Forget the fireworks. This month it's all about the smoke...as in the hickory smoke rising from your local barbecue joint. With outdoor eating at its height, here are nine area favorites you must try.
2450 15th Ave ' 423-826-1199
Sunday - Thursday, 11am - 9pm
Friday - Saturday, 11am - 10pm
The melt-in-your mouth meat at this East Ridge restaurant is so good, it hardly needs sauce. But just for good measure, Sugar's offers six house-made barbecue sauces ranging from a vinegary Carolina Red style to a thicker Tennessee Sweet & Goopy. Their Hot Lips concoction is one of the most unique hot sauces in the city, offering a slow and lingering burn from jalapenos, habaneros, garlic and onions roasted on the restaurant's wood-fired grill - an invention of owner Lawton Haygood.
The unique grill also helps create the restaurant's trademark ribs - the crunchy, charred exterior belying the tender inside, which takes little convincing to fall off the bone. After smoking, the ribs are wrapped in plastic to steam, then basted with barbecue sauce and finished on the grill. The other meat - pork, brisket, chicken and lamb - is served in chunks rather than shredded to retain moisture.
Known for "Q with a View," the atmosphere is as flavorful as the food. Inside, tables are draped with sparkly Naugahyde or red-and-white checked tablecloths, while outdoor picnic tables offer a view of the downtown horizon, Lookout Mountain and the restaurant's pet goats, also known as the grass-mowing team.
115A Browns Ferry Rd ' 423-821-2272
Tuesday - Saturday, 11:30am - 8pm
Owner George Foster's love affair with the open flame started at the tender age of 9, when he learned to make meals over the stone pit his grandfather built. Today his restaurant offers the closest thing to backyard barbecue, with everything cooked outside on custom-built smokers.
Tucked into a small plaza off Browns Ferry Road, you'd almost miss Hillbilly Willy's if not for the small Bar-B-Q sign. Once inside it seems like you've just stepped into a cabin, with small lanterns lining the beadboard walls and branches hanging from the ceiling, laced with lights and Spanish moss.
The meat is served with a thick and tangy sauce - either hot or mild - that's a cross between a Memphis and North Carolina style. The pork is pulled in thick ribbons to preserve moisture and flavor, and the ribs are dry rubbed and smoked until they're fall-off-the-bone good. House-made desserts and sides such as coleslaw, collards and fried okra are written on a white board and erased when out, with the Coca-Cola cake going particularly fast.
420 Broad St ' 423-265-7427
Open daily from 11am - 10pm
After 20 years in business and 16 locations, you know this has to be some finger-licking barbecue. The first Sticky Fingers opened in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., an idea cooked up by Jeff Goldstein and two friends from The Baylor School. Living in the land of palm trees and marshes, Goldstein missed the Memphis-style ribs from home, so he set up his own barbecue oasis.
Locals and tourists alike pack the dark wooden booths of Chattanooga's downtown location, the fourth to open. Menu must-tries are the pulled pork and smoked chicken wings, which are jumbo wings that are smoked then flash fried and served plain or tossed in your choice of Habanero Hot sauce, dry rub or their Carolina Classic sauce. The most popular plate is the slab of ribs, which are rubbed with a paprika-based spice mix and smoked over hickory.
To keep things appropriately messy, Sticky Fingers offers five house-made sauces. Memphis Original and Carolina Classic are the original two, with Tennessee Whiskey, Carolina Sweet and Habanero Hot added later. For those not fortunate to have a Sticky Fingers in their backyard, the restaurant sells its sauce in more than 5,000 grocery stores nationwide.
5936 Quintus Loop ' 423-894-7522
Monday through Friday, 10:30am - 6pm
Low and slow is the secret to great barbecue, and Choo Choo's proprietary cooking method is among the slowest, taking a whopping 24 hours. But patience pays off, recently winning it the popular vote at The Chattanooga Market's Beast Feast.
Owner Ryan Beagles, 26, mans the restaurant's custom-built smoker, which is 100 percent wood burning. He preps all of the butts with his special blend of spices, cooks them until the first fire burns out then wraps and returns them for overnight cooking at a low temperature. For sauce he makes his family's recipe - a light tomato and vinegar sauce that's sweet and tangy with a hint of hickory. Homemade sides such as potato salad and coleslaw accompany the pulled pork, ribs, brisket and chicken, ending the meal with banana pudding, brownies, lemon cake or peach cobbler - all homemade.
Located off Shallowford Road, Choo Choo is primarily take-out or delivery, offering walk-up window service. Four picnic tables under a canopy welcome those who want the true backyard experience. With several locations around town, the first Choo Choo was started by Beagles' uncle. Each location is independently owned, most by Beagles' family members.
2916 Chattanooga Valley Rd in Flintstone ' 706-820-3111
Open Monday - Friday, 11am - 8pm
Saturday 11am - 9pm, Closed Sunday
A relative newcomer to the barbecue scene, Cornerstone is already high on the hog after winning this year's Beast Feast at The Chattanooga Market. Originally opened with take-out in mind, the small brick building in Flintstone only offers four tables, but owners Kent and Penny Huff make the most of every square inch to keep their pork-hungry patrons happy.
While chicken, brisket and ribs are on the menu, Cornerstone's pulled pork reigns supreme. Creating this specialty is a lengthy process, starting with a signature rub of brown sugar and spices. The Boston butts then sit for several hours while the fire burns down to embers, mellowing the smoky flavor.
