Notes from The Tennessee BBQ Triangle

It’s BBQ Time in Tennessee!!!

I was thinking of BBQ this week. What with the Compass Box Scotch Whisky Dinner at Old Village Post House last week, I was specifically thinking of Tennessee BBQ. Robert Moss himself has written a terriffic book on BBQ. Equally, I truly enjoyed John T. Edge’s article on Western Tennessee BBQ tradition in this month’s Garden and Gun. As Executive Director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, John probably travels and eats as much as Anthony Bourdain, and knows BBQ inside and out. At the SFA BBQ trail website, you can trace (and taste) the tradition of BBQ close to its roots. In between Nashville and Memphis are the three small towns of Centreville, Jackson and Lexington. The Tennessee BBQ Triangle. So called because the significant BBQ joints in these towns all model themselves after Tennessee whole hog tradition.

Pat Martin’s BBQ, Nolensville, TN

Pat Martin knows what good BBQ is, and what it ain’t. Martin, a retired bond trader, learned the craft of whole hog BBQ by learning from the West Tennessee masters. He opened up in a shack in Nolensville, about 45 minutes South of Nashville. A few years later, he built a new place across the way, including a pit specially designed to accommodate his whole piggies, a special cross breed between a China White and a Berkshire. He serves whole hog on weekends, Tweeting when the pig is ready. It’s a sight to see, with a hydraulic steel lid raised and lowered over that pit, bellowing smoke like an infernal machine of BBQ.

BBQ nuts will argue back and forth over pulled pork, ribs, chicken (the “almost” vegetarian set) and to our misguided cousins in TX, beef brisket. One of the unique items at Martin’s is the Redneck Taco. If you want to savor the flavor and terroir of middle Tennessee, this is what you should be eating:

Pat Martin’s Redneck Taco

Papa Kay Joe’s

Just outside Centreville, TN sits papa Kay Joe’s up on the side of a ravine. Centreville is probably best known as the birthplace of Sarah Cannon, aka “Minnie Pearl.” These days, Centreville is famous for pork and hoecakes. Papa Kay Joe’s puts their BBQ on hoecakes, a local tradition that probably goes back 200 years. When the US finally gets around to protecting our food traditions by DOC standards, I will argue for giving Papa Kay Joe’s “protected status.”

They give you the option of BBQ or white beans, the pepper vinegar and sauces are on the table. They do not suck.

BBQ Beans or White Beans?
The Papa Kay Joe’s Pulled Pork on Hoecake, with White Beans.

BE. Scott’s

“Gimme the Big Boy,  pulled, from the belly and jowl,” the trucker blurted. At BE. Scott’s BBQ in Lexington, they get their pigs from Hay’s meats on the other side of town. The whole beast is splayed out on the counter behind the window, resting under heat lamps. Unlike the large volume whole hog BBQ joints, they do not have a chopping room – they pull your meat to order. The elderly lady in front of us ordered hers lean, from loin and tenderloin, well chopped. The only thing resting in steam wells are sides. This is good BBQ my friends. Textbook and definitive.

Chefs Brian Owenby and Nick Ericksen at Scott’s.
The BE. Scott’s Big Boy. The Sauce is Molasses Based and the Slaw is Vinegar Based.
BE. Scott’s Big Boy. Textbook and Definitive Pulled Pork.
It’s a little nipply inside the coolers at Hay’s Meats in Lexington, TN.

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