I’ve read many reports that this two-store chain serves up some of the best barbecue around Knox County, and have had it on my to-do list for years. With a last-minute change of plans affecting our trip, we pulled into their original location to see what the fuss was about.
Here’s a curious bit about our east Tennessee trip: this was the first one we’ve taken in years that did not include a single barbecue place on the itinerary. I had felt like taking a break and doing some other things this time out, but the bad luck of the road meant that we did have some barbecue after all. Earlier, the closure of Pennington Gap’s Patio Drive-In sent us to Countryboy Cafe to try their chopped pork. In Knoxville, we had been looking forward to visiting the S & S Cafeteria, one of the last locations of this very old chain, but the darn place actually closes for three hours in the middle of the day. We pulled into the parking lot literally one minute after they shut down their lunch service.
So we needed something else to eat, and Dead End was not far away at all. It took us less than ten minutes to locate it and park, and we settled in for some pretty good barbecue.
George Ewart and Robert Nutt own this fun restaurant, which is an old gas station converted to seat nearly 200 guests. Ewart’s story is that sixteen years ago, he and some friends started throwing parties at the back of their dead end street and inviting all the neighbors for barbecue. The feedback led them to form a competition team called the Dead End Society in 2002, and they spent the next six years smoking butt and taking names. In October 2008, they represented Tennessee at one of the biggest shows, the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational in Lynchburg, and figured it was time to open a brick and mortar store. Within a couple of years, they were welcoming guests to their place on Sutherland Avenue. The second, larger store opened in Maryville in 2013. George Ewart holds monthly classes in how to smoke barbecue, keeping the original community spirit of the enterprise alive.
Dead End is one of those nice places that offers a little sampler appetizer of sliders. As a hobbyist food writer, I love this, because it lets me sample several meats for very little money. I thought the chicken was pretty good, but the pork and beef brisket were very nice indeed. I would happily come back for more of this brisket, which is far above the average I’ve found around east Tennessee. Both were very smoky and full of flavor.
However, and this is unusual, I didn’t enjoy any of the sauces, at all. If you look around at other writers’ stories about this restaurant, you’ll see that nobody really agrees what kind of sauce this is. It’s not like the typical sticky-sweet thick brown Tennessee style; it seems to be more vinegary, and has an orange tint. It also has a strong aftertaste. Our server wouldn’t divulge any secrets, but I think that Big Wayner (below) may be right in suggesting that there’s either rum or whiskey in the sauce. The meat was good enough that I didn’t need any, and while I do love that whatever they do here is unique and unlike anyplace else, it just wasn’t to my taste.
Overall, it’s a good place. I wouldn’t mind coming back, although there are other barbecue places in Knoxville that I prefer, and many, many more still to try. I wish we could have visited the S & S on this trip, but I’m glad that it worked out so we could sample this restaurant instead.
Dead End BBQ
3621 Sutherland Ave
Knoxville, TN 37919
Other blog posts about Dead End BBQ:
Are you planning a barbecue road trip? You can see all the barbecue restaurants that we have visited for our blog (more than 390 !) on this map, with links back to the original blog posts!