The days are warmer and the barbecue aroma is wafting throughout the Great Smoky Mountains. It is among my favorite times of year. Dollywood has great barbecue at Hickory House and the side porch to Miss Lillian’s but in the spring they tie it together with Bluegrass and really kick it up a notch.
Barbecue is a southern tradition. Something that makes people beau up and hitch up their pants when starting a “discussion” about what sauce is best and whether you want a dry rub for your pork butt or use a wet sauce to bring out the flavor. I start my barbeque recommendations with the tastiest festival around—Dollywood’s Barbeque & Bluegrass (now through June 4). Pair expertly-prepared pulled pork, smoked sausage and chicken with more than 25 concerts a day and you have a winning combination. But, if you aren’t at Dollywood for the festival and you just want to sample some of the best of barbecue in the area, I’ll list my other favorites.
If you find yourself in Sevierville around lunchtime and want some authentic, homemade barbecue, try Hickory Cabin Seasoning Company (105 Joy Street, Sevierville, TN). Seating is limited in this log cabin restaurant just south of downtown Sevierville and hours are specific – 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., weekdays only. They serve great moist and tender pulled pork for sandwiches or on their loaded nachos. Their Fried baloney sandwiches are great with sweet potato fries or you can try their signature Squealy’s. The Regular, Mama or Papa are pork patties topped with onion rings and their signature sauce. A meal is not complete without Granny’s Banana Pudding. It is excellent – but come to think about it, the quality and authenticity of banana pudding in the South is also a point of verbal sparring. At Hickory Cabin the banana pudding is good but who could argue with Granny?
If you are coming into or leaving the Smokies on Highway 66 try Tony Gore’s BBQ and Grill (1818 Winfield Dunn Parkway, Sevierville, TN). Tony Gore is a Southern Gospel performer that left the road to chase his other passion, barbecue. Your visit might take a little extra time because your food is cooked to order. Portions are large and authentically smoked in one of a village of smokes that sit in front of the restaurant. I like their pulled pork tacos, brisket and ribs—they all come with traditional sides,but give the hand cut fries a try. Like Hickory Cabin, Tony also has a loaded appetizer with fresh chips topped with pulled pork and cheese. It is really excellent, you certainly won’t leave hungry! If you are one who doesn’t want to risk it, be sure and grab a piece of cake or pie. They are big enough to share.
The local Sevier County chain Bennett’s has locations in Pigeon Forge (2910 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN) and in Gatlinburg. It is an all-around barbecue restaurant in the heart of both cities that offers consistently good food and great service. I particularly like their smoked sausage and their burnt end plates. If you don’t like pork, their pulled chicken is excellent. If you can’t decide just get a combo!
I’ll wrap up with this. I have never been too impressed with “award-winning” food but Calhoun’s has parlayed some success with ribs and sauce into a mini-barbecue empire in East Tennessee. They have two locations in the Smokies – complete with breweries – that offer some of the best smoked ribs in the area. Calhoun’s has some signature side dishes that are almost as good as the meat. I love the corn pudding and the slightly spicy spinach Maria. I find that combination just adds something to the half rack or hickory smoked chicken I normally get. They also have some good apps with a beer cheese and pretzel plate made with their own brewed beer. Speaking of beer, try the Cherokee Red Ale or their Tuckaleechee Porter. In my opinion those are Calhoun’s best.
These locations and dishes are my choices but as I explained earlier barbecue is a very competitive topic in the south. One must eat to join the conversation. Happy eating!