Chattanooga is smack in the middle of BBQ country, stuck between Memphis BBQ and North Carolina BBQ styles. There is no distinctive Chattanooga BBQ style, so the BBQ restaurants in Chattanooga feel free to go with whatever they like best. Because Tom and I love BBQ we have been trying some of the different BBQ restaurants in Chattanooga. Today I will be highlighting three of them.
The first Chattanooga BBQ place we tried was Sticky Fingers which is a Memphis-style BBQ chain throughout the southeast. There are several of them in Chattanooga and we ate at the one downtown. This is the best Chattanooga BBQ I have had, mostly because we had hiked ten miles and I was starving by the time we got there. I had ribs and Tom had pulled pork. The ribs were falling-off-the-bone tender. The thing I liked best about Sticky Fingers was the choice of BBQ sauces. The baked beans were also the best I have had: seasoned just to my liking and not mushy.
We had been asking the rangers about the best Chattanooga BBQ and all of them agree that Pigeon Mountain Country Store has the best BBQ ribs. But you have to get there early on a Friday or Saturday or else you will miss them. So one Friday, as soon as we got off work, we headed to down a rural road to Pigeon Mountain Country Store. Pigeon Mountain looks like a home that gradually got converted to a restaurant. There were only a few people in the restaurant when we got there but by the time we left there was a line and the parking lot was full.
Inside Pigeon Mountain Country Store was a collection of mismatched old tables and chairs – the perfect BBQ atmosphere. The menus are very basic: several sandwiches, a couple of entrees, and some sides. No ribs on the menu, and our waitress didn’t say anything about ribs, so we assumed we had already missed them. I ordered a pork chop and Tom got the pulled pork sandwich. The pork chop was okay – thin but moist – and the pulled pork was okay too. The chop was served with a mountain of tater tots and there was one very good sauce.
We asked the waitress about the ribs when our food came and she told us, “Sure, we have ribs. We just don’t have them on the menu.” Hmmm. One of those insider things – have to know to ask for the ribs. Very clandestine. Is there a secret password? If we go again we will have to ask for the ribs. They are supposed to be the best in the area.
The final place we have had Chattanooga BBQ is just a mile outside the Chickamauga National Park. It doesn’t have a fancy name and there isn’t any seating. It is strictly take-out. But The BBQ Shack, with its handpainted sign, is the only place we have gotten food more than once since we have been in Chattanooga.
The BBQ Shack has odd hours – they stay open until they sell out for the day, then they close – so we are never sure if they will be open when we get there. We order pulled pork sandwiches and hush puppies (the only place out of the three that has hush puppies) and take home a sack of supper for under $10. Sometimes they put in sauce and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they have banana pudding but usually they have run out. We got to try the banana pudding once and I liked it better than Tom. The pudding part of it was cut with whipped cream making it lighter than most banana pudding.
One Chattanooga BBQ place we haven’t tried, but you hear the most about, is Sugar’s. This is a Chattanooga landmark restaurant and looks like it has been here since the Civil War. They advertise food for the BBQ purist, which we aren’t. By purist, they mean Memphis-style ribs with a vinegar based sauce. Tom and I both prefer pulled pork with a molasses or brown-sugar based sauce (North Carolina style). Sugar’s doesn’t get good reviews from the rangers, even though it is consistently rated #1 in Chattanooga BBQ. Must be the tourists.
Chattanooga is a great place to try BBQ restaurants. There are as many BBQ joints as there are ice cream shops, but we will save the ice cream for another day. So many places to eat and just one more month in Chattanooga.