I have spent the better part of my life in South Carolina, and I am a Carolinian through-and-through. I love mustard-yellow barbecue sauce and hash over rice. Hash over rice, in fact, may well be the best barbecue side dish ever concocted. But when it comes to barbecue sandwiches, I have to say that the state of Tennessee has us licked hands down.
This was driven home to me when I stopped off at an unassuming little barbecue place on the side of the highway in Sweetwater, Tennessee, on the drive back from my visit to Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams. Bradley's Pit B-B-Q and Grill doesn't have much character, but the waitresses were very friendly and, man, did they ever serve a good barbecue sandwich.
As I was writing my recent re-evaluation of Charleston's Home Team BBQ, I kept thinking about the sandwich I'd had that afternoon from Bradley's, and the more I thought about it the more I realized that it was a near-perfect sandwich. And, when I dug through my digital camera and came up with the picture I had snapped, I knew that it was true.
The sandwich from Bradley's wasn't large--just a regular sized hamburger bun with a modest amount of meat. But, the bun was toasted with a good soaking of butter so the edges were crispy and brown. The meat was smoky and delicious, with lots of little crispy burnt-end bits to add texture, and it was chopped just right--not too fine so that it lost all its consistency (like Eastern North Carolina barbecue often does), but not as ropy and chewy as pulled pork, either. The coleslaw was just right, too, adding just enough crunch to round out the experience.
And, since it was small and compact, you could eat the sandwich one-handed while driving down a Tennessee mountain highway without totally staining your pants legs.
Like a great cheeseburger, a great barbecue sandwich is an exercise in balance, with just the right ratio of meat to sauce to bun. And the boys in Tennessee seem to have mastered the art.