The Secret South
All Southerners have their secrets—whether it’s a favorite BBQ joint or empty stretch of beach. Thankfully, when we asked for yours, you told us. We took your suggestions, vetted them with locals, tested some ourselves, and developed our guide to some of the South’s best-kept secrets
Looking for a ’cue fix? Have at it
Even though it has no phone and operates from a minuscule old gas station that might officially warrant the name shack, B’s isn’t hard to find—the street is named B’s Barbecue Road, and if they’re cooking, the parking lot will be packed. If it isn’t? Just go home. Because B’s closes when the food runs out, and sometimes it happens fast. Both the hog and the chicken are slow cooked over coals, and each table boasts a Royal Crown bottle filled with Carolina-style vinegar-based sauce.
Hancock’s Country Bar-B-Que
A blanket of dark sauce covers the chopped pork at Hancock’s Country Bar-B-Que, and owner Mike Hancock sells it by the bottle. But unless you live by a hickory pit at the edge of Selma on a corner lot surrounded by longleaf pines and kudzu, odds are your barbecue won’t be as good as the real deal, even with the sauce. “We ain’t changed much of nothing in the thirty years since I been here,” says Mike, who bought the place from his father, Ed. Why fix it if it ain’t broke? Some people claim the gregarious staff and classic décor—including a mounted rattlesnake and assorted deer heads—are worth a visit even if you don’t eat. But don’t listen to them. Eat. (334-872-5541)
A barbecue restaurant located inside a Marathon service station off the highway in western Kentucky, Heaton’s BBQ doesn’t sound like much of a destination. Your taste buds might disagree. Heaton’s serves its tender pulled pork in a singular citrusy sauce at tables surrounded by Valvoline and funnels. If you want to get all haughty about it and skip dining with the auto parts, then just pick it up at the drive-through. The window is designated barbecue-only, but, as manager Tammy Cannon says, “people like to run their errands there as well.” (270-365-2052)
Kreuz and Smitty’s Markets
In 1900, founder Charles Kreuz kept his grocery store’s meat from going bad by barbecuing it and selling it wrapped in butcher paper with no sauce. It was so good the customers ate it on the spot. Now, 110 years later, there’s still no sauce, but Kreuz Market has moved a quarter mile down the street. In its place, run by the daughter of the current owner of Kreuz, is Smitty’s Market, which also serves the legendary no-sauce barbecue. You can’t lose with either. (kreuzmarket.com; smittysmarket.com)
Leatha’s BBQ Inn
So good that one excited reader swore, “I would give up sex to eat here once a week,” Leatha’s BBQ Inn operates from a wooden shack under an A-frame tin roof. Inside, surrounded by old wood siding, the chairs don’t match and the fruit-patterned tablecloths are reminiscent of your grandmother’s house. That is, if your grandmother makes pork ribs and wood-grilled steaks like Ms. Leatha does. If only. (601-271-6003)
The McCabes are on a first-name basis with the majority of their customers, but that shouldn’t stop you from pulling off I-95 in Manning to make one of the most glorious BBQ pit stops in the South. The pork is pit cooked, and each bite delivers just the right amount of their vinegar and pepper sauce. With each mouthful you’ll wonder if the good Lord put the McCabes on the earth to answer the question: Who makes the best barbecue on the planet? (803-435-2833)
Southern Soul Barbecue
St. Simons Island, GA
Located in a repurposed gas station surrounded by mounds of split oak, it’s no surprise that Southern Soul Barbecue’s own building recently went up in smoke. Undaunted, the owners plan to reopen in the next couple of months, buoyed by community support. “I guess they’re just ready for some barbecue,” says Griffin Bufkin, one of the owners, marveling at the outpouring of help. Bufkin and his staff specialize in thick-pulled pit-smoked pork, as well as hoppin’ John, skillet cornbread, and the Barbecuban—a pork sandwich grilled with Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard.