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Best of The Big A: Best pulled pork

Fourteen plates of pork in a week.

Think about that for a second. That averages out to lunch and dinner consisting of BBQ pork for seven consecutive days. I know that the perception among many readers is that this is a pretty sweet gig. “Oh man, you get to eat and write about it. That sounds amazing!”

Much of the time, I would agree with you. But make no mistake about it friends: This was a Herculean task.

It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my barbecue tour of Atlanta. In fact, I never got sick of eating the stuff and I discovered a few new favorite BBQ joints in the process. But I will be eating plain grilled chicken breasts and veggies for a while to make up for all of the artery clogging I put myself through. Don’t ever say I never did anything for you.

When I embarked on this pulled pork adventure for The Best of The Big A, I knew that I had many tough choices in front of me, and that I was going to ruffle a few feathers with my findings. Part of the problem lies in the nature of pork itself. You can take a completely unseasoned Boston butt, roast it in the oven for a few hours, and it is still going to at least taste GOOD. But I was looking for BBQ greatness, and that is an art.

Because BBQ is so subjective, it will help if I clarify the criteria by which I judged the meat. First, you should know that if you don’t like your meat particularly smoky, then you might disagree with my top choices. Here is the breakdown of what I was looking for:

1 – Smoke. If the pork lacks the noticeable flavor of smoke, which I should be able to taste on the first bite, then it isn’t up to snuff. Like I said, unseasoned roast pork still tastes good. It needs smoke to taste great.

2 – The bark. This is a crucial component of pulled pork, and any hardcore BBQ enthusiast would agree. The bark should have a solid smoke flavor, but the taste of smoke shouldn’t overwhelm the flavor of the rub or the meat itself. You don’t want to only taste smoke. The texture of the bark is important as well – if it soaks up too much moisture, it becomes mushy, and you lose the wonderful contrast of the crunchy bark with the moist meat. A very smoky bark can compensate for less smoky meat, as long as there is a good balance.

3 – Moisture. Speaking as a relatively experienced home BBQ chef, it is difficult to dry out a pork butt. Meat that is too dry loses major points. It should be moist but not so riddled with fat that it is overly wet. There is a happy middle ground.

4 – Sauce. This is truly an evaluation of the meat itself. Great smoked meats DO NOT REQUIRE sauce. If I have to douse it in sauce to enjoy the pork, it is either too dry or lacking flavor. That said, great sauce can really complement the meat and enhance the experience. This won’t earn someone a spot on the list, but it made for a good tiebreaker.

5 – Pulled vs. Chopped pork. If the restaurant only serves chopped pork, then they were not considered for this list. However, if they normally served chopped but let you order the meat just pulled, that counts.

Another thing that I learned about Atlanta BBQ is the large number of establishments that serve only chopped or sliced pork. The following is an incomplete list of restaurants that were eliminated because of this: Harold’s, Wallace’s, Swallow at the Hollow, Thompson Brothers BBQ, JD’s, and Rolling Bones.

Though this list ranks the Top 5, the order of many of these is interchangeable. They are all great. Unfortunately, I had to put them in some sort of an order, but you can’t really go wrong with any of them.

The list:

IMG_00012#5 – Heirloom Market BBQ

Serving up Atlanta’s neo-BBQ, often infusing international flavors into an American cuisine steeped in tradition, chefs Jiyeon Lee and Cody Taylor still crank out a very satisfying classic pulled pork (Be sure to specify that you don’t want chopped). Using a combination of hickory and fruitwood, the Berkshire pork arrives moist and packed with smoky flavor. Though they sometimes skimp on the bark, the flavorful pork compensates well. Sauce is an afterthought, but the vinegar heavy Settler Sauce is my favorite.

11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. 2243 Akers Mill Road, Atlanta. 770-612-2502, www.heirloommarketbbq.com. $

IMG_0586#4 – Dave Poe’s/BB1

I know these are both running favorites with many of the readers, and some of you may take umbrage at the fact that I combined them. However, I tried both of these pulled pork plates on the same afternoon, with about 20 minutes separating them (as well as side-by-side), and they are – from what I could discern – identical. Yes, some of the recipes and menu items changed when Sam & Dave parted ways, but neither messed with the pulled pork. And it is a good thing that they didn’t.

