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Ridgewood Barbecue

900 Elizabethtown Highway, Bluff City, TN - (423) 538-7543
Posted By Michael Stern on February 15, 2005 9:39 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.
5 star rating
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Posted By Eric Schuler on November 15, 2014 8:48 PM
This is a classic. It really doesn't get any better.
5 star rating
Overall Rating
pork plate
French fries
beans
Barbecue Beans
Pork Barbecue
Coleslaw
Iced Tea

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Posted By Brian on September 19, 2013 12:03 PM
OUTSTANDING! Living in the heart of pork barbecue country, one is always looking for good barbecue. This is undoubtedly the best mountain style pork barbecue I have ever eaten!!
0 star rating
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Pork Barbecue

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Posted By Willim Kieffer on July 9, 2012 9:45 PM
A few years ago, my wife and I visitted Ridgewood based on Roodfood's rating in a previous edition. We left there liking the BBQ we were served and felt the price charged was fair.

Today, we went back based on the current issue of Roadfood and left with a feeling that the place has become rather pricey and that the quality of the BBQ was just OK, not great.
1 star rating
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Coleslaw
Iced Tea

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Posted By Michael Williams on November 4, 2011 2:11 PM
I'v eaten barbeque in all parts of the country for the past 60 years. Ridgewood is the best all around I've ever had. I've happily waited in line for more than an hour at Ridgewood, and been even happier once I sat down to a barbeque pork plate, with a blue cheese-dressed salad. I won't wait in line to eat anywhere else.
5 star rating
Overall Rating
Barbecue Beans
Pork Barbecue
Blue Cheese
Country Ham Platter
pork plate
Beef Barbecue
French fries

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Posted By Angela Gray on September 25, 2011 2:07 PM
Ridgewood Barbecue is a legend in my part of town. It is known for being the best BBQ place in the world. You can't miss the smell of Ridgewood but you could easily miss the actual restaurant. Settled in the middle of the mountains of east Tennessee, it is not the easiest place in the world to find, but it's so worth the hunt.

I would definitely not say that Ridgewood is the place for charm or luxury but who cares, this is the best damn BBQ you will ever put in your mouth! The pork or beef BBQ sandwiches are the size of your head and are fork-tender and smoky. Then there are the baked beans, with their little pieces of BBQ throughout, and the golden brown, fresh-cut French fries.

If this isn't the best BBQ that you have ever eaten then you must be a Yankee or have an unsophisticated palate. Oh, I almost forgot to mention Ridgewoods famous country ham platter. It, too, is fantastic (and is smoked and cured on the premises).

All of their food is handmade, not dumped out of a can or carton. Mrs. Proffit would roll over in her grave if anyone even tried it!
5 star rating
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Country Ham Platter

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Posted By joy on May 19, 2011 1:30 AM
I grew up in Watauga, TN (oh, how I miss it), and currently live in Texas. I had never been to Ridgewood growing up, but I've visited twice since leaving. It is the very best BBQ I have ever had. Texas has some great BBQ, but I'm telling you Ridgewood is the very best ever! Love that blue cheese dressing (also the best ever). Can't wait to come back again.
5 star rating
Overall Rating
Beef Barbecue
Beef Barbecue
Blue Cheese
pork plate
French fries
beans
Barbecue Beans
Pork Barbecue

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Posted By Amanda on March 29, 2011 5:30 PM
Ridgewood is the best local BBQ! This place is famous around here; anytime someone mentions BBQ, Ridgewood is always brought up. I had to take my sister there. She heard so much about it but didn't have a clue how to find it. It's well-hidden if you're not familiar with the area. It is worth the wait when you get there. They aren't known for service but they get the food to your table and say "thanks." That's good enough for me. It's about what you'd spend at any chain sit-down restaurant, but with way better food.
4 star rating
Overall Rating
French fries
Barbecue Beans
Pork Barbecue

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Posted By Ron Cooper on January 22, 2011 9:48 AM
The best sliced pork BBQ in the world! Not as cozy now, but still great food. Do not underestimate the blue cheese sauce for the fries.
4 star rating
Overall Rating
pork plate
Pork Barbecue
Blue Cheese
French fries
Barbecue Beans

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Posted By Paul Helbert on January 15, 2011 1:15 PM
When I taught in Upper East Tennessee in the mid-to-late sixties, I ran across the late Mrs. Proffitt's Ridgewood Restaurant, just out 19E on the Elizabethton Highway east of Bluff City, TN. Since that time I have often gone out of my way to stop there. On my most recent stop I was pleased to see a Roadfood article on the wall along with all the others.

We always get one beef and one pork barbecue sandwich with two orders of their barbecued beans. Why one of each? Because sometimes one sandwich seems to best hit our taste, and at other times, it's the other one which does it. We swap halves and seldom agree on which one wins. We tried the fries once, but they were limp. Apparently, that's how the locals like them. I don't know if any of the rest of the offerings on the menu are any good. The barbecue is all I ever see anyone eat.

