Other than SEC football, the folks I know brag about BBQ more than they brag on their kids. It’s the one food that is found in the south with a serious love affair that borders on insane. Bragging can turn into fighting if you happen to say the wrong thing about somebody’s BBQ. Our people have their opinions and loyalties to food.

I grew up on Open Air BBQ on Highway 42 outside of Jackson. I loved the screened porch and the creak of the screened door with the Colonial Bread push plate on the front. The fire was warm. The food was good.

Or, we’d drive up to Dean’s BBQ in Jonesboro. A tiny little wood frame shack painted white. I don’t recall there being any place to sit much, but the yard was full of cars with folks passing the sauce from the front seat to the back.

Melear’s on GA 85 in Fayetteville was famous. I’ve got a friend that lives in Fayetteville and he is offended if you even mention another BBQ place. But I know for a fact that he will eat BBQ anywhere, anytime when he’s not in town. If I’m traveling, and I want BBQ, I call him. I can be in Blue Ridge, or Augusta, or Cordele, and he knows a place where I should eat.

Right after we got married, we lived in upper east Tennessee for a couple years. Our priorities were to find a place to rent and a place to eat BBQ. The locals sent us to Ridgewood BBQ on the Elizabethan Highway right out of Bluff City. This was 1978 and the restaurant looked like we stepped back into the 50s. But, son, they had some fine BBQ.

I mean no disrespect, but the women behind the counter had arms bigger than my thighs. And they needed them to lift the sandwiches they carried to the tables. They like cold slaw on the sandwich at Ridgewood. It took me a couple trips to remember to ask for the slaw on the side. They even made an appearance on one of those food network shows one time a few years back.

About 15 years ago I was working a trade show in Greensboro, NC. The word was that if you were this close to Lexington, NC, you had to go eat BBQ. I didn’t join the excursion, but my buddy from Fayetteville did. As much as he loves Melear’s, he claims that there is no better BBQ anywhere on earth than in Lexington. So, they set out.

It was over an hour’s drive. But this is BBQ we’re talking about. World famous BBQ. What’s a little drive if you get the chance to sample the best. The tourism office for Lexington even offers a BBQ tour. No kidding.

It was January. Dark. And they had no clue where they were going. They stopped at a gas station in the edge of town.

“Which way to go eat BBQ in Lexington?”

“Which one?”

“Is there more than one?”

“There’s BBQ on every corner around here.”

“Well, which one’s the best?”

“Okay. You go down the road just a bit to the town square. You’re gonna want to turn left. But don’t. Go right. Then when you get to the Baptist Church, you’re gonna want to turn right. But don’t. Go left. You’ll pass by a place with a big pig out front. But don’t stop there. Keep going. It’ll be about three lights down on the left. You can’t miss it.”

Folks from places like Kansas and Texas say things like, “We know BBQ.” Like that’s supposed to trump anybody in the BBQ universe. They hang blue ribbons on the wall for “The Best BBQ in the World.” Which is a made up trophy for folks who just think they know BBQ.

Little old Pine Mountain has three BBQ places all by itself. Three Little Pigs. The Whistling Pig. And, LJ’s Smokehouse. I have consumed large portions from all three. I have nothing but respect for all of them. Even Billy’s Supermarket has a smoker out front that produces some fine butts and ribs.

Every Joe thinks he is the BBQ King around here. You have achieved manhood when you own four things. A house. A truck. Enough hunting and fishing gear to stock a Bass Pro Shop. And a smoker for cooking up the BBQ.

BBQ shows up at football games, weddings and funerals, church diners, birthday parties, and almost any weekend cookout. And let me say this. BBQing on the grill does not include hot dogs and hamburgers. The easiest way to lose friends is to invite them to a backyard BBQ and have them show up for tube steaks and burgers. If you’re going to call it a BBQ, there had better be butts and ribs on the plate.

The sauce can be hot enough to melt your eyelids. It can have enough vinegar to draw your ears inside out. Or can be sweet enough to make you want to slap your Mama. But the meat had better be smoked and the ribs falling off the bone. That’s how it’s done.

I hope they have BBQ in heaven. If I had a say, they would.