Though less smoky than some of my other favorites, this is pure IMG_0591pork goodness. The rub imparts just enough smoke to round out the flavor, and it arrives in long, moist chunks of meat. Not my favorite sauce – a little too sweet for my taste – but if you are a pork purist, this will surely be high on the list of your favorites.

Sam’s BBQ 1: 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays. 4944 Lower Roswell Road, Marietta. 770-977-3005, www.bb1.net. $

Dave Poe’s BBQ: 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. 660 Whitlock Ave., Marietta.770-792-2272, www.davepoes.com. $

IMG_06102#3 – Boner’s BBQ

This new mobile ‘cue truck was one of the more pleasant surprises from this project. Though owner/chef Andrew Capron is currently seeking a location for a brick and mortar shop, his food truck has made appearances around town for the last year, often outside of The Masquerade on weekends. I’m not exaggerating when I say this: Capron’s pulled pork has the best bark on it that I’ve had in Atlanta. His technique of reapplying rub during the smoking process gives it an extremely crunchy texture, and the heavy smoke flavor compensates for his less smoky meat. I wanted an entire plate of just bark. Served with a little salt and pepper and an optional squeeze of lime, sauce is unnecessary. If you do want to sauce it up, try the Georgia Peach sauce (mustard, peach, and ginger). Note: This applies to his pulled pork plate – the pork sliders, while still good, don’t include that fabulous bark.

Follow them on Facebook or Twitter for the most up to date locations of the truck until they select a permanent location.

Hours and location vary. www.bonersbbq.com (under construction) or www.twitter.com/bonersBBQ. $

 
 
 
 
 
Credit: Becky Stein

Credit: Becky Stein

#2 – Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q

Ah, the 10,000 lbs gorilla of Atlanta BBQ. Though known more for their Texas style ‘cue, I was surprised at how strong of an entry they made with their pulled pork. The meat is extremely moist, with a light smoke flavor, but the ample proportion of bark packs a lot of smoky punch. Though I’m not the biggest fan of their tomato-based sauce, I only tried it with a few bites and happily finished the remainder without it. I’ve heard that their pork can be hit or miss, but they definitely didn’t miss the day that I tried it. And when they are on, they are right on the mark. 

 

 11 a.m-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays. 1238 Dekalb Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-577-2026, www.foxbrosbbq.com. $

IMG_7435#1 – Beaver Creek Biscuit Company & Barbecue

Beaver Creek Biscuit Company & Barbecue (known by many of their fans as “Turner’s BBQ”) was my favorite find of this assignment. Set off Six Flags Road in an industrial area of Lithia Springs, Beaver Creek is old school ‘cue, done right. They flirted with disqualification because their pork plate usually comes chopped, but unlike some places, they start with a true pull rather than sliced pork, so make sure to specify. I tried both their chopped and pulled version, and strongly prefer the pulled.

The meat is moist, but not overly wet, and the hickory smoke penetrates deep into the pork. The crunchy bark packs a lot of smoke flavor, but not so much that you lose the taste of the meat. The same holds true for some of the other candidates on the list, and the race for #1 came down to the wire. But the tipping point was their mustard based “Seminole Sauce”. A great sauce can’t save sub-par pork, but on top of great meat, it is sublime.

5:30 a.m.- 5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 7 a.m.- 3 p.m. Saturdays. 1451 Six Flags Rd, Austell. 770-739-0200, www.beavercreek.homestead.com. $

So there it is. Before my detractors begin the all-out assault on my taste in ‘cue, there are a few that aren’t on here that should be mentioned. Let’s start with the positives, shall we?

Honorable Mention/#6- Big Shanty Smokehouse

As many of you that read my review of Big Shanty already know, I’m a big fan. And while they have great pulled pork, with a lot of smoky flavor, I found the chopped pork to be the stronger offering. This is due almost entirely to the bark – the pulled pork plates that I’ve had there were noticeably light on the bark, and the chopped had a hefty portion. You still can’t go wrong with Big Shanty, but there just wasn’t enough room to include them on the original list.

Honorable Mention /#7 – Daddy D’z

A very solid entry, no question about it, but light on the smoke and TOO juicy. And by “too juicy”, I mean too fatty. This doesn’t particularly bother me all that much, but my serving had large chunks of fat that would turn off many diners. Still, had I gotten to put together a “Top 7” like the reader’s picks, this would have made the list.

