I looked for a place to try some barbecue in this tourist trap town more out of a sense of obligation than optimism, but this big barn of a restaurant proved to be a pleasant surprise.
In November 2008, Marie and I accidentally drove through the Great Smoky Mountains. We wanted to drive from Atlanta to Knoxville without using the interstates, and I figured taking US-23 north through Tallulah Falls and Clayton would be a good way, and then staying on US-441 would take us there. It really didn’t register that we’d be going through the Smokies, but we sure did enjoy the drive, and we had some good pancakes in Gatlinburg.
Then we got to Pigeon Forge, and experienced the gridlock traffic that town is so famous for. But there’s certainly plenty to look at, with go-kart tracks and museums and replica Titanics and giant apes, and there, on our left, was an upside-down building. We learned later that it’s a science-themed indoor amusement park for little ones, and so, eight and a half years later, we took our little one to play there.
To be honest, we should have waited another year. He’s too small to ride most of the contraptions, and the hour-long line for the ropes course was a drag. But he liked parts of it a whole lot, especially the 4-D cinema “ride.” There were a few optical illusions and neat exhibits, but overall we would recommend the place for ages seven to eleven.
The visit took a little longer than we had thought, but that worked out really well. We went out to find something to eat around 3.45, when all the restaurants were pretty slow. There’s an interesting little mini-chain of places run by the Johnson family which started with the first Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que in 1991 and has grown to incorporate four other brands (steak, southern, pizza, ice cream), each with at least two locations in Pigeon Forge, Seiverville, or Gatlinburg.
To be clear, this is not a simple, small-menu situation. This is the “international house of barbecue” style, with lots and lots of choices to satisfy everybody in a group full of exhausted tourists. If there is a “Pigeon Forge style,” it’s not immediately apparent beyond an interesting sauce.
So certainly, the barbecue is pretty good. I can’t imagine anybody complaining about it. It doesn’t have any wild standout flavor that demands it be added to anybody’s barbecue bucket list, but I was pleased with it. I was even more taken by the sauces, which, in a very nice surprise, are all made in-house. In squeeze bottles on the table, guests will find a standard east Tennessee sticky-sweet one, a midlands Carolina mustard, and a pink vinegar-pepper sauce.
They also bring out a small decanter of another brown sauce, similar to the usual one but not as sweet, and served warm, which was the most interesting and, possibly the real tie to something truly regional. This one is said to be an old family recipe. The squeeze bottles, clearly, are not. These are all very good, but they’re provided for the comfort of people who want barbecue to taste like it does back home.
The service was absolutely splendid and this was a simply satisfactory meal. Should we bring our boy back one day when he’s a little older for go-karts and giant apes, I would really want to find something off the beaten path, but if circumstances lead us back here instead, I’m sure a good little meal would be waiting.
Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que
Pigeon Forge, TN 37863
Are you planning a barbecue road trip? You can see all the barbecue restaurants that we have visited for our blog (more than 420 !) on this map, with links back to the original blog posts!