I got off the interstate at the Lexington, TN exit in search of a place I had heard about and eaten from, but never been to. A friend’s mother used to bring it up on her way from Jackson to Nashville and I remembered her describing the place as an old country shack with a huge smokehouse attached to it. How I remember that from ten years ago is beyond me.
I pulled up to a place called Scott’s at about 4:30 PM and knew that I was at the right spot. The smokehouse seemed to be twice the size of the restaurant. As I pulled in, my excitement was met with the reality that I was the only car in the lot. For a brief second, I had a Griswaldian moment where I thought that maybe I was the first one there, but the sign on the door confirmed my worst fears. Sorry Folks, Park’s Closed, the moose out front shoulda told ya.
Sold Out. Son of a bitch.
I parked the car and went to look at the giant smokehouse for a moment or two before reluctantly getting back in my car, determined to return another day.
I’m not always a believer that one door opens when another closes, but in this case it did. Twenty miles south of Lexington, at the intersection of highways 22 and 100, at a place called J.D.’s Barbecue Barn.
The intersection of 22 and 100 doesn’t even have a name. You won’t find the town on a map, which meant that J.D.’s had a chance to be legendary.
When I walked into the small building, J.D. himself greeted me with an almost-friendly “what can we getch u?”. Now J.D. is a man who is not afraid to sample some of his own product, and his thick southern accent is exactly what you’d hope for in a place like this. Behind him was a young girl I would assume was kinfolk of some kind.
A quick look around the joint told me that most folks probably do takeout. There were three tables, one of which was occupied by a guy that will likely be there the next time I go back.
Knowing that I was eating at the Bar-B-Q Shop in a couple hours, I reluctantly limited my order to a small pork sandwich with slaw and hot sauce. “Is that all you want” I heard come from the guy in the corner, his tone intimating that his teenage daughter would order more than I did. I regrettably had already reached into the cooler at the moment he said that, and when I pulled out a Diet Coke, I sheepishly waited for him to say “you city boys really are pussies, aren’t ya”.
Fortunately he didn't say a word, and I eagerly took my sandwich to a table eight feet away on the other side of the room.
I’m happy to say that the pulled pork sandwich at J.D.’s was one of the best I’ve ever had. The meat was well smoked, and the sandwich had a great mix of juicy inside meat mixed in with chunks of the outside bark. The slaw was purple and there was just enough of it to add a little bit of texture, but not much in terms of flavor-which I believe if you’re going to add slaw is the only way to do it.
The sauce was hands down the best vinegar sauce I’ve had (sorry North Carolina). The spice mixture he puts in it really gives it a great flavor, whereas normally the vinegar overpowers whatever spices get put in there. This one had a slightly salty/sugary balance that really worked well.
I savored every bite, counting my blessings that Scott’s was closed.
After I ate I asked J.D. if I could take a look at his pit, which he happily agreed to show me. He smokes over hickory, doing shoulder, ribs and chicken. He no longer does whole hogs he said, lamenting the fact that there just aren’t many small hog farmers anymore.
J.D. told me that he’s had this place for two years,and before this one he’d had another closer to Lexington that he and a partner ran for five years. When I complimented him on his sauce, he told me that he got the recipe from a non-blood relative of his aunt’s.
He recounted the story of how he got the recipe...
“the guy who gave me this was one of those guys that does everything spot on. Don’t matter if it’s hunting, fishing or fixing cars, he does everything spot on. So right before I was getting ready to start my first place we’re driving somewhere and he looks over and says “so you reckon you’re fixin to open a barbecue pit”...when I said yeah, he said “get you a pencil and right this down”....then gave me this recipe from memory”.
That’s one hell of a family heirloom.
After standing out and sweating near the pits chatting for another five minutes, we shook hands and parted ways, with the promise that I would be back.
I pulled onto old Highway 100 for Memphis, rolled the windows down and turned the music up, thankful for the unexpected surprises that life throws at you every now and then.