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Ridgewood Barbecue

900 Elizabethtown Highway, Bluff City, TN - (423) 538-7543
Posted By Michael Stern on 2/15/2005 9:39:00 AM
Ridgewood Barbecue has defined excellence in pork for decades. Beef is on the menu, but pig is the meat to eat in this part of the world. Ridgewood’s pork is as good as it gets. It is hams, hickory cooked in a pit adjacent to the restaurant, sliced into fairly thin pieces, then reheated on a grill when ordered. It is souped with a tangy, dark-red, slightly smoky sauce (available by the pint and quart near the cash register) and served as a platter, under a heap of terrific dark-gold French fries, or in a giant sandwich that spills out all sides of the bun.

We love the platter presentation, because it allows one to fork up a French fry and a few flaps of sauced meat all at the same time, making for what we believe to be one of the world’s perfect mouthfuls. Prior to the arrival of the platter, you will be served a bowl of cole slaw – cool, crisp, sweet – surrounded by saltine crackers. We also recommend ordering a crock of beans. They are soft, laced with meat, and have a fetching smoky flavor.

A few words of warning: expect to get lost on your way to the Ridgewood if it is your first visit. Old Highway 19E vaguely parallels the new four-lane, but can be tricky to find. And if you arrive at a normal mealtime, expect to wait. Despite its fairly remote location, this place attracts barbecue lovers from far away, some of whom come to take vast party platters home; but there are almost never enough seats. We like to arrive at about 4pm, when chances are good we will get one of the really choice booths adjacent to the open kitchen in the old dining room. From here, the view is magnificent. You see the cooks heating meat on the grill, making sandwiches and platters, and immersing potatoes into the bubbling-hot deep-fryers. Once a meal is plated and ready to be sent to the table, it is set on a holding counter just inches from your booth, separated only by a short glass partition. If you arrive hungry and are waiting for your food to be delivered, this sight – and its accompanying aromas – is tantalizing beyond description.

We recently received a note from an avid Roadfooder who proposed replacing the Mason-Dixon line with the unsweet-sweet tea line, since presweetened tea is nearly ubiquitous in the deep south, but virtually unheard-of in the north. If such a line exists, the Ridgewood in northeasternmost Tennessee might be precisely on the border. When you order tea, the waitress will ask if you want it sweet or unsweet.

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Scorecard

5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
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Mostly what you see are French fries -- delicious, hot-from-the-kettle fries -- but beneath them is a heap of smoky pork slices bathed in tongue-tingling sauce.
"Mostly what you see are French fries -- delicious, hot-from-the-kettle fries -- but beneath them is a heap of smoky pork slices bathed in tongue-tingling sauce. "
Michael Stern





Smoky, sweet, and laced with meat, Ridgewood's beans are a must-eat side dish.
"Smoky, sweet, and laced with meat, Ridgewood's beans are a must-eat side dish."
Michael Stern


Just north of the restaurant is this smoky building where hams are slow-smoked over hickory wood for hours.
"Just north of the restaurant is this smoky building where hams are slow-smoked over hickory wood for hours."
Michael Stern


The sandwiches are huge and definitely sharable. Order one plate of fries for every 2-3 people.
"The sandwiches are huge and definitely sharable. Order one plate of fries for every 2-3 people."
Rae Augenstein


This is the view from a booth near the kitchen:  a beef sandwich and a pork plate, just assembled by the cook and ready to be carried to a table -- OUR table, we pray!
"This is the view from a booth near the kitchen: a beef sandwich and a pork plate, just assembled by the cook and ready to be carried to a table -- OUR table, we pray!"
Michael Stern


Although it is far off the beaten path, the Ridgwood is almost always crowded.  Expect to wait at peak mealtimes.
"Although it is far off the beaten path, the Ridgwood is almost always crowded. Expect to wait at peak mealtimes."
Michael Stern



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