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Interesting BBQ place

CarbonizerCarbonizer Posts: 188
edited 5:47PM in EggHead Forum
Found this while searching for things to do around Bristol,Tn this weekend when not at the racetrack.
I already know about the Mouse's Ear!!
Ham for BBQ sand, not shoulder--
Hope I have time to try it.

Ridgewood: A barbecue icon
By Fred Sauceman

Lisa Peters and her father, Larry Proffitt, have committed the supersecret Ridgewood Barbecue recipe to memory. Photo by Larry Smith

This pharmacist’s prescription for well-being calls for fire, smoke and spice. Larry Proffitt leads a dual life. He dispenses medications and advice to the citizens of Elizabethton, Tennessee, at Burgie Drugs while keeping the hickory fires going over in the next county at Ridgewood Barbecue, a business his parents, Grace and Jim Proffitt, began in 1948.

A good memory is one element that links Larry’s two careers. Going through pharmacy school at the University of Tennessee in Memphis, Larry memorized massive amounts of information in biochemistry and organic medicinal chemistry courses. Stored within that memory today are the unwritten directions for Ridgewood’s mountain-style, tomato-based barbecue sauce.

With the death of Larry’s brother Terry in June of 2002, and their mother, Grace, less than a year later, now only Larry and his daughter Lisa, a registered nurse, know the recipe.

“We came over to the restaurant one Sunday afternoon, when everything was closed, and I wrote the procedure and ingredients down for her,” Larry recalls. “She said, ‘Do you really remember the recipe?’ I said, ‘Do you remember your Social Security number?’ I’ve known this recipe since I was 16. It’s been in my head, and now it’s going to be in your head.”

In the quiet of the empty restaurant, Larry took his daughter through the steps to make 30 gallons of the sweet and sour barbecue sauce and then went outside to retrieve a pack of matches. He took the written recipe to the sink, turned on the water, burned the paper, and washed the ashes down the drain.



Location: 900 Elizabethton Highway (old 19E), Bluff City, Tennessee

Hours: Open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Closed, as Larry Proffitt says, “on the Lord’s Day.”

Sample prices: Barbecue pork or beef sandwich, $3.85; barbecue pork or beef platter, with homemade fries, homemade slaw, rolls, and butter, $11.69; Mrs. Proffitt’s barbecue beans, $1.85; French fries, made daily from fresh potatoes, $2.15; ice tea, $1.10

Phone: (423) 538-7543

Miscellany: Cash, checks, MasterCard, Visa accepted.

Writer’s note: The Ridgewood has an extensive menu, with chicken, country ham, shrimp, oysters, catfish and hamburgers, but never, in my many trips there, have I been able to pull myself away from pork barbecue.

“There goes the recipe,” he said. “I hope it’s in your head, because it’s only in mine and yours now.”

There it will reside until the next generation, when Lisa and Mark Peters’ twin son and daughter witness the same ritual and commit the nearly two dozen ingredients and their measurements to memory.

Barbecue houses throughout the South are converting to gas or electricity at a disturbing rate, and even some of those that are staying with smoldering hardwoods are adulterating hickory with oak. Ridgewood’s pitmaster of 30 years, Lewis Malone, bucks those trends. All the restaurant’s hickory logs are harvested within a few miles of Bullock’s Hollow, and the Proffitt farm, which has been in the family since 1856, is covered with towering hickory trees of varying ages. The restaurant itself is constructed from hickory planks off that farm.

Ridgewood’s barbecue pit, like the restaurant, backs up to a heavily wooded, steeply inclined hill along a gently curving two-lane road where ivy-wrapped tulip poplar trees scatter shade across the hollow. The construction of the pit is a closely guarded, proprietary secret, and the door to the house that encloses it is permanently padlocked. Jim Proffitt burned down several pits over the years before settling on his final design of fire bricks and stainless steel. Even with that configuration, the entire structure, wooden beams, chain link gates, blackened screen wire and all, must be rebuilt periodically because of the intense heat.

Ridgewood is one of the few barbecue restaurants in the South that does not serve pork shoulder. For over three decades, the only cut of pork the Proffitts have smoked is fresh ham.

“Any country boy knows the difference,” says Larry. “In the country, we turn the shoulders into sausage. Shoulder has a different taste. It’s like the difference between breast meat on a turkey and thigh meat from the legs. The shoulder and the ham taste different. The ham is far superior, and it costs more.”

Trucked down the highway from Bristol, the hams come boned and rolled in cotton netting, about 120 of them a week. They’re smoked for about nine hours, then rubbed with a spice blend and chilled in a cooler. The next morning, the darkened hams are sliced, revealing meat almost white. Seconds before troweling massive piles onto platters or sandwiches, cooks reheat the meat on a grill and sauce it. Chopped, pulled, or minced are not options — only sliced.

Meat isn’t apportioned with a kitchen scale. Cooks just know how much to reach for.

“I’m sure we’re not making any money on some of the sandwiches, because those ladies get heavy hands,” says Larry. “When I eat out, I don’t care what somebody charges me as long as they give me something good and give me enough of it.”

Still, Ridgewood’s barbecue pork sandwiches, dressed with a cool, crunchy, minced layer of coleslaw, ring up at only $3.85, less than what some of the gas and electricity converts are charging.

The beverage of choice at Ridgewood is Southern sweet tea, the strongest drink in the house.

“This used to be a beer joint when it first opened,” Larry recalls. “There were beer joints everywhere up and down the road. In 1952, Sullivan County went dry, and our other owners bailed out. One went to work for Ford in Detroit, the other for Bemberg, where they made rayon yarn over in Elizabethton.”

In the early days, every year, Grace and Jim Proffitt borrowed the money to take their family on a vacation. In Daytona Beach, Florida, they saw people smoking chickens and came up with the idea to start serving barbecue back at home in the hills. For awhile, they barely survived. Couldn’t buy a car until 1950. Jim kept his job at Bemberg while Grace ran the restaurant because, she said, “I’ve got two boys to put through college.”

Grace grew up in Easley, South Carolina, and had met Jim in Johnson City, Tennessee, where her father ran a rock quarry.

“Mother had patience,” says Larry. “She was determined to succeed and wouldn’t give up.”

Even with the coming of the new four-lane that wrapped around Bullock’s Hollow a mile and a half away, Grace never panicked.

“Everyone told her we’d go broke since the road had passed us by,” says Larry. “My mother said ‘We’ll make it. We don’t owe nothing.’”

Temporarily, back in 1987, it looked as though those predictions would come true. Business dropped off sharply the first year after the new four-lane was finished. But Grace kept the faith and the fires. She’d saved enough money to get the family through, and the business recovered. In fact, the new road provided better access, even without a Ridgewood sign on the highway.

“Stay with the pig until he makes a hog,” Grace Proffitt always said. This determined pioneer philosophy is as fundamental as the fire and smoke that have mingled with the Tennessee mountain air at one of the nation’s most heralded barbecue restaurants for over half a century.


Food writer Fred Sauceman, the author of “Home and Away: A University Brings Food to the Table,” is the executive assistant to the president for university relations at East Tennessee State University. E-mail him at


  • Misippi EggerMisippi Egger Posts: 5,095
    Enjoy the race!

    My daughter is heading up there on Friday. She has a friend who lives there and she also has season tickets!
  • I visited Ridgewood a couple of year ago. It is a little off the beaten path and once you find it there is usually a wait of an hour to an hour and a half. Stick with what you produce on the egg. Wife and I were not too impressed with the offerings from Ridgewood. Fire up your egg the Q will be better.
    Aiken, SC. and
    Fancy Gap, Va.
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