At the impressionable age of twelve years old, my family relocated from Memphis to sleepy Selmer, Tennessee, about eighty miles further east. Sleepy as it is, Selmer has both enjoyed and endured it’s own share of national attention from Mary Winlker to the axe handle-wielding Bufford Pusser, portrayed in the movie Walking Tall. But I have fond memories with good people there, especially those of Faith Baptist Church, where I became an unashamed Christian through the witnesses of former Youth Pastor Lee Wood, and the former Pastor Dan Reed. It was also at a gathering at the house of a church member that I experienced my first whole hog barbecue as a young man many years ago. Brother Johnson insisted with a proud grin, “Getcha some o’ that meat right there boy,” as he handed me a paper plate and a pair of tongs. The tongs were used to pull the meat right off the side of the hog, which went directly onto my bun, where it was then topped with a tangy-sweet candy apple red sauce and crunchy slaw. It was one of my most vivid and beloved experiences in American barbecue.
Pappy John’s Bar-B-Que is the long-standing bbq shop in the town of 4,500, where I lived during my middle school and teen years. Interestingly, I lived within walking distance from Pappy Johns for a couple of years, but not once did I ever eat from there until a return to visit family in 2008. My sister Carrie knew of my barbecue adventures and decided to surprise me with a sandwich, but with a warning that people around town had been complaining that Pappy John’s had, “gone electric.” The indication was that they’d forsaken there old-time wood or charcoal pits for an electric smoker. But Carrie remembered that I’d already planned to check ’em out anyway and knew I’d still want to give ’em a try, so she picked up a barbecue sandwich with sauce and slaw, just in time for our visit. I love my family.
The sandwich as a whole was actually quite tasty, just not for what I expect in a bbq sandwich. It’s strengths were moist, tender pork, complimented by a tangy, but not overly sweet bbq sauce and slaw. Both a lack of significant smoke flavor and an absence of those wonderful crusty bits of exterior bark were it’s two downfalls. Anyone whose read my writing knows how passionate I am about my campaign against boring and tasteless “all white meat” barbecue. True southern ‘que is all about a contrast of textures and smoke flavor. The bacon-like crisp bits of exterior crust get the most wood smoke and seasoning. Combining that with the moist white meat from the interior provides a fuller barbecue-eating experience.
I hope to make a return visit to Pappy John’s BBQ, since I haven’t been inside to see the pit for myself. But when I drove by for some pictures, I did notice out back a huge barrel-shaped pit. Was it still in use? Or did it simply serve as a monument of years gone by, when old-fashioned pit smoke infused tender, succulent pork, kissed with a delectably tangy sauce?
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Here are a few notes about the ‘que:
- Shoulder-Was tender and moist. Unfortunately, it was an all white meat sandwich and therefore, lacked the flavorful, smoky bark.
- Shoulder-Was very mildly smoky.
Sauce-Was mostly tangy and slightly sweet.
Slaw-The finely chopped slaw complimented the pork sandwich.