In my estimation, the nearest anyone else has ever gotten to the Ridgewood's barbecue is Sonny's in Florida, which is pretty good. Partner's on 11E near Johnson City, TN comes only fairly close, and Bear's in Bristol was similar but they went out of business years ago, probably because folks could just drive on down to the original in another ten minutes.

Everyone I've ever told about the Ridgewood has agreed, after trying it, that it is the best barbecue they ever tasted. (There have been a few Texans, some Georgians, East Virginians, and Carolinians who would not try it out of prejudice, or could not get past their quaint, regional notions, but that is their loss).
5 star rating
Overall Rating
Barbecue Beans
Pork Barbecue
Beef Barbecue
Beef Barbecue
pork plate
French fries

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Posted By Pat Southward on July 1, 2009 12:30 AM
We stumbled on Ridgewood Barbecue back in the 70s --- it was hard to find even then --- and for the past 30+ years we've driven 90-120 minutes several times a year just to eat there. We always take company there and we get a lot of company, since we live in the most scenic part of the Blue Ridge.

The beans are beyond description! The occasional chunk of fatback explains the taste (I know that sounds awful, but that's probably why that delicious flavor is unfamiliar these days). The pork sandwich is extraordinary, with the coolness of the slaw contrasting with the spiciness of the sauce. I don't know what more to say about the food!

The "ambience" is old-time Southern small-town working-class --- with walls covered with inscribed pictures of 50s-60s-70s celebrities and politicians. Actually the fun begins outside: the smoker is right there by the parking lot with the slightly turpentiney aroma to get your tastebuds set for what's inside...
0 star rating
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Posted By Stephen Morton on June 17, 2009 11:09 PM
If you are within 100 miles of East Tennessee, the Ridgewood is not to be missed. It is, without a doubt, the best barbecue I've had anywhere. I've been to the big name places in Kansas City, Memphis, and elsewhere, but none of them compare in terms of flavor. Everything is good, but don't leave without eating BBQ pork and baked beans. Both are like none other! THIS is hickory smoking at its best!

The meat is tender (they use nothing but uncured hams for the pork) and the many hours spent in the smoker really makes the hickory flavor jump out at you in a most delicious way, in both the meat and the beans. The pork sandwich starts as sliced meat. It is heated on a flattop grill, topped with their unique sauce, and placed on a hot bun along with some slaw. All of the flavors combine into pure taste perfection. You can tell by the appearance of the people preparing and serving the BBQ that they know a thing or two about food from a vast wealth of experience!

I can't wait to get back to East Tennessee to eat there again. I only wish they would ship to St. Louis!
5 star rating
Overall Rating
pork plate
beans
Barbecue Beans
Pork Barbecue
Beef Barbecue
French fries

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Posted By Shane Dunn on April 24, 2009 2:38 PM
My girlfriend and I, along with a friend, decided to check out a local world-famous barbecue joint: “The Original Ridgewood Barbecue.” So we enter, ask for a seat for three and, after a good 30 minutes, we finally get seated in the “back room” next to the restrooms, where we were delightfully greeted by our server with a wonder-thud of our silverware being thrown down onto the table.

We proceeded to place our food and drink orders. I ordered the “world famous” BBQ plate which consists of beef BBQ, coleslaw, and BBQ beans. My girlfriend ordered a BBQ beef sandwich and fries; the same for our friend. About five minutes later, I receive my BBQ beans (we still had yet to receive our drinks). About 10 minutes later we finally received our drinks and my order for coleslaw. We received our food about five minutes later.

We were advised by a few people that this is the best barbeque that we would ever eat, and we assumed this to be true once we saw the crowd, the numerous newspaper articles, and the framed copies of coverage of the restaurant from “People Magazine.” However, the food tasted like something that could be bought from the local grocer freezer section. All three of us ran out of drinks, and our waitress walked past our table numerous times and never offered to refill them once. We actually had to stop her and ask for more.

I personally will not be going back here at all. I have had better service and better BBQ from a fast-food restaurant. Fast food is a lot cheaper, too; it cost my girlfriend and me over $30.00. If I had to give a rating of 1-5, with one being worst and five the best, I would have to give this place a zero.
1 star rating
Overall Rating
French fries
Beef Barbecue

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Posted By Tim Tabor on January 6, 2009 4:52 PM
I just don't understand the comments in the review by Carolina Bill. All I can figure is that he's another one of those NC BBQ snobs that get defensive when they discover some barbecue better than their own. I've eaten BBQ all over NC as well as the Firehouse BBQ in Johnson City, TN and absolutely NONE even come close to that of Ridgewood's.

They are one of the few restaurants that slice their smoked pork instead of chopping or pulling it. I like it much better that way. Ridgewood's BBQ is the standard by which all others are judged, in my opinion. To call it reminiscent of Arby's is so absurd that it doesn't even deserve a comment. I think their sauce is the best tomato-based sauce I've ever had. To eat there and not have a crock of beans is a real mistake. They're as fantastic as the barbecue.