Cornerstone's smoker is commercial but "old school," using only a fire box and dampener to control the heat. After a minimum six hours smoking, the meat is finished in the oven to keep it moist. It's served with a tomato-based sweet and tangy sauce, which can be made spicy upon request with a tiny amount of ghost chilies - the world's hottest pepper. For those who like to go past flavor and straight to pain, Kent adds a dash of Dave's Insanity and Endorphin Rush hot sauce, which comes with its own warning label.
4001 St. Elmo Ave ' 423-822-6477
Monday - Friday, 11am - 8pm
Saturday noon - 4pm, Closed Sunday
Nestled at the foot of Lookout Mountain, The Purple Daisy Picnic Café is hard to miss thanks to a purple roof and a picture of a donkey holding a daisy in its mouth. Despite its unconventional appearance, most patrons are drawn by smell instead of sight, with the scent of hickory drifting from its outdoor smoker.
Located in the front corner of the property, owner Tony Davis keeps the fires burning almost every night, smoking Boston butts 14 hours for his popular pulled pork. No spices or rubs are used for flavor, just the hickory wood burned in his homemade smoker. As one of the few in town that doesn't have a thermometer, Davis employs an "eyeball" cooking method. The resulting pulled pork comes in many shapes and sizes, from a standard sandwich to a barbecue quesadilla or even the Sloppy Pig - a Sloppy Joe made with pulled pork and homemade sauce that's smoked several hours in a pan. Most are topped with Davis' tangy, house-made sauce, a cross between a North Carolina vinegar and Memphis tomato-based sauce.
While named Urbanspoon's No. 1 barbecue restaurant, people come for more than just 'Q. The Rainbow Sandwich is among the most popular, featuring a triple-layered crustless sandwich filled with pimento cheese, cucumber and chicken salad.
924 Signal Mountain Rd ' 423-267-0080
Open Monday - Saturday, 10am - 9pm
Sunday, 10am - 8pm
Housed in a converted gas station at the foot of Signal Mountain, Shuford's has been filling up its regulars since 1986. At a mere 500 square feet, the lunch rush can get a bit dicey, but owner Jeff Davis makes sure everyone has a full tank offering hand-pulled pork, ribs and a super secret house-made sauce. For the brave of tongue, he also offers an extra hot version, all made in small batches.
All of the pork, chicken, turkey and ribs are smoked without rub or sauce, allowing the hickory smoke to cure it for a rich, earthy flavor. With a gray, board-and-batten exterior and mismatched interior, it's no wonder Shuford's was awarded Turner South's Blue Ribbon for BBQ Hole in the Wall. Images of Bear Bryant and other Roll Tide paraphernalia wallpaper the wooden walls, mixed with a few signed famous faces such as Dennis Haskins.
The menu is a simple and classic homage to smoked meat, with Polish sausage and a chili dog the biggest departure from standard barbecue fare. While many barbecue places cater, Shuford's is one of the few to offer a whole smoked suckling pig to really take your cookout to the next level.
9012 East Brainerd Rd ' 423-894-2663
Open Monday - Thursday, 11am - 9pm
Friday and Saturday, 11am - 10pm
Opened in 1999 by Hennen brothers Tim and Johnny, Bones' Smokehouse does barbecue right, meaning it's cooked in a genuine pit and served in a log cabin-style dining room. A picture of a pig holding an X-ray of his rib cage is the beacon for this barbecue joint, located in a low-slung building off East Brainerd Road. Once inside, you're surrounded by that familiar smoky smell and warm wooden walls.
And while the St. Louis-style ribs, pulled pork, brisket and chicken are steeped in Southern tradition, Bones' steps out of the 'Q comfort zone with specials such as beef chimichangas, mojo pork tacos and smoked prime rib. The sauces are also traditional with a twist, offering familiar flavors with a thicker body. The mild and hot sauces are a cross between a Memphis and Kansas City style, the Carolina Vinegar has a touch of tomato, while the Sweet Mustard is a touch sweeter than traditional South Carolina style.
Specials aren't the only way Bones' breaks the barbecue mold, with main dishes such as smoked chicken pot pie, meatloaf and smoked chicken enchiladas sharing menu space with a rib platter, hand-pulled pork and sliced beef brisket. For dessert many opt for the most time-honored choice - scratch-made banana pudding.
1251 Market St ' 423-267-2726
Monday, 7 am - 2pm, Tuesday - Friday, 7am - 8pm
Closed Saturday and Sunday
Porker's hickory-smoked pork, chicken and brisket selections are better than tasty - they're downright presidential, served to President George W. Bush during his 2007 visit. Owner Beau Tucker dry rubs his pork and brisket with spices then smokes them slow and low for about 14 hours.
All meat is served dry with your choice of a smoky, tangy tomato-based sauce or house-made hot sauce. In addition to the typical pork/chicken/brisket trifecta, Porker's offers ribs, popcorn shrimp and specials such as smoked chicken wings and smoked turkey. It's also the only barbecue joint in town to offer breakfast. In addition to traditional breakfast fare, barbecue diehards can start their day right with "The Arnold," which is two scrambled eggs on a bed of pulled pork.
Porker's ambiance is more diner than smokehouse with black-and-white checked floor, Naugahyde booths and a marble-topped lunch counter. But the stuffed wild boar with Elvis-style sunglasses perched above the dining room assures you it's all about the pig at this corner barbecue joint. The menu names are equally cheeky, such as the Miss Piggy - choice of two meats, baked beans, slaw and fries - or the Male Chauvinist Pig - pulled pork, slaw and sauce on Texas toast.