Alabama BBQ opinions can be almost as strong as college football opinions here.
So when a national media outlet announces the best barbecue in the state, it’s likely to spark eye-rolls and food fights on social media, even if the poll is legitimate.
And it’s hard to argue that Food Network named Decatur’s Big Bob Gibson Bar-BQ an Alabama entry in “50 States of Barbecue,” the network’s list of “the best barbecue spots in every US state.”
Food Network’s Sara Ventiera writes, “Pork is king at Southeastern barbecue—but not in Alabama. The state is best known for its smoked chicken with white sauce. Created by Bob Gibson in 1925, the flavorful concoction of mayo, vinegar and spices has become a regional icon, found at barbecue joints throughout the northern part of the state.”
She also praises Big Bob’s “award-winning pulled pork, ribs and brisket, a smorgasbord of delicious cured meats.”
Big Bob Gibson’s has many previous good deeds. According to the restaurant’s website, they won no fewer than “15 World BBQ Championships (pork, brisket, ribs, chicken) and five Memphis World BBQ Grand Championships in May.
A 2017 AL.com feature detailed the restaurant’s humble beginnings: “Big” Bob Gibson, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound railroad worker, began cooking in the backyard of his two-story home on Danville Road in his mid-20s. before he thought of opening a restaurant. It was just a weekend for friends and family. Big Bob cooked whole chickens and whole pork shoulders in his hand-dug pit and served them on an oak table nailed to a plane tree.”
Last year, Food Network ranked Big Bob Gibson’s rotisserie chicken with white sauce number four on its “Top 5 Barbecue Dishes by Country” list.
In 2017, Big Bob Gibson Bar-BQ Executive Chef and Vice President Chris Lilly gave AL.com the backstory on Gibson’s famous white sauce that has inspired imitators in Alabama and beyond. “His [Big Bob Gibson’s] Chickens would sometimes stay in his pit for three hours,” Lilly said. “If you’re growing a chicken pit, you’ve got to keep those chickens moist somehow. Keep them from drying out. And I think that’s where the mayonnaise comes from. The fat in the mayonnaise essentially served as a buffer against the chicken drying out once it came out of the core.”
Other regional grill specialties, according to Food Network’s Ventiera, who also wrote for Food & Wine, NPR and Village Voice, include: Atlanta’s Das BBQ (“Pulled pork, ribs and pork sausage, best served with their mustard-based peach barbecue sauce” ); The Shed in Ocean Springs, Mississippi (“best known for their ribs and smoked chicken wangs, but brisket and pulled pork are regular hits”); and Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in West Tennessee (“the redneck tacos are a favorite”).
Food Network’s “50 States of Barbecue” list does not include the methodology they used to come up with their list. Or who all contributed/voted to the list. Or how many restaurants were included in total, or whether the author/staff actually tried every single restaurant that was on their list.
Obviously, these types of lists are subjective. They can start some fun discussions as long as people don’t take them too seriously and real research has gone into creating the content.
Whether or not you agree with a list, including the methodology adds credibility and clarity. For example, Rolling Stone’s recent list of the 200 Greatest Singers of All Time was controversial at best. But to RS’s credit, they clearly outlined the parameters for their singer list and who all voted/contributed to that ranking.
AL.com reached out to Food Network for details on the methodology behind their 50 States of Barbecue list. At the time of publishing this post, we have not received a response.
Other annual barbecue favorites in Alabama include: Archibald’s BBQ in Northport; Saw’s BBQ at Homewood; Dreamland Bar-B-Que in Tuscaloosa; and Meat Boss in Mobile.
As for Big Bob Gibson Bar-BQ, when Gibson opened his first restaurant in Decatur in 1925, the white sauce was there from day one. Big Bob frequently rotated locations inside and outside of Decatur in its early years, always with the white sauce in tow, before establishing more permanent roots on Decatur’s 6th Avenue in 1952.
Current locations of Big Bob Gibson Bar-BQ include 1715 6th Ave. SE and 2520 Danville Road SW, the latter just a few miles from the backyard where Big Bob’s Barbecue was born.
Today, visitors from other countries make it a point to visit Big Bob Gibson Bar-BQ as part of their Southern barbecue pilgrimage. Big Bob Gibson’s also ships bottles of white sauce overseas, including throughout Europe.
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