When Texas native Brock Hyland was in his junior year at UA Fayetteville, he read a piece in an issue of Oxford American titled “In Through The Back Door” by John T. Edge, which explores barbecue culture and history through multiple visits to Jones Bar-B-Q Diner in Marianna (Lee County). The article was published more than a decade ago, before Jones Bar-B-Q was recognized by the James Beard foundation as an “American Classic,” and it identified the iconic business as being one of the oldest Black-owned restaurants in the South and perhaps the oldest in the country. Hyland, a self-proclaimed barbecue nerd, couldn’t believe he wasn’t aware of that history.
“What concerned me about it was, how had I lived here for so long and I’m just now hearing about this, you know?” Hyland said. “That got the wheels turning for me that something should be done to highlight that living history and kind of bring awareness to the barbecue culture that we have here.”
It’s a culture that’s somewhat understated. Jones Bar-B-Q has certainly received some much deserved national acclaim lately after a fire almost destroyed the restaurant in February of this year. More than $80,000 was raised by the public to help save the institution, and, just this month, it was among the 50 U.S. restaurants that made a New York Times best restaurants list. Collectively, however, Arkansas barbecue isn’t in the national discourse along the same lines as it is in neighboring Texas, Tennessee and Missouri.
Rex Nelson, one of Arkansas’s most recognizable foodies and author of “Southern Fried: Going Whole Hog in a State of Wonder,” attributes it to the varieties of barbecue that can be found in the state depending on which of its six bordering states you’re closest to.
“There’s not just one style of Arkansas barbecue,” Nelson said. “Writers from outside the state find the Arkansas barbecue culture too difficult to tackle. So they don’t. It would take too much work.”
“I think we don’t talk about it as much,” said Scott Moody, co-owner of PK Grills. “Texas is really noisy about it. We don’t talk about it, and maybe that’s even an interesting angle for us to say we’re just a little cooler about it, I don’t know. I do not think it’s a quality issue.”
Hyland’s idea fully materialized during the pandemic while he contemplated his final project, known as the Capstone, as a student at the UA Clinton School of Public Service. Aware of the economic hardships and public health challenges restaurants were facing during the pandemic, Hyland conceived the idea for the Arkansas Barbecue Trail: 40 of the best barbecue joints in the state divided amongst the six natural regions and Little Rock metro. The idea was inspired by Texas Monthly’s barbecue passports. Participants will be issued Arkansas Barbecue Trail passports and collect stamps from the restaurants they visit on the trail to compete for prizes from sponsor PK Grills. The great Arkansas barbecue quest is also sponsored by Saracen Casino.
Kevin Shalin, author of the popular Mighty Rib food blog, said that he considers barbecue one of the most subjective of all foods and one that people will travel great distances to experience.
“There’s not many other foods that inspire that kind of act where you’re like, ‘Alright I’m going to wake up at eight o’clock on a Saturday morning and my sole purpose is barbecue today.’ That barbecue has to be elite, which I call destination barbecue, and I don’t think we have many of those places, but they’re starting to pop up. I’ve driven to Fayetteville just for Wright’s Barbecue. It’s that good,” Shalin said.
Shalin said one of the biggest hurdles he’s seen covering food here for the last decade is getting people out of their food comfort zones.
“… Getting people to travel farther than 10 minutes from their house and feeling comfortable doing that and supporting places that they wouldn’t typically support … I really think that’s going to be the key to bettering our food community as a whole,” he said.
For Hyland, the idea has always been about economic and community development for family-owned barbecue joints.
“Bringing awareness and increasing tourism to those places would help in any situation, but I think that it will be particularly impactful as we move out of this pandemic,” he said. “People travel for food. When I go to a new city, my main focus is what’s good to eat there. And I don’t think Arkansas should be any different in that regard.”
The contest began Nov. 1 at 12:01 AM CST, so go ahead and hit the trail. The contest ends either on Oct. 31, 2022, 11:59 PM CST or when all available prizes for a particular challenge have been awarded, whichever happens first.