Now the not so positives…

Pig-N-Chik

I wanted to keep this list entirely positive, but we have already gotten requests to explain why Pig-N-Chik didn’t make it. I knew that I would catch a lot of heat for leaving them off of the list, so here goes: There wasn’t any smoke flavor in the meat. Yes, it was moist. But it tasted like it had some rub put on it, it was wrapped in foil, and roasted in the oven. I know that isn’t how they cook their meat, but it tasted that way. I’m sorry to those that love their pulled pork, but, as I said, as long as the meat is moist it will still taste good. But this wasn’t on the same level as those that made the Top 5 (or 7).

It is worth noting that Pig-N-Chik has some of the best, if not THE best, sauces in town. I’m a huge fan of many of their sauces, and regularly keep them stocked in my fridge. If you are in the “It is all about the sauce” camp, they are probably high on your list. But it is really all about the meat, and while it was good, it missed the mark in a few areas.

Feel free to email me if you want me to address any other specific restaurants that were left off and I will be happy to reply, but the purpose of this post is to celebrate the great ones, not to beat down the rest.

However taxing this undertaking felt at times, and despite the extra strain on my waistline, I wouldn’t feel sorry for me one bit. I had a great time putting this together. I ate a lot of fantastic BBQ, and strangely enough, this left me hungry for more.

 

-By Jon Watson, Food & More Blog

41 comments Add your comment

Josh H

March 1st, 2011
3:16 pm

John Kessler wasn’t here.

Owen Renn

March 1st, 2011
3:29 pm

Harold’s not even on this list?

So confused.

Owen Renn

March 1st, 2011
3:30 pm

Ok i see the reasoning above but, still should be an H.M. just on principle

Shockadow

March 1st, 2011
3:37 pm

Brilliant! I completely agree with your selection for #1. Turners/BeaverCreek is one that i forgot. If you get a chance to swing by early & get one of their biscuits stuffed with goodies, you’ll see they may win that catagory as well…
I realize that I big upped Dave Poe’s BBQ1 as my personal favorite. But in retrospect, & having not eaten @ some of the others, I gotta say…
Well done, sir… Thanks for the new weekend lunchtime roadtrip suggestions!

FoodFan

March 1st, 2011
3:53 pm

John – a week of daily-double pork with a New Orleans bachelor party inbetween?! Good lord, you must be ready to explode.

Jon Watson

March 1st, 2011
4:01 pm

@FoodFan – Yes, it wasn’t the healthiest week and a half of my life, because you can bet your bottom dollar that I ate my way through NOLA too…

@Owen Renn – I know it would have appeased some folks for Harold’s to get a nod, despite the lack of pulled pork, but I had to draw the line somewhere.

Kirk

March 1st, 2011
4:03 pm

Jon, thanks for all the “work”.

Lorenzo

March 1st, 2011
4:11 pm

I never understood why chopped and sliced are so much more common in Atlanta than pulled. I’ve only lived here for 10 years and am not a Southerner, so I guess I just don’t understand. Yankees tend to think “pulled” when they think of barbecue.

Crabdaddy

March 1st, 2011
4:15 pm

Last time I checked Berkshire Pig was $9.00 a LB, and thats when you buy half a hog.
Heritage Market BBQ has to be going broke selling their pulled pork for $13 bucks a pound.. hook a brother up with your source!

Atlantan

March 1st, 2011
4:19 pm

Thanks for your efforts… Doesn’t matter how the BBQ places are listed someone isn’t happy. BBQ lists are like fighting words around here. I look forward to trying some of these new places (new to me).

I guess your next efforts should be best salads or juices.

Moe's Original Bar B Que

March 1st, 2011
4:21 pm

I wanted to let all of you BBQ fans about our new Bama-style BBQ that just opened today in Midtown. We hope to make your list next year!

http://moesoriginalbbq.com/locations/atlanta.html

jimmy

March 1st, 2011
4:35 pm

Nice work Jon. Eager to try Beaver Creek. Thanks.

sarge

March 1st, 2011
4:48 pm

I used to love Turner’s, but it had gone way downhill, kinda reminded me of Wallace’s. But last time I was there was probably about 7 years ago, so I guess its back!

David

March 1st, 2011
6:00 pm

I am a HUGE fan of Heirloom and it is just getting better. I grew up with my cop grandfather taking me to Harold’s and The Flying Pig down by the airport. I love me some BBQ but these folks at Heirloom are doing the deal. It’s as smoky as you can get, And moist. Sauces are excellent.
You my friend had a tough job.

