On the northeastern fringe, you will find hash cooks and mull cooks. Brunswick Stew cooks are everywhere. Across the state, sauces vary widely. A mixture of vinegar and tomato predominates, with degrees of sweetness and heat varying county by county. There are exceptions, of course. Around Savannah and Columbus, and in pockets of south Georgia, mustard often replaces ketchup in sauces.

Peruse these oral histories and you will come to know more than sauce. You will learn the stories behind some of state’s fabled pits. And you will draw a bead on what Ralph McGill, onetime editor of the Atlanta Constitution, meant when he described Georgia barbecue as “a noble dish with honorable antecedents, prepared with simple ritualistic services… It rests on the stomach like a benediction and may be fed to suckling babes.”

~ John T Edge


John T. Edge, a Georgia native, is the author or editor of more than ten books, including the foodways volume of the New Encyclopedia of Southern CultureCornbread Nation: the Best of Southern Food Writing, and Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Companion to the South. He also writes for a variety of different publications, including The New York Times. You can find more of his work here.


John T. Edge

Interviews

Dean's Barbecue - Roger Dean - Georgia - Southern Trail BBQ

Dean’s Barbeque

Roger Dean was 18 months old when his mother opened Dean’s Truck Stop on what was then a major trucking route between Pennsylvania and Florida. Many decades ago the highway moved a few miles over, but Dean’s Barbeque, as it’s been known since the 1950’s, is in the same building and location as the day it opened.

Fresh Air Bar-B-Que - Ellen Caston Brewer, Michael Brewer, George Barber and David Barber - Georgia - Southern BBQ Trail

Fresh Air Bar-B-Que

Dr. Joel Watkins, a veterinarian, opened Fresh Air Bar-B-Que in 1929 to serve the rabbits and goats he raised and barbecued on the weekends. Dr. Watkins never cooked pork. George “Toots” Caston, a fifth-generation native of Jackson, introduced pork when he bought the place in 1952. He could fit 19 whole hogs on the original pit and made Brunswick stew in 25-gallon cast iron pits.

Harold's Barbecue - Billy Branyon - Georgia - Southern Trail BBQ

Harold’s Barbecue

Harold’s Barbecue is an Atlanta institution. Just a quick ride south of Downtown, the Georgia State Capitol, Turner Stadium and the Georgia Dome, Harold’s has been frequented by Georgia governors, media tycoons, sports stars, and famous entertainers.

Hudson's Hickory House - Buford and Scott Hudson - Georgia - Southern BBQ Trail

Hudson’s Hickory House

Buford Hudson started working in barbecue when he was in the eighth grade. In 1971, Buford opened Hudson’s Hickory House. More than 30 years later, Hudson’s is a local institution.

Old Brick Pit Barbecue - Jane Ann Jarvis - Georgia - Southern Trail BBQ

Old Brick Pit Barbecue

Jane Ann Jarvis hasn’t been in the barbecue business long, but she fell in love with it right away. She has operated Old Brick Pit Barbecue, located in Chamblee, Georgia, barely outside the northern city limits of Atlanta, only since 2006.

Paul's Bar-B-Q - George Jr. and Jimmy Paul - Georgia - Southern Trail BBQ

Paul’s Bar-B-Q

In 1929, Clifford Collins started cooking whole hogs in his hometown of Lexington, Georgia. For the next 40 years, he, along with his right-hand man Fudge Collins, stood under the shade of a Mulberry tree on Main Street, selling barbecue on Saturday mornings.

The Pink Pig - Bud Holloway - Georgia - Southern BBQ Trail

The Pink Pig

A native of Cherry Log, Bud Holloway grew up in the timber business. He started working in a local sawmill as a young boy. Later, he went into the military. When he returned home he decided to become a truck driver so he could see the country. But when Bud started a family, he retuned to his roots.

Two Brothers Bar-B-Que

Two Brothers Bar-B-Que

Randy Jordan grew up at Two Brothers Bar-B-Que, which is tucked away in the hills of northwest Georgia. Two Brothers was founded by Randy’s father Ken and uncle Grady in 1974. At the time the Jordan brothers had recently been laid off from their jobs so they decided to take some old family recipes and an empty grocery store built by their father to open a barbecue restaurant.