SL Contributing Barbecue Editor Robert Moss travels back roads and interstates to uncover the vinegar, mustard, and mayo sauce standouts across the Southeast
When it comes to regional barbecue, some people claim that neither Georgia nor Alabama has a distinctive style. We say, think again.
Sure, you can find everything from Texas brisket to Memphis ribs in Atlanta, but on the two-lane highways, a definite Georgia style emerges. Pork shoulders or hams are cooked over hickory and dressed in a thin tomato-and-vinegar sauce. They're served with Brunswick stew, a hearty combination of chicken, beef, or pork (or all three) simmered with tomatoes and corn. Some of these elements carry over into Alabama—chopped pork dressed in tomato-and-vinegar sauce, plus a somewhat thinner Brunswick stew. But there's too much variation to identify a single Alabama style. Sauces range from ruddy, tomato-based mixtures to thick mustard-spiked concoctions. Most distinctive is Alabama's mayonnaise-based white sauce. Some are traditional, others more modern, but one element unites: They're all delicious.
Johnny Harris Restaurant
1651 East Victory Drive, Savannah, GA
Sauce Style: Thick vinegar-and-tomato
Once a speakeasy and barbecue stand, and then a post-Prohibition nightclub, this spot is going strong 91 years after opening. Tables have long since covered the dance floor, but you can still enjoy pulled pork (topped with the signature sweet, tangy sauce), plus thick Brunswick stew and delicious hand-cut fries. Don't miss the rich, silky slow-smoked lamb.
B's Cracklin' Barbeque
12409 White Bluff Road, Savannah, GA
Sauce Style: Mustard-based
Pitmaster Bryan Furman was raised in the Carolinas, and the menu has definite Palmetto State influences, like a tangy mustard-based sauce and savory hash and rice. The coarsely chopped pork and slow-smoked chicken are both excellent, but best of all are the ribs, which have superb wood-smoke flavor in each perfectly textured bite.
Fresh Air Barbecue
1164 Highway 42 South, Jackson, GA
Sauce Style: Thin vinegar-and-tomato
Founded in 1929, Fresh Air just might be the quintessential Georgia barbecue joint. The tempting aroma of oak and hickory smoke wafts from the L-shaped brick pit in the kitchen, where the Caston family cooks uncured hams all night, 365 days a year. Offerings include finely chopped pork on a sandwich or by the pound, Brunswick stew, coleslaw, and potato chips. The tangy red sauce is thin and quite spicy, and the stew is an iconic version of this classic Georgia dish.
Heirloom Market BBq
2243 Akers Mill Road, Atlanta, GA
Sauce Style: Five varieties
Heirloom Market fuses Southern classics with spicy Korean flavors. It's the handiwork of Cody Taylor and Jiyeon Lee, a former South Korean pop star who moved to the United States to pursue a culinary career. They marinate ribs in gochujang (hot pepper paste) and inject brisket with fermented soybean broth. The kicker is the spicy Korean pork, which has a punch of fiery heat.
Old Brick Pit Barbeque
4805 Peachtree Road, Atlanta, GA
Sauce Style: Thin tomato-and-vinegar
Since 1976, Old Brick Pit Barbeque has been cooking hams, ribs, and chicken in the hickory-fired pit. The juicy chopped pork is dressed with a peppery tomato-and-vinegar sauce, and the tangy, smoky ribs have a spot-on tender but chewy texture. Try a combo plate with creamy white coleslaw and plain white bread wrapped in wax paper.
229 Jackson Street, Newnan, GA
Sauce Style: Thin tomato-and-vinegar
By 1926, Houston Sprayberry was selling so many sandwiches at his Newnan gas station that he shut down the pumps and devoted his energies to barbecue. Try a Lewis Grizzard Special, named in honor of the late Atlanta Journal- Constitution columnist who sang Sprayberry's praises. It's a chopped pork sandwich accompanied by a bowl of Brunswick stew and a big mound of crisp onion rings.
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q
1715 6th Avenue SE (U.S. 31), Decatur, AL
Sauce Styles: Mayonnaise-based white, plus tomato-and-vinegar
There's no better place to sample Alabama-style white sauce than at the place where it was invented. Gibson started cooking pork shoulders and chicken in 1925. Pitmaster Chris Lilly, who married Big Bob's great-granddaughter, carries on the tradition today, cooking pulled pork, St. Louis-cut ribs, beef brisket, and turkey on long brick pits. Most famous of all is the barbecued chicken topped with that legendary white sauce.
Miss Myra's Pit Bar-B-Q
3278 Cahaba Heights Road, Vestavia Hills, AL
Sauce Styles: Thick tomato-and-vinegar, plus mayonnaise-based white
An array of meats are slow-cooked on custom-built brick pits, including pork, ribs, beef, and sausage. The real prize, though, is Miss Myra's chicken. Eminently smoky beneath pit-blackened skin, it's complemented by a tangy white sauce laced with black pepper.
1008 Oxmoor Road, Homewood, AL
Sauce Styles: Sweet vinegar-and-tomato-based, plus mayonnaise-based white
White plastic-foam trays are loaded with chicken quarters drizzled with sweet white sauce. Meaty pork ribs have an excellent char beneath their thick, sticky, red glaze, and huge strands of pulled pork are capped with generous amounts of dark brown bark.
1211 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Northport, AL
Sauce Style: Spicy vinegar-based
The Archibald family is famous for its hickory-cooked ribs, which they pile atop slices of white bread to soak up spicy, orange-hued vinegar sauce. Meaty, smoky, and with just the right slip-it-from-the-bone-with-your-teeth texture, they're as good as you'll find anywhere in the country.