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PTC DAWG

March 1st, 2011
9:37 pm

No loss leaving Harold’s off. They’ve gone down hill. Meat dry and mainly without flavor lately. Place has gotten nastier, if you can believe that.

ted

March 1st, 2011
9:52 pm

Jon- what did you think of Community Q?

RK

March 1st, 2011
10:15 pm

I haven’t had the pulled pork at Heirloom, but everything else has plenty of fantastic bark…

Berkshire Dawg

March 1st, 2011
10:15 pm

Thank you for some fine research. I love Old Brick Pit, Pig ‘N’ Chick, Williamson’s, Zeb’s in Danielsville, the Holy Grail: Fresh Air in Jackson, the venerable Johnny Harris in Savannah, Sprayberry’s in Newnan when the meat is not dry (their stew is the best), Bailey’s in Ringgold, Smoky Pig or whatever it’s called outside Cordele, that shack – Three little Pigs? or something on the main street in Pine Mountain, the new place at the roundabout in St. Simons (next to the airport), Jo-Max in Metter, Sconyer’s in Augusta, Vandy’s in Statesboro, and many more.

John Ransom

March 1st, 2011
10:41 pm

Although a native of South Georgia (Cordele) and a graduate of UGA, I have lived in South Carolina since 1979. I’ve had some good BBQ in SC but have never thought to disinguish between “pulled” and “chopped”. Always felt the meat was prepared the same way but was just a different way to prepare the meat for serving…cannot wait to purposely try the difference. Would like and appreciate a list of BBQ places in ATL with addresses so I can patronize when in your fair city. Also agree with you regarding the sauce…if the meat needs sauce to taste good, it is not properly prepared. I have not however found a mustard base sauce that beats a good vinegar based sauce even though the marjority of establishments in the Columbia area and SC in general serves a mustard based sauce. Looking forward to my own “pulled” vs “chopped” trials. Thanks for a good read. John

tc

March 1st, 2011
10:44 pm

Why didn’t Shanes make the list. That is real BBQ! Taste’s like it’s right out of a can!

Honest and Frank Discussion

March 2nd, 2011
12:02 am

Jon – this is where you lost ALL CREDIBILITY.

“The bark should have a solid smoke flavor, but shouldn’t overwhelm the taste of the rub or the meat itself”

Any person who has ever cooked BBQ in their entire life will tell you that THE BARK IS THE RUB. When you coat a shoulder with spices and let it smoke slowly for 12+ hours, the outer spices (i.e. the rub), in fact, become the bark. How can the flavor of the bark overwhelm the flavor of the rub? THEY ARE THE SAME THING.

If you meant that the smoke flavor of the bark shouldn’t overwhelm the taste of the rub, then you need to LEARN TO WRITE.

Mark Hopkins

March 2nd, 2011
12:16 am

Been gone from Georgia for a while, but when I left, Two Brothers in Ball Ground was hard to guard!

Bob

March 2nd, 2011
1:17 am

This should be the “pulled pork with bark” list. I am not sure why bark should be essential to a ranking of pulled pork – I disagree that “any hardscore BBQ enthusiast would agree” that it “is a crucial component of pulled pork.” Some people prefer their pork without it, and at many places you can specify how much you want. Next time you go to Big Shanty or others which came up short in the bark department for you, ask for more bark and perhaps ye shall receive. Just like Q itself, it’s all about what you like, and it’s just one of the variables which makes this so much fun.

TnGelding

March 2nd, 2011
5:46 am

I’d guess most AJC readers have never heard of any of them, much less eaten there. But we shall!

Reds

March 2nd, 2011
8:08 am

Jon- great list. Not that I am surprised. :) I maintain that I’ve never met a pulled prok I didn’t like though. ;)

Reds

March 2nd, 2011
8:09 am

*pulled pork. >.<

Jon Watson

March 2nd, 2011
9:31 am

@Ted – I thought that Community was good, very similar to BB1/Dave Poe’s, but my meat was too dried out to make the list.

@John Ransom – I didn’t actually mean to seem so biased towards mustard based sauces, as I do love a good vinegar sauce. In fact, my favorite is a marriage between the two. The sauce that I make at home is mostly apple cider vinegar and mustard, a little ketchup, and spices.

