Papa KayJoe’s BBQ, Centerville TN

For the last meal on our trip to and from Memphis, we stopped at a restaurant near the middle of the state, not too far from the Nashville metro area. We were both incredibly impressed with our meal here, and I even figure it was better than the new places we’d sampled in Memphis the day before. Not bad at all for a place that isn’t knee-deep in praise like the joints we had most looked forward to visiting.

Before we left on our trip, I looked at our travel map. Because we’d like to visit many more places around Tennessee when the money’s available, I wanted to fill in some big gaps on this trip, and the area southwest of Nashville looked like a good one to add at least one pushpin. It looked like if we took TN-50 south of I-40 to Centerville, then we could take TN-100 from there back to I-840. That would be a nice interstate break, and we got to see some beautiful country as well, including two fantastic old truss bridges.

I always want to clarify that ours is not a “restaurant review” blog, but one about experiences. Here’s a good reason why. We had a truly delicious meal at Papa KayJoe’s and would be very happy to visit again. But this was a very atypical visit, because I didn’t realize that the restaurant was, at the time of our trip, doing business from a house near its usual location. They were forced to relocate by a fire that damaged their old building and which they hope will be back up and running this summer. Further, while this barbecue was really good, it was not prepared the way that the owner, Devin Pickard, would prefer that his barbecue is prepared.

Fourteen years ago, the Southern Foodways Alliance stopped by Papa KayJoe’s for an interview, and Pickard stated “everything that we cook is on hickory, strictly hickory coals. There’s no gas, there’s no ovens, there’s no knobs.” Well, the forced relocation of the business has meant that’s temporarily had to be sidelined, because they haven’t the room for a wood pit.

On our visit, the barbecue was smoked in a steel upright. But that was perfectly fine with us, because the chopped pork was completely delicious. The traditionalist in me is glad that Pickard would rather be using hickory, and this just leaves me curious to visit again one day. If he and his staff can make such wonderful barbecue in a steel smoker, then his preferred method must be even better.

Most of the barbecue that we’ve been sampling in Tennessee runs to the dry end of the scale. This, however, was so moist that it didn’t need any sauce at all. I hate overusing the phrase “melt in your mouth,” but this pork darn near defines it. The sides were also better than average, with the beans served in a thick and tasty brew and the vinegar slaw just a little bit dry, but so much better than almost everything we’ve visited around Chattanooga.

The restaurant was very slow and so we got to chat with one of the employees, a guy in his twenties, who was apologetic about the use of the steel upright despite our assurances that we were very happy. We talked briefly about the comparisons between this barbecue and the average for our town, but he was a little more familiar with Atlanta than Chattanooga, so we talked about shopping and restaurants and tourism stuff in Georgia, mainly. He encouraged us to come back when they’re up and running at their old location again, and to order their popular corn cakes next time. We might just do that, and maybe act a little more like a proper restaurant review blog doing so.

Papa KayJoe’s BBQ
142 N Central Ave
Centerville, TN 37033

Are you planning a barbecue road trip? You can see all the barbecue restaurants that we have visited for our blog (more than 430 !) on this map, with links back to the original blog posts!


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