Pick up a copy of the Arkansas Times’ current issue to get your passport. Visit any (or all) of the 40 BBQ joints listed in the Arkansas Times Barbecue Passport and remember to get your stamp at each one. In addition to your BBQ Passport, you’ll need a valid photo ID to win. For full rules and details, visit the contest page on PK Grills’ website here.
The Arkansas Barbecue Trail:
Brother’s BBQ 301 Southridge Parkway, Heber Springs, 501-362-5712
Bubba’s Barbecue 166 W. Van Buren, Eureka Springs, 479-253-7706
Lucky Luke’s 220 Garland Ave #1, Fayetteville, 479-521-7550
Penguin Ed’s 230 S. E Ave, Fayetteville, 479 521-3663 / 2773 E. Mission Blvd., Fayetteville, 479-587-8646
Sugar Booger’s Barbecue 12191 AR-21, Huntsville, 479-665-2424
Wright’s Barbecue 2212 Main Drive, Fayetteville, 479-313-8618/ 208 NE. 3rd St., Bentonville, 479-367-2619
Reid’s Hometown Barbecue 42 W. Main St., Booneville, 479-675-2159
KnightFire BBQ 308 W. Race Ave., Searcy, 501-322-9971
Neumeier’s Rib Room 424 Garrison Ave., Fort Smith, 479-494-7427
Ridgewood Brothers BBQ 2611 W. Main St., Russellville, 479-886-4386
Rivertowne BBQ 205 S. 3rd St., Ozark, 479-667-1808
Subtle’s Roadhog BBQ 2008 W. Dewitt Henry Drive, Beebe, 501-882-1034
Little Rock Metro
Count Porkula at The Rail Yard 1212 E 6th St, Little Rock, 501 804-9561
H.B.’s Barbecue 6010 Lancaster Road, Little Rock, 501-565-1930
Lindsey’s Hospitality House 207 Curtis Sykes Drive, North Little Rock, 501-374-5707
Pig ’N-Chik BBQ 7824 Highway 107, Sherwood, 501-834-5456
Sims Bar-B-Q 2415 Broadway St., Little Rock, 501-372-6868 / 1307 John Barrow Road, Little Rock, 501-224-2057
Smokin’ Buns 25401 AR-107, Jacksonville, 501-988-2867
Terri Lynn’s BBQ and Delicatessen 10102 N. Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock, 501-227-6371
Whole Hog Cafe North Little Rock 4333 Warden Road, 501-753-9227
McClard’s Bar-B-Q 505 Albert Pike Road, Hot Springs, 501-623-9665
Smokin’ in Style BBQ 2278 Albert Pike Road, Hot Springs, 501-767-9797
Stubby’s Bar-B-Q 3024 Central Ave, Hot Springs, 501-624-1552
Allen’s BBQ Company 3100 Hollywood Road, Arkadelphia, 870-403-0331
Backyard Barbeque Company 1407 E. Main St., Magnolia, 870-234-7890
Burge’s Hickory Smoked Turkeys and Hams 526 Spruce St., Lewisville, 870-921-4292
JJ’s BBQ 1000 E. Main St., El Dorado, 870-862-1777
Craig’s Bar-B-Q 15 Walnut, De Valls Bluff, 870-998-2616
Cypress Corner Bar-B-Q 298 AR-1, Lexa, 870-295-6546
Hoot’s BBQ & Steaks 2008 US-65, McGehee, 870-222-1234
Jones Bar-B-Q Diner 219 W. Louisiana St., Marianna, 870-295-3807
Kibb’s Bar-B-Q 1102 E. Harrison St., Stuttgart, 870-673-2072
The Wood Shed BBQ & Catering 9621 Hwy. 270, White Hall, 870-247-7424
Burt’s BBQ 285 SFC 843, Palestine, 870-261-2498
Delta Q 112 N. Washington St., Forrest City, 870-633-1234
DePriest BBQ 1107 N. Main St., Brinkley, 870-734-9965
Dixie Pig 701 N. 6th St., Blytheville, 870-763-4636
Kream Kastle 112 N. Division St., Blytheville, 870-762-2366
Lackey’s Smoke House 601 Malcom Ave., Newport, 870-217-0228
Ray’s Rump Shack 918 AR-18, Lake City, 870-616-0989