@Honest and Frank Discussion – I’ll revise the wording so as to not make it confusing, though I think that the majority of readers understood what I meant. Yes, I know what bark is made of, I know how to achieve it when smoking pork, and I’m pretty good at it. So, to clarify: I was referring to the smoke flavor not overwhelming the rub or the meat. The point is you don’t want to taste ONLY smoke.

Reds

March 2nd, 2011
10:49 am

I like bark. I just don’t want it to taste/feel like I’m chewing on a tree.

Johnny

March 2nd, 2011
1:17 pm

Jon, you gotta put Moe’s and Shane’s on the list next year for sh*ts & giggles, if you’re still around that is. I heard the NY Times is pounding the table to bring on the 3 guest bloggers to NYC since it’s been working so well for the AJC. Sam Sifton knows talent when he sees it.

Jon Watson

March 2nd, 2011
1:53 pm

@Johnny – Well, we are trendsetters here at the AJC. Truth be told, I’ve been fending Sifton off with a stick for months. Dude just won’t take no for an answer!

ted

March 2nd, 2011
3:29 pm

Jon- had Beaver Creek for lunch today. I agree with you about it being nice and smoky. I think the one place that I’ve had that was regularly that smoky was Benny’s (now closed) over at Ashford Dunwoody and Johnson Ferry. Beaver Creek was definitely a good value, but I don’t mind paying a couple bucks more for homemade sides over Sysco. It wasn’t as moist as the last time I ate at Community Q a few weeks ago, so reversed experiences there.

Maybe we should have a backyard cookoff and see who’s really king. ;-)

Jon Watson

March 2nd, 2011
3:39 pm

@Ted – Funny…I had Beaver Creek for lunch today too! If you were there around noon, we might have seen each other. Although, I’m interested…which sides didn’t you like? I have not had them all, but I think their Brunswick stew is excellent. I will say, when I’ve had Beaver Creek’s pork when it is chopped (they tend to give it a fine chop), it dries out quickly.

ted

March 2nd, 2011
3:44 pm

It’s not that I didn’t like them, it’s just that the beans and potato salad were pretty recognizable as straight from a can/tub. Kind of expected at that price point, but I don’t mind paying more for better.

I was there with three co-workers at noon. And gawking for a few moments at the classic Vette out front before/after.

I liked the mustard sauce, but have one co-worker who really doesn’t.

abby

March 2nd, 2011
5:09 pm

Where is Williamson Brothers in Marietta?

Just me

March 2nd, 2011
7:46 pm

Daddy D’z used to be convenient to where I lived and worked…and I appreciated their service. But they just weren’t my favorite. I don’t like fatty pieces that I have to pull out, and even when I specified ‘lean’, as I always do, I would still get those fatty chunks. Their ribs are some of the toughest ones I have ever eaten, and quite fatty and gristly too. And their hot sauce simply ‘ain’t’. I like tender, falling off the bone, and when I want a hot barbeque sauce, that is what I want…not some insipid, bland stuff. I do wish we had a Sticky Fingers here. My favorite in Macon.

Jane Garvey

March 2nd, 2011
7:54 pm

Jon, Great job!!! Missed one, though, the new Burnt Fork in Decatur. I thought that pulled pork was fabulous, and the sauces are house-made and delectable. The vinegar sauce is what I like best on the pulled pork. Moist, smokey and with a good ratio of inside meat to outside meaet (bark). Was in Pig ‘n’ Chik in Chamblee just the other day, and overheard a customer pronounce that the “best pulled pork in Georgia.” I immediately wrote him off the “que knowledgable list.” Your evaluation is spot on. Ribs were way better.

Chic

March 3rd, 2011
8:16 am

Jon – great job on the article and I agree with your comments on our pork. As our menu states, we offer “inside pulled” and “outside chopped”, so obviously the chopped contains the majority of the bark. Many of our customers order “half & half” to get the best of both worlds.
Keep up the good work – I look forward to you doing the same thing with Ribs & Brisket.
Big Shanty Smokehouse.

jonnymack

March 3rd, 2011
8:38 am

Great article. Based on your description of what you like in pulled pork we’re on the same page so I’m excited to see some places that I haven’t tried yet.

Jeremy M

March 5th, 2011
2:42 pm

great review, i definitely agree about the bark at boners, i believe they found a more permanent location; its a deck right next to turner field

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