The Best BBQ

Special Reports

As Alabamians, you have to pick. You have to have a favorite. No, not your favorite football team. Whether it’s traditional BBQ, chicken, ribs, or sausage, there are tons of places you can get delicious BBQ in Central Alabama. But we listened to you. We wanted to know your favorites. So we hit the road to find out who has the best BBQ in the area. Our first stop, Maplesville and Heard’s BBQ.

Roman Heard has owned Heard’s BBQ for almost three years now. He says, “This is my office. Some people have a cubicle, I’ve got a pit.” They started out just cooking for family and friends and basically giving the food away, just because he loved to cook so much. Now they have a menu of all the favorites, traditional BBQ pork, sausage, brisket, ribs and all the sides, including potato salad and baked beans. 

Heard had to walk away from his job as a food distributor to take a chance on opening a restaurant, a chance he took with the blessing of his wife Shakira.

He says, “The job that I had, I would cook at night and take food for everybody’s lunch break. The CEO of the company came to me and was like, ‘Look, I know this a dream of yours.’ So he kind of gave me the green light to say if you want to go try this, go ahead and do it, and your job will be safe when you come back.”

This isn’t the first time Heard tried his hand at the restaurant business. Several years ago, he sold his house and his truck to finance a restaurant that ended up closing. But he said God told him to give it another shot, focusing more on the food and not on the money that could come with success.

Heard says, “The process that goes into it is time-consuming, but then the reward comes when you see someone sit down and actually enjoy. Or the biggest compliment that I get is someone telling me that’s the best thing they’ve ever ate in their life.”

We go from Heard’s BBQ in Chilton County up I-65 to Johnny’s BBQ, a staple in Cullman. Josh and Gary Wiggins are the second and third-generation owners and operators of a place that has some rich history.

Gary Wiggins says, “We trace it all the way back to 1949, and Johnny Graves was the original owner. My dad purchased it in 1963 from him, and we’ve owned it ever since. So what is that, 56 years, family-owned and operated.”

Nate is in heaven 🙌

That family atmosphere is one of the reasons they say, Johnny’s stands out from the rest. With an extensive menu that features traditional BBQ and ribs to more contemporary choices like BBQ chicken nachos, the Wiggins family says there’s one big reason behind their success.

Gary Wiggins says, “I think the key to it is the sauce. And when dad bought the restaurant he had to buy the recipe for the sauce. Everybody makes a different type of sauce, but when you’ve grown up on something, you want to come back to it.”

We visited Johnny’s on a Friday, and it was quickly packed right after the doors open. Josh Wiggins says, “Everybody in Cullman usually has their Johnny’s Day. Pretty much you can count on them every week.”

We end our BBQ road trip in Bessemer at the historic Bob Sykes. Van Sykes runs the restaurant that his parents Bob and Maxine started in the 50s. The restaurant hasn’t changed much since those days, especially the food.

Van Skyes says, “It’s just very old school. Nothing has really changed here. This family has had a pit of BBQ ready to sell, Monday through Saturday for 62 years, without missing a day. 

Bob Sykes is famous for its BBQ sandwich, which combines juicy pork, dill pickles and a sauce that ties everything together.

Van Sykes says, “My daddy is smiling right now. Because here’s what he said. I don’t want that sauce to cover up all the work I’ve been doing on the grill. So what you just said right there is really magic to me because that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Van is passionate about the BBQ that comes off his pit. It’s not just food for him and his crew, it’s an art. “What this really becomes is the art of fire, the art of smoke, and the art of heat.”

Bob Sykes’ menu has all the BBQ fixings you could want, including smoked then flash-fried chicken wings, perfect for a tailgate or football party at home, and meaty ribs with that perfect smoke ring. But don’t fill up on BBQ alone because their home-made desserts are the best way to end the meal.

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