I went back today. Back to Sam’s Bar-B-Q in Humboldt, Tennessee, to visit with some friends I knew for two days a year ago. As my friend Francesca says, “That’s the beauty of the South, dear. You never meet a stranger.” Truer words.
A year ago, the call went out to members of the Southern Foodways Alliance. Sam’s Bar-B-Q had burned up. Or down, as the case may be. An occupational hazard in the barbecue world. But devastating to the Ivory family who continued the legacy of the founder, Sam Donald. It is a family business, with John Ivory Sr. and Seresa Ivory, Sam’s daughter, running it along with John’s son, John Jr., and Seresa’s daughter, Francesca. For those of us who traveled to Humboldt a year ago, some from as far away as South Carolina and Colorado, it was not a duty. It was a blessing – probably the most satisfying thing I did all year.
Here we are, our band of some extremely skilled and a few completely unskilled (me) laborers: dirty, sweaty, and really hot.
As you can tell, there were some issues with Sam’s. Like it had no roof, the pit was destroyed and there was definitely no barbecue coming out of that restaurant for awhile. John and Seresa are the third and fourth from the left in the front row. Tony Kail, who I had lunch with today, is next to Seresa. And I am fashionably attired in a sweat band, second from the left in the second row. Over two days, a new roof was built, the old pit was taken apart and rebuilt and a large space that suffered severe fire damage was cleaned out and leveled with sand. And then we left. I felt bad about that.
So here we go. Before and after. Transformation, due in small part to us and in large part to the extended Ivory family.
And here’s the pay off. At the end of the day, how’s the barbecue?
I can honestly say that John Ivory’s pulled pork may be the best I’ve ever had in my life. Sweet, smoky, tender, perfectly trimmed – a thing of beauty. I think they were taken aback when I just ordered a pulled pork sandwich. “Do you want potato salad or beans? Slaw?” No, I just want to taste the pork. Let’s put this thing to the test. Show me what you’ve got. After I bit into that masterpiece of the pit, I truly thought that if Sam’s had not survived it would have been a crime of monumental proportions – a truly exceptional pitmaster with no place to practice his art.
A year ago, John and Seresa were tired. Really, really tired.
So here he is, a year later:
When I wrote about Sam’s a year ago, here’s how I ended the post:
”At the end of the day, we just wanted the promise of a pulled pork sandwich for lunch in the not-too-distant future. And some pie. I hear Sam’s makes very good pie.”
I got the pulled pork and it was beyond transformational. And I got the pie. Pecan. I’ll be back.