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Whitt's Barbecue

by: Penne J. Laubenthal

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Whitt's #1
1397 East Elm Street
Athens, Alabama 35611

My sister had a Whitt's BBQ sandwich for breakfast this morning. She called me on her cell phone to say excitedly that the Whitt's in downtown Athens, Alabama, was open at 9 A.M.  I ate a Whitt's for brunch today—waiting in the parking lot of  Whitt's in Rogersville until it opened at 10. My huge, juicy pulled pork BBQ sandwich cost me only $1.99 plus tax. There is not a better bargain on this earth.

My friend Suzanne always orders the BBQ turkey sandwich (hold the mayo), baked chips and unsweetened tea. I tend to opt for the works—a pork sandwich extra hot (don't hold the mayo), slaw, extra pickles, and regular chips.

Whether you drive though or walk up, eat alfresco on the premises or in your parked car, or take an entire meal home for dinner or a picnic, there is something at Whitt's to suit every palate. You can choose from barbecued pork shoulder (made with vinegar based sauce not tomato), turkey, beef, ribs, and even vacuum sealed halves of succulent BBQ chicken. Don't forget to ask for lots of that scrumptious white sauce!

There is never a need to cook when you can have your choice of entrees plus any number of sides—slaw (made with vinegar not mayonnaise), baked beans, potato salad, and chips. Add some pie (or a whole carrot cake--at some locations--for only $12.95) and the meal is complete. You can order a plate (for less than $5); a pork, turkey or beef sandwich; or get an entire meal for an army to go.

An institution in Athens, Alabama, for over forty years, Whitt's Barbecue now has several dozen franchises extending into states such as Tennessee, Georgia, and Kentucky. Bill Dean and his family oversee twenty-one locations in middle Tennessee.

Fortunately, there are two Whitt’s in Athens, Alabama. If I happen to be in downtown Athens at lunchtime and there is a long line at the Marion Street location three blocks from the square, I just drive a mile to the original Whitt’s on Elm Street where I rarely have to wait over two minutes. Joe Whitt, son of the founder Floyd Whitt, still manages the business from that miniscule building on the north side of town.

Whitt's reputation is legendary. When one of my high school classmates married a man from California, he could not wait to move to Athens so he could get Whitt's BBQ, Dub's Burgers, and milkshakes at Limestone Drugstore. If Californians can't come to Alabama, we ship Whitt's to them. My sister packs up two or three pounds of the pork barbecue (purchased ahead and frozen) every time she flies out to Monterey to see her youngest son. They parcel it out like gold.

Online reviewers rave about Whitt’s. One fan writes “When I was a kid, there was only one Whitt's BBQ in the world – a drive-thru on Elm Street in Athens, Alabama. I have since lived in many different cities. Not only is there absolutely no BBQ as good as Whitt's, but I have also found that a purely vinegar-based sauce is nearly impossible to find. The Whitt family's closely guarded recipe gives the perfect complement of flavors to their hickory smoked pork.”

Another writes “This is not tomato-based ‘Texas’ style BBQ (with that heavy a sauce you could make shoe leather edible). It's better. With Whitt's tangy, light vinegar-based sauce, the meat's hickory smoked flavor is the focus. I have lived in multiple major cities and they all have their highly regarded BBQ joints - none of which even compare to Whitt's. Every time I fly anywhere that I can get at least a stop-over in Nashville, I get several pounds of Whitt's BBQ and as much sauce as I can stuff in my intentionally-lightly-packed carry-on.. If I had the money, I'd open a Whitt's in Seattle!”

Perhaps the ultimate testimonial to the influence of Whitt's is the career of Tony Black. Black quit his job with the editorial staff of Southern Living magazine to become a full -time barbecue competitor. Growing up in Athens. Black had always taken good barbecue for granted. That is, until he went to college.

"When I moved away from Athens for the first time, I realized the barbecue I grew up on, which was Whitt's BBQ, wasn't available anywhere. So I learned I'd have to learn how to make it." Black said.  Black has not only won three state championships, he has also competed internationally and been featured on The Food Network, The Travel Channel and several television and radio shows.

And it all started with Whitt's.

For a friend's birthday celebration this April I volunteered to make a gourmet dinner for ten, having every intention of imitating Emeril or Rachel Ray. At the last minute I called Whitt's, ordered several BBQ chickens, a large container of white sauce, slaw, potato salad, and baked beans. I ladled the white sauce over the warm chicken and set out all the sides. There could not have been a happier crowd. Whitt's rules!

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fattymoon says...

I agree that Whitt's was/is the best. In Athens. Maybe in North Alabama. However, if you eat the BBQ at the Rib Cage in Las Cruces, NM, well, all bets are off.

darepatton says...

Whitt's IS great BBQ... I have wonderful memories of driving up to the little building on Elm street..it was a real treat..... (remember we all grew up on H & H BBQ on Nick Davis Rd, Circle Front on 31, then Hickory House on old 72?, I think) ... they all went away but thanks to Whitt's , the wonderful ole BBQ is here to stay... they know the ole timey way of slowly cooking perfect pork BBQ, the way's our grandparents and parents made it when they used to dig a pit in the ground and put the whole hog in with hickory logs on top and slowly roast it 24 hours or longer...always mopping it with hot red and black pepper vinegar sauce.... But those days are long gone... but with new technology, the taste is still here... My hat is off to WHITT"S and may they continue to serve "real pulled pork BBQ" with a dill pickle slice, vinegar sauce, vinegar slaw and mayo on a white bun...(by the way, for my high school graduation, I requested a whole pig with an apple in it's mouth for my high school graduation celebration supper...My Daddy Buck obliged, not sure who prepared the suckling pig but it was served on a silver platter with all the trimmings AND an apple in it's mouth... isn't it wonderful to be of Southern blood!!!)

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