According to a recent ranking by the travel site TripAdvisor.com, Georgia tops the list of states in the U.S. with the best barbecue.
I love my home state, and not to doubt Trip Advisor’s veracity, but any list that features California among the top 10 for barbecue is a little questionable in my book. And is Florida BBQ even a thing? (I would really like to know!)
Some – including a blogger from Georgia – are also bringing up the fact that the rankings were based on reviews and opinions of site users, without anyone from Trip Advisor actually visiting the restaurants themselves.
I totally agree – if you really want to know who has the best barbecue, the proof’s in the eating. If you saw me, you might doubt this, but this girl can eat and she knows her Georgia barbecue. Here in town, Edmunds (best hash in my opinion) and Sconyers top my list, but I took a drive across the state line recently to sample a little ’cue from neighboring North Augusta.
Tucked off of Atomic Road, the BBQ Barn (the restaurant really does look like a little one-story dusty red barn) is just steps from hustling and bustling Martintown Road, but with the dirt parking lot and an adjacent field, you could be miles away.
The restaurant’s interior has a clean, bright log-cabin feel, with exposed-wood walls hung with colorful old-fashioned advertising signs, photos, farm implements and more. The family-owned restaurant opened on April 20, 2006, featuring hickory-smoked barbecue that it says is “carefully prepared to suite (sic) the taste of residents of both Georgia and South Carolina.” BBQ, chicken breast, pork loin and turkey breast are available in sandwiches as well as on plates, with the usual side options: hash and rice, slaw, baked or green beans, mac and cheese, collards and fries. Kids meals (nuggets and corn dogs) are available, and the restaurant also posts specials such as fried chicken that are available.
As we stepped up to the counter to place our order, I couldn’t help but notice the array of homemade cakes available too, from coconut and chocolate to neapolitan and strawberry shortcake. So we added a slice of peanut butter cake to our order, along with a large barbecue plate with potato salad and hash and rice for me and a large rib plate with the same for Sean.
We grabbed the high-top table (business that Saturday was brisk, but it was mostly to-go; seating wise, the restaurant has only a few tables), and I love that the high-top has ornate carved lions’ feet as its base.
Our orders were ready quickly, and when our name was called, Sean got the tray and brought it back. The first bite of barbecue – no sauce – was super moist and tender and deeply flavorful and even slightly sweet. In a word – awesome. Really really good barbecue. I tried the sauces on the table with it: The Georgia Red is a tomato-based sauce with a hit of vinegar and pepper flakes (there’s a hot and mild version), and the Carolina Gold is mustard-based, but thick almost like a honey mustard, and quite tangy. But honestly, the meat doesn’t need any sauce – it’s got enough flavor and moisture to hold its own.
Sean took a bite of his ribs and said, “That’s the way ribs are supposed to be.” Crusty with a good rub, the ribs are technically “dry” ribs in that they aren’t dripping with sauce, but like the barbecue, they were wonderfully moist. The exterior was slightly chewy but the inside meat? Melted in your mouth.
The potato salad must have been freshly made that morning since it was still a little warm. It was a bit like a cross between potato salad and mashed potatoes, a little creamier than I’m used to, with pickles, eggs, mayo and mustard. (I took about half my plate home and I will say the flavor improved after it had chilled in my fridge.)
I have to say that I’m still loyal to my Edmunds hash. The BBQ Barn’s version is good, with a loose broth, but I didn’t think it was as flavorful as other hashes – more smoke and not much else.
Each plate came topped with bullet-shaped hush puppies, which were a nice balance of sweet and savory, with a crispy and slightly greasy exterior.
But the sweetest finish came when we took a bite of our dessert – no doubt at all that this was homemade in the very best sense of the word. The yellow sheet cake had a hint of peanut butter flavor and was moist and dense, with that sweet, brown exterior that comes when it’s a corner piece. The cake itself was topped with a full quarter-inch of shiny peanut butter icing – rich, creamy and sweet, but a true sweetness that comes from good ingredients like butter and confectioner’s sugar and creamy peanut butter.
Though rankings are be subjective, I can tell you this: I love my Georgia barbecue, but this South Carolina version does what it says, aiming to please diners across state lines.