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Chuck Ferrell, along with his wife Bonnie, founded Chuck’s Barbecue in Opelika, Alabama, in 1976. Most weekdays you will find him, shrouded in woodsmoke, working alongside the block, jabbing a shiny metal pitchfork in a pit filled with pork butts. Chuck’s pate is balding and his neck is creased by wrinkles, but his brown eyes flash. “The devil missed out on one with a lot of practice,” Chuck says when asked how a man whose devotion to Christ is so profound he keeps a stock of personalized religious tracts by the register came to wield a pitchfork for a living.
Chuck’s father, who died when Chuck was six, worked as a taxicab driver in Columbus, Georgia, forty miles east of Opelika. Chuck’s mother worked into her eighties, cashiering two or three days a week at the Smoky Pig #2, just across the state line in Phenix City, Alabama. His mother came into the barbecue business when, ten years after the death of Chuck’s father, she married his uncle, Buck Ferrell, who, in the early 1950s, opened the first Smoky Pig in Columbus. Turns out, Smokey Pig is the origin point for much of the barbecue in eastern Alabama and western Georgia.