For people who love old, old barbecue restaurants, middle Georgia is a must-visit. Around the Macon area, some of the oldest in the state are doing business. In the Atlanta area, I believe that our oldest that are still in business date back to the 1960s, but almost* all the really old-timers are in the middle of the state. There’s Fresh Air, of course, which is a little north of here, and Fincher’s, and the White Diamond in Bonaire, and the first of the barbecue places that I visited on this trip, Tucker’s, which opened as a carhop drive-in back in 1947.
Tommy Tucker’s father opened the place, and heaven knows how Tommy is still keeping the doors open today. The stretch of Broadway that runs south of downtown Macon is one of the most desolate stretches of city land that I’ve ever driven down. There’s a big plant that makes tile a little up the road, but otherwise almost every single facility on this road, for miles, closed years ago. Tucker’s draws its guests in from that one plant and some very loyal older folks who still love the place, but there is simply nothing in the way of business here to bring in fresh, new crowds for lunch.
I won’t pretend that I was all that pleased with my own meal. In middle Georgia, the principal tradition is to keep the meat marinating in the sauce. There are some out-of-town chains that also do it the same way they do it at all their other locations, but everybody else in Bibb, Houston, and the surrounding counties is following in Fincher’s footsteps, for better or for worse. The effect is a little difficult to describe, but it’s not unlike the midlands South Carolina tradition of cooking in a mustard sauce. However, a typical middle Georgia sauce tends to have more vinegar and a little tomato in the mix. It is controversial among barbecue hobbyists, to say the least. My friend Mike, who writes Sweet Tea & Bourbon, can’t stand the way they do it here.
In grocery stores around Macon, there’s a very popular bottled sauce called Mrs. Griffin’s that is probably the closest thing that anybody can purchase to try at home. Georgia has four distinct mustard sauces: the Macon/Fincher’s style that we’re talking about here, the Savannah/Statesboro style, the orange Smokey Pig/Columbus style, and the lava-hot Chicken Comer/west Atlanta style. I like to remember this whenever some bozo from South Carolina brags that they have four – four! – different sauces in the Palmetto State. Fool, we’ve got four different mustard sauces alone in Georgia.
But honestly, any meal of barbecue at a middle Georgia place is going to be a crap shoot, and the stakes are a little higher. After all, if you smoke your pork and serve it dry, then a really good sauce has the potential to elevate a subpar or bland sandwich. If you read on, you’ll see exactly that happen a few stops down the road. But if the pork is already marinated in the sauce and you don’t enjoy it, nothing can be done. Consequently, while I’ve had some really good barbecue around Macon over the years, pretty much all the Georgia barbecue that I just plain have not liked is also from this area. Some places in the region where I’ve really enjoyed the pork and sauce include Fincher’s and Grillmaster. Some places where I have not include A.B.’s and the White Diamond.
As for Tucker’s, I did not enjoy it, and nothing could be done.
*Some other really old ones in Georgia: Johnny Harris in Savannah (1924), Vandy’s in Statesboro (1929) and Sprayberry’s in Newnan (1926).
Are you planning a barbecue road trip? You can see all the barbecue restaurants that we have visited for our blog (more than 370 !) on this map, with links back to the original blog posts!