Our roving barbecue correspondents traversed the state in search of great smoked meat. Here are their suggestions for a barbecue-themed road trip.
The sign with the reclining pig at Sconyers Bar-B-Que in Augusta is the first indication this place is full of character. Rusty tractors and other old farm equipment serve as yard art for a gravel parking lot. Inside the two-story log cabin, you’ll be greeted by ladies in long colonial dresses and bonnets.
Sconyers doesn’t date back centuries, but it does have quite a history. Perched on a hill overlooking Bobby Jones Expressway, this country setting is its third location since Claude and Adeline Sconyers started the business in 1956. Now, it’s in the hands of their son, Larry, who took over when his father passed away in 1973.
Among the memorabilia hanging in the hallways and six dining rooms of the 400-seat restaurant are thank-you notes with presidential letterheads. In 1980, Sconyers fed President Jimmy Carter at the White House. In 1997, President Bill Clinton supped on Sconyers barbecue aboard Air Force One. Larry Sconyers even took to politics himself, serving as Augusta’s mayor in 1996-98.
When you take a seat, a partial loaf of sandwich bread will be waiting for you at the table. Service here is so speedy that your Plantation Platter will be there before you know it. The spread includes either a quarter-chicken or sliced turkey, along with ribs, chopped beef and chipped pork. Those who love their ribs falling off the bone will find these satisfying. While Sconyers is mainly known for pork, the chopped beef has some nice smokiness to it.
Another draw here? South Carolina-style hash. This stewy hodgepodge isn’t the prettiest thing to look at, but folks who grew up on this regional side dish love a good ladleful, especially over rice.
The restaurant is open Thursdays-Saturdays; pork skins are available Thursdays only. If you’re passing through, and don’t have time for a sit-down meal, there’s a drive-through.
The one thing Sconyers doesn’t have is dessert. For that, make the 15-minute drive downtown to the Boll Weevil Cafe and Sweetery (10 James Brown Blvd., Augusta; 706-722-7772, thebollweevil.com). Chocoholics give the 7th Heaven cake high praise, but the red velvet with cream cheese icing is devilishly good, too. Walk off the calories along the nearby Augusta Riverwalk, overlooking the Savannah River.
2250 Sconyers Way, Augusta. 706- 790-5411, sconyersbar-b-que.com.
— Ligaya Figueras
Bar H Barbecue
Bar H, owned by the father-son team of Brian and Barkley Hart, has been drawing crowds to a converted house in Franklin Springs, about 10 minutes from I-85 in Franklin County, near Royston, for the past 23 years. I see why: I dream about the Harts’ hickory-and-pecan smoked pork; the soupy, finely ground pork and beef “stew,” and the slaw.
Eating here reminds me of my childhood. I grew up in the country, you see. We seldom ate out, so, when we did, it was a special occasion. Bar H is like that. Open Thursdays-Saturdays, it’s not an everyday thing, and that makes it a wonderful excuse for a road trip.
“We cook what we think we can sell that day, and when we are out, we are out,” Barkley Hart told me.
While you can get smoked chicken, tender baby backs and spare ribs, I go for a pork plate, with stew and slaw, making sure to take a little bit of each component with every bite. Better yet, I just mix it together. Don’t even have to chew! And, just as your stew runs out, a server shows up with a little pitcher to ask you if you want a refill.
Be sure to check out the display of Southern layer cakes and pies by the cash register. You’ll see kids going for the bright pink strawberry layer cake. I liked it, as well as the chocolate meringue pie that reminds me of my Aunt Margie’s. After eating your fill, you can hike beautiful Victoria Bryant State Park nearby.
1380 Franklin Springs St., Royston. 706-245-0022.
— Wendell Brock
Fresh Air Barbecue
After putting away a plate of smoked pork, I was poking around outside this historic Butts County establishment when the pitmaster appeared out of nowhere, crooked his finger at me, and said, “C’mere.”
He opened a side door, waved me in, and I saw the fire! Holy smokes, the sanctum sanctorum of Georgia barbecue. “That’s the famous runway,” he said as he dribbled water onto the burning wood, indicating the chamber through which smoke travels to reach the fresh hams. Gallon jugs of Brunswick stew sat in holding pots of warm water atop the brick tunnel.
Founded in 1929 by Dr. Joel Watkins, purchased by longtime manager Toots Caston in the mid-1940s, and today operated by Toots’ grandsons, George and David Barber, Fresh Air has been smoking pig like this since the 1940s. And only pig.
In a genius move, Toots modified the original cooking method from direct heat to indirect smoke. Back in the day, you ordered from a window and ate outside on picnic tables arranged on sawdust, though today you can sit in the rustic, knotty-pine dining room, or a larger brick annex.
After all these years, Fresh Air makes but a few items: pork, a thin tangy sauce, Brunswick stew and coleslaw. As those vintage photo-signs over the potato-chip rack illustrate, you can get a pork plate with stew, slaw, two slices of bread, saltines and a dill pickle (deluxe); a pork plate with stew, bread, crackers but no slaw (regular); or a sandwich with chips and a drink (special). When I asked a cashier if they made the peanut butter-cup pie, she said, “No, honey, Reese’s makes it.” No matter that I’d just had lunch; I bought a slice and plate to take home.
1164 Highway 42 South, Jackson. 770-775-3182, freshairbarbecue.com.
— Wendell Brock
Southern Soul Barbeque
Southern Soul, on St. Simons Island, was started in 2006 as a weekly pop-up by childhood pals Harrison Sapp and Griffin Bufkin. A year later, it turned into a full-fledged brick-and-mortar. Word about this barbecue gem crossed state lines when it was featured on the likes of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” TLC’s “BBQ Pitmasters,” in the pages of Southern Living and Garden & Gun, and in too many online “top” lists to mention.
Pull into this colorful converted gas station and fuel up on Sapp’s fine oak-smoked meat.
Locals might eat in moderation, with a specialty sandwich like the hot-pressed Barbecuban, or the Philly Soul, or a simpler order of pulled pork, maybe with slaw, slapped into a bun. But, since you can’t get a daily dose of Southern Soul, go whole hog with the Southern Soul Sampler. Order three meats, not two. Make it pulled pork, brisket, and ribs that offer just the right little tug off the bone. None of ’em needs sauce, but have some fun and conduct a messy taste test with the signature Sweet Georgia Soul, vinegar- and pepper-laden Red Swine Wine, tangy mustard Low Country Soul, or sweet-spicy Hot Georgia Soul.
Depending on the day, you could be in for specials like house-cured and smoked pastrami (Thursdays) or pit-fired prime rib (Fridays).
There’s no wrong choice among sides, which include staples like collards, mac and cheese, fries and slaw. Everyone raves about Bufkin’s tangy Brunswick stew recipe, but the fried okra and finger lickin’ fried green beans deserve mention, too.
The place opens daily at 11 a.m. Come early on Saturdays, if you don’t want to stand in a line that snakes out the door. That’s especially true in June and July, when the island’s population of 15,000 doubles with beach-seeking tourists, and the smoker is stuffed with upward of 125 racks of ribs, and an equal amount of pork butts, daily.
Need another excuse for this road trip? Sapp and Bufkin are about to open Frosty’s Griddle & Shake (501 Mallery St., St. Simons Island. Facebook: Frosty’s Griddle & Shake ), which harks back to old-school ice cream and hot-dog joints like Tastee Freez. Doors will unlock Memorial Day weekend.
2020 Demere Road, St. Simons Island. 912-638-7685, southernsoulbbq.com.
— Ligaya Figueras