An Introduction to Georgia Barbecue

It doesn't get a lot of attention these days, but Georgia has a long, proud barbecue tradition and a distinctive style, too

By Robert F. Moss

A barbecue sandwich and Brunswick stew at Fincher's in Macon, GA
Georgia barbecue doesn’t get much respect these days.

In its recently-published “American Barbecue Regional Style Guide,” for example, Eater, the New York-based online food site, had paragraphs upon paragraphs to say about the Carolinas, Texas, and Tennessee. Here’s the entire text of the entry on the Peach State:

Georgia has a long and rich barbecue tradition, but paradoxically no distinct style of its own. Barbecue in Georgia tends to incorporate elements from its surrounding neighbors, with pork being the most popular meat.

I take umbrage with this assertion, for Georgia does indeed have its own distinct style. To find it, though, you have to get outside of Atlanta and its array of cosmopolitan barbecue joints, which have imported styles from all over the country.

Though a lot of Georgia barbecue restaurants serve chicken and ribs, chopped pork is by far the most popular meat. Pitmasters tend to cook shoulders or hams over oak and hickory, and Georgia-style sauce is a red tomato-based concoction that varies greatly in sweetness, heat, and thickness from one spot to another.

Because there’s a city called Brunswick over on the coast, many Georgians have made the case that their state is where Brunswick stew originated. The historical evidence shows clearly that the now-famous stew actually originated in Brunswick County, Virginia, but Georgians have embraced Brunswick stew and transformed it into its own signature barbecue side dish.

In other parts of the country, Brunswick stew is often viewed as a way to use up leftover barbecue, combining it with chunks of vegetables in a thin tomato-laced broth to make a sort of barbecue soup. In Georgia, it’s a thick stew simmered for hours on end along with tomato and corn and perhaps a few other vegetables until everything breaks down and merges together into a single rich, consistent texture—a cousin to the hash served in South Carolina, though with more vegetables mixed in.

A chopped barbecue pork sandwich dressed in that red tomato-based sauce with a bowl of Brunswick stew alongside—that, for me, is the quintessential Georgia barbecue meal.

The Lewis Grizzard Special at Sprayberry's (Newnan, GA): sandwich, stew, and onion rings

Within these broad parameters, of course, Georgia barbecue has many different sub-variations. Some pitmasters put pork in their Brunswick stew while others use chicken or beef or any combination of the three. The state's signature red sauce can vary greatly in flavor and texture, and a sizable number of Georgia restaurants feature mustard-based barbecue sauce, too. Most restaurants serve barbecued ribs and chicken alongside their pork, and in and around Athens there’s a delightful regional specialty known as chicken mull, too.

A barbecue sandwich and chicken mull at Hot Thomas BBQ, Watkinsville, GA

In other words, there's quite a lot to discover when it comes to barbecue in the state of Georgia. So, gas up the car, get out on those backroads, and start sampling.

For Further Reading

What in the Heck is Chicken Mull?

The Great Barbecue Men of Augusta, Georgia

About the Author

Robert F. Moss

Robert F. Moss is the Contributing Barbecue Editor for Southern Living magazine and the author of numerous books on Southern food and drink, including Barbecue: The History of an American Institution, Southern Spirits: 400 Years of Drinking in the American South, and Barbecue Lovers: The Carolinas. He lives in Charleston, South Carolina.