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The secrets in the smoke
Ask any barbecue purveyor what makes a good meal, and they say it starts with a plate of pulled pork
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A good plate of barbecue usually consists of pulled pork, coleslaw and a cup of Brunswick stew. Around Gainesville, pork is the No. 1 ingredient according to barbecue restaurant owners. - photo by Tom Reed

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Tharp Ward talks about some regional differences in barbecue.

Each morning, through a thick cloud of hickory smoke, you see them.

Roadside barbecue restaurants preparing to treat their customers with smoked meat, homemade sides - and lots of sauce.

And from region to region, tastes for barbecue, sauces and sides vary. So what are the favorite meats and dressings in Gainesville? Well, ask the experts.

The meat

"I think pork is the No. 1 meat in the South," said Wayne Vaughan, owner of Smokehouse Bar-B-Que in Oakwood. "We give them a choice of stew or the beans with the coleslaw and the barbecue and they get potato chips, pickles and bread."

Tharp Ward, owner of Johnny's Barbeque in Gainesville, said pulled pork also tops the list of favorites at his restaurant.

"The pulled pork is what we sell the most," he said. "And ours is all cooked over hickory wood, nothing else. We sell a lot of chicken and ribs. It's pork, ribs and chicken.

"People will come in here and get a plate and they want it dry and some of them want it extra sauce, some want sauce on the side ... a lot of people like slaw on their sandwich."

Ward said his barbecue is good because he hickory smokes all his meat - from the local hams for pulled pork to chicken to St. Louis-style ribs.

"They're not like a baby back ribs ... to me is a lot better than spare ribs," said Ward, who has owned Johnny's for 14 years. "The ribs cook about three hours, chicken about two and a half hours. We smoke our hams for about 13 to 14 hours, we pull 'em and pick 'em every morning and then of course the sauce."

At Hickory Pig Barbecue, owner Phil Beaubien said pulled pork also is, hands down, the most-requested meat at his eatery.

"What else goes on the plate? (Brunswick) stew, slaw, collard greens or black-eyed peas," he said. "We give large portions and we don't use anything but hickory wood."

And that hickory flavor is what has been bringing folks to Hickory Pig for 17 years, he said.

"People are coming here from all over; last Saturday about every third person had driven an enormous way; they were like searching for the holy grail," he said.

Stew on the side

One of the most popular sides around Gainesville - which also could be the main course - is the ever-popular Brunswick stew. And every barbecue restaurant has their own twist on the Southern barbecue staple.

At Johnny's, the Brunswick stew is filled with chicken, pork and beef. Hickory Pig focuses more on meat in their stew, and the side is the most popular at Gibby's BBQ in Clermont.

"The stew is the most popular," Beaubien said. "It has a fair amount of its ingredients cooked with hickory; it has a hickory flavor and it has an enormous amount of meat. I'm very short on vegetables and heavy on barbecue meat."

Don't forget the sauce

Loretta Gibbs, owner of Gibby's BBQ, said plainly that Brunswick stew is just what people like in the North Georgia area, just like the different flavors for sauce.

"I think it's a thing of preference," Gibbs said. "I have three different sauces - hot, mild and sweet."

Gibbs' sauce recipes are vinegar based and - more importantly - a family secret.

Vaughan said she doesn't care about having options - she makes one kind of vinegar-based barbecue sauce.

"I only make one kind," she said. "I don't make a hot and a mild ... if you put a lot it will be hot and if you don't put much it'll be tasty."

Hickory Pig has two options for sauce and Beaubien isn't secretive about how to make the hot barbecue sauce at Hickory Pig.

"My spicy is nothing more than my regular homemade sauce, half and half with Texas Pete," he said. "Ours is a ketchup and vinegar, it's not sweet but it's not sour, nothing hardly stands out."

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