Monday, June 6, 2011

Thomas Pit Bar-B-Q

Quest Log No10 –Thomas Pit Bar-B-Q
Hwy 72 W, Madison, Madison County

It ain’t gonna get more authentic than this.
Thomas Pit Bar-B-Q on Highway 72 in Madison, Alabama, is the real deal. They are at the same place since 1932, when Madison was just a sparsely populated railroad stop, and not home to the largest population of engineers per square mile, as it is today.

The outside of the building certainly looks like from a distant era, and the inside is also not the most modern one could imagine. No flat screen TV’s on the walls, an old chewing gum machine at the counter, the occasional dead spider in a window corner, and the dust of eight decades on the wall decorations – very authentic and old school.
When I am there, and I go there often, sometimes a thought crosses my mind – was Wernher von Braun, the engineering genius behind the Saturn V Moon Rocket that was designed and tested in Huntsville in the 1960s, a BBQ fan? And if so, he surely must have come here. Often.
Because, besides the authentic atmosphere there, he would have gotten the best BBQ in Northern Alabama- as I do nowadays, every time I come here. And I come here often, and not only because it is right around the corner from where I live.

The pork plate at Thomas Pit Bar-B-Q is actually what first got me hooked on BBQ way back in the day. Since then, I’ve tried many different BBQ places, but although a few come close, the unique mixture of authentic atmosphere, authentic food and authentic history is hard to surpass.
This place just has charm – you cannot pay with plastic money there, only cash is accepted. On Saturday nights, the line at the drive through window runs into the next county, and when your order is ready they will shout out the number on your ticket, and you better hurry to fetch your food, or the next shout will be louder and a bit more harsh and impatient.

And really, there is absolutely no excuse to let that delicious food sit on the counter even a second longer than necessary. I always get the large pork plate, with slaw, potato salad and lemonade.
The meat is smoked in a dedicated building adjacent to the restaurant, and it provides half of Madison with this unbelievable aroma each day – except Sundays, when they are closed like every authentic BBQ place here in the Bible Belt.

The pulled pork is juicy and tender, wonderfully flavored and just perfect in every regard. Yes, perfect. I dare to proclaim that publicly, and I stand by it.
The potato salad is very unique, since the potatoes are not sliced, but diced real fine, so it resembles the slaw which is also diced in the same manner. The taste is a bit on the sour side, but not in an overwhelming manner. That is also true for the slaw, which is of the vinegary kind, as opposed to this strange variety you sometimes find that is drenched in mayonnaise. Again, this is just very authentic and old school.
As for the sauce, they have an original hot sauce that has a vinegar base, and which is very peppery and very spicy indeed, and an original white sauce – which you only get if you ask real nice at the counter. And there is the ubiquitous Ketchup bottle at every table.
Yes, I know. That certainly looses them some serious style points with us purists. But to be quite frank here, although I usually sneer at Ketchup in favor of the original sauces, in this case a mixture of the hot sauce with the Ketchup will work miracles. With those two ingredients, after some experimentation, one can achieve the perfect blend of spiciness, sweetness and tanginess.

The large pork plate also comes with two slices of toast and two cups of country crème, and that is truly a lot of food you get for exactly ten bucks.
The meal is served on those inevitable foam plates, with plastic silverware and a single-use plastic cup for the drink. Well, this is certainly not quite authentic and kind of on the cheap, but at least you can leave all the stuff on the table after your are finished – they have a dedicated cleaner who takes care of that.
But there is one major flaw I have to complain about - they don’t serve Hush Puppies. Given their track record with anything else, those puppies would probably be to die for, if they decided to put them on the menu. But maybe it’s a good thing that they don’t have them – it would be too much to ask of me not to go there every day. And so, I only go often.


  1. I don't get it. Their bbq is very mediocre and their chicken, although very well smoked is also very very dry. I have tried to like the food, but I won't go back.

  2. Not sure if anyone still runs this page, but Thomas Pit has been purchased by a chain BBQ place from TN that plans to demolish Thomas Pit and build one of it's chains in it's place. A Facebook group has been started to fight this plan. "Save Thomas Pit BBQ" If you still run this blog, please promote!! THANKS!

  3. I have to add my voice to the "don't get it" faction. I went to Thomas Pit BBQ twice, the second time several years after the first, with New Jersey guests in tow in an effort to provide them with real authentic Southern BBQ. I had to apologize... It was unacceptable. We got pulled pork that was literally floating in salty water. On no planet in the civilized galaxy is that permissible. And at that moment I recalled being less than impressed the first time, but sure that I must have just remembered it wrongly, I persevered. "How can that long line of cars every day be wrong?" I asked. Well, for starters, no one in the Tennessee Valley knows what real BBQ is to begin with. Pulled pork is the answer. And while pulled pork can be interesting, even good, it is the weak, invalid sister to the real thing. These folks around here start by throwing away all the bark on the meat. Cypher that, if you will. So, anyway, its no wonder that crummy BBQ can be praised and religiously followed when folks have never had the real thing. Where I was raised no BBQ restaurant would even serve pulled pork. Its just not done. BBQ is sliced or chopped and its qualities of slow cooking and smoking are evident. From my knothole, the new Rick's that replaced Thomas Pit BBQ, while not any better than the vast array of similar establishments in this region, is an improvement.