By Leif Palmer
Once you have unpacked and settled in to your cabin in Tennessee, the next question might be “Where are we going to eat?” Since you are in the Southern United States, for many that choice is down-home barbecue. No matter how you spell it: BBQ, Bar-B-Que, Barbecue, or Barbeque, as long as there is a pig logo or the rich smell of a smoker somewhere on the property, you will be with good carnivore company for your next meal. Styles of 'cue vary across our region. Choose yours based on your preference for cooking style and flavor of sauce.
Corky's Ribs & BBQ-Pigeon Forge hosts the only East Tennessee location of this regional chain. The Memphis-style dry rub ribs are the only place they can be found locally. Wet sauces include apple, hot, honey, and original. Folks from west Tennessee and Arkansas know this kind of pig. Hand-pulled pork, chicken, and ribs along with sandwich options are available dining onsite. Catering for turkeys and hams, and complete bbq packages are available should you want to enjoy the feast back at the cabin.
Bennett's Pit Bar-B-Que- The Johnson family operates these restaurants in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg as part of their local restaurant group offering (which also includes Alamo Steakhouse, Mama's Farmhouse, and Big Daddy's Pizzeria, among others). This family-friendly restaurant offers a kids menu, a breakfast buffet, and an all-you-can-eat salad bar. Friendly atmosphere and good service add to the full complement of hickory smoked pork, beef, sausage, and chicken. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Bennett's is your only local source for beef brisket: inquire about the Burnt Ends entree if you have never had them before.
Hickory Cabin Seasoning Company-This Sevierville mom-and-pop shop is tucked away at 105 Joy Street downtown, and is a local favorite. Small in size but big on taste, this lunch restaurant is open Monday through Friday from 11:00 am to 2:30 pm, and closed on weekends. Catering services are their main emphasis, and the lunch spot exists because locals asked for it. In addition to BBQ, salads and grilled sandwiches are offered. Their signature sandwich is the Squealy's, which is a ground pork patty with grilled onions and barbecue sauce. Sauce flavors include original (tomato-based), spicy, Carolina vinegar, and Carolina mustard. Add the sweet potato fries on the side, and do not skip the homemade banana pudding for dessert!
Calhoun's Restaurant is literally the Taste of Tennessee. Original to Knoxville, most east Tennesseans were raised on their ribs, and choose their multiple locations throughout the surrounding area to get their barbecue fix, especially for fall football Saturdays. The Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg restaurants create a full service, midscale atmosphere for a sit-down together meal. Steak, wings, burgers, salads, and fish are all complements to their award-winning slow-smoked barbecue. If there is an East Tennessee BBQ tradition, this is it for the sweet red. And yet, the salads are huge and tasty too. Try Calhoun's for a nice lunch or dinner, but go off hours during high tourist season. Better yet, pick up their family feed packs to help you avoid the crowd completely.
Buddy's Bar-B-Q-Want your 'cue without a long wait? Check out Buddy's for a “quick casual” tasty meal. The Sevierville restaurant (long-term franchise with a new building) is our county's single access to this Knoxville original. Creator Buddy Smothers was originally from Alabama, so the sauce is a sweet tomato, vinegar-base style from his roots, along with the hushpuppies served alongside. The regional chain is now in its third generation of family operation. This shop is great for a picnic or box lunch with a 10-pack box, and their sweet tea is just as it should be. Also note the Hawg Back Potatoes can be a fine meal, and Saturdays are always All-You-Can-Eat Ribs. Their smoked whole turkeys and hams are a smart choice to preorder for your holiday celebrations. Buddy's is not technically fast food, but quick service. They also publish nutritional information on their website, which is helpful to many (though some may not want to know!). They say "Fresh, fast, friendly, family”. They mean it.
So these are some great choices, Memphis-style to family breakfast/lunch/dinner, from mom and pop, to Tennessee tradition and fast food. Make your choice, and you'll be in “hog heaven” shortly.
About Leif Palmer
Leif Palmer loves residing in east Tennessee. He is an avid outdoorsman: rowing for exercise on the lake, trail hiking, and free climbing rocks in the mountains. He indulges his arty side by periodically beating up pieces of marble by sculpting. He is always frustrated by his inability to sink long putts, and hates his curly hair (but his wife loves it). Leif has been known to muster enough courage to change a diaper, and hopes his son will become a chip off the old block.