Mike Ford can only fit 20 patrons at a time in his little log cabin restaurant in the middle of the parking lot at the Ridgewood Village shopping plaza in East Ridge.
But the Hickory Pit Bar-B-Que Ford and his wife, Betty, operate on Ringgold Road was rated Friday as one of the best barbecue restaurants in America by TripAdvisor, the world's largest online travel site.
According to customer ratings compiled by Trip-Advisor, Hickory Pit Bar-B-Que is the fifth best barbecue restaurant in the United States.
Memphis may be famous for its barbecue, but Ford's eatery in East Ridge was the only barbecue restaurant in Tennessee to make the top 10 list compiled by TripAdvisor.
"It's exciting, but it's only making us a lot busier today," the 63-year-old Ford said Friday night as he and his family scrambled to serve a line of customers.
The East Ridge restaurant has only five tables so about half of the barbecue sold at the Hickory Pit is take out. For the first 18 years Ford was cooking barbecue pork, beef and chicken, he operated out of a trailer across from the then Bi-Lo warehouse on Shallowford Road. He moved to East Ridge in 2002 when the small log cabin building became available.
TripAdvisor says the best-rated restaurants for barbecue are those that serve low-and-slow cooked meats, whether they are sweet or saucy. Ford says he cooks his pork for about 14 hours and his ribs for five or six hours.
"We cook with real hickory wood at low temperatures and long times to get the best flavor in the meat," Ford said.
He and his wife also prepare their own tomato-based sauce "which is not too hot or not too mild.
"We don't offer a lot of sauces," Ford said. "If you don't like what we have, then you're in trouble."
But most patrons give high marks for the sauce and other foods at Hickory Pit with 78 percent rating the restaurant as excellent and more than 15 percent rating it as "very good."
A TripAdvisor reviewer of the Hickory Pitt said the restaurant offered "excellent food, great service, friendly people and good prices. Feels like home."
TripAdvisor said most of the best states for barbecue are in the South. Based upon its customer reviews, TripAdvisor ranked Georgia No. 1 for barbecue, noting the state has more than 500 "smokin' spots." The other top states for barbecue, in order, are North Carolina, Texas, Missouri and Tennessee.
Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfree press.com or at 757-6340.