The reason you don't see that many TN tags in the parking lot is because most of the people in this area have learned to call in their orders and take them home to avoid having to wait in line for a seat. If you're in the VA/TN area for the Nascar race or the Rhythm and Roots Festival in Bristol in September you owe it to yourself to give this fantastic Southern BBQ a try.

The atmosphere isn't much and the seats in the booths are horrible. The waitresses are most always friendly and professional. They have their act together when it comes to serving an awful lot of people in a very small space. The wait and the "diner"-type atmosphere are a small price to pay for some of the best BBQ you'll ever eat.
5 star rating
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Posted By Robert Carver on December 13, 2008 9:27 PM
I live in New Orleans, a place well-known for its excellent and eclectic mix of food. The major weakness of the greater New Orleans area is the quality of the barbecue. We have a few decent choices. So when I drive the nearly 800 miles to visit family in upper East Tennessee, I always take one day to work my way down a curvy back road to find Ridgewood. While Ridgewood is worth driving off the beaten path, with a fairly new four-lane highway running from Elizabethton between Johnson City and Bristol, Ridgewood isn't nearly as isolated as it once was back in the day.

The barbecue there is simply perfect and served in generous portions. Some say the best part of the visit comes in eating the baked beans but I never order any side items as I want to savor the barbecue sandwich in its totality. The barbecue arrives on your plate with the meat overflowing the bun. The taste is smoky but it doesn't overwhelm the flavor of the meat. The tangy sauce is bliss but thankfully stops short of being overly spicy.

I just order the sandwich but if you have the room you can get the plate which will come with two sides, including the highly regarded baked beans. This barbecue will stay with you all day, so don't eat too much at breakfast.
5 star rating
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Posted By Jim Jones on September 16, 2008 10:43 PM
I feel so sorry for CarolinaBill, as his tongue has obviously been destroyed from years of abuse by eating the vinegar-based turpentine they call Carolina Q. RIDGEWOOD ROCKS.

I grew up in East Tennessee, and ate at Ridgewood as a youngster. Later, I moved to North Carolina where the Q has a vinegar base, and I longed for home for the next 20 years. During that time, my travels have taken me to lower South Carolina with their yellow mustard sauce, and that Carolina Q is just as bad. I then married a Texan, and their Q comes from COWS. We all know that real Q comes from a pig. (I must admit the Texas brisket is quite good, BUT IT AIN'T Q unless it is pork.)

Today, I had Ridgewood for the first time in 25 years, and it is just as awesome as I remember. It is not, however, the best: it ranks #2 to my own. Carolina Q doesn't even enter in the realm of consideration.
0 star rating
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Posted By Todd Tucker on July 13, 2008 11:58 PM
I have lived in Johnson City for a little over 15 years. I moved here from South Alabama. I have lived in Georgia and South Carolina. When I moved here all folks here talked about was Ridgewood BBQ. I decided I had to try it out. First, finding a day when they were open for business was hit or miss. The posted hours really don't mean a lot to them.

Over the last 15 years I have tried this place at least a dozen times and each and every time I have been let down. If you like BBQ soaked in so much sauce that you can't tell what kind of meat you are eating, then this may be the place for you. They only have the one very, very, very sweet sauce; you have to like thick sweet sauces. Also, one of the biggest disappointments in any BBQ place is when they don't serve ribs. The best thing I have had at Ridgewood is the blue cheese and crackers.

I have eaten at Big Bob Gibson's in Alabama, and Dreamland. I have eaten at Maurice's in South Carolina, and many small unknown places. Ridgewood just does not stack up. The prices are not too bad, but not too good either.
2 star rating
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Posted By The Grandman on July 3, 2008 4:07 PM
I live in Knoxville, TN but while attending college at East Tennessee State (in nearby Johnson City, about 30 years ago) I was "indoctrinated" by a local girl into the exclusive club of those who have discovered this incredible place. So for the last 26 or so years I have driven up to Ridgewood from Knoxville (over 100 miles) to eat here, with occasional overnight stays centered around the BBQ experience. It is SO that worth it.

This BBQ is unlike any other anywhere, and I've eaten a lot of BBQ. The meat is actually sliced ham smoked on-site, served either on a bun or plated. The coleslaw is fresh-made with a bite of vinegar, and you can get it on the sandwich or in a bowl on the side (in the bowl it's served first, like a salad). Now for the other side items: the fries are hand-cut fresh potatoes; you'll never appreciate frozen ever again. But the best thing of all is the little bowl of BBQ beans; be sure to get two bowls! They are sweet and savory, the best!

If you come anywhere within driving distance (let's see, how far? The southeastern United States should cover it) then do not miss this great little hidden BBQ joint!
5 star rating
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Posted By Ed Warburton on January 28, 2006 10:42 PM
I've been going to Ridgewood Barbecue ever since it was featured on "Buffet Benny" (ESPN used to do the NASCAR races, and Benny Parsons had a series of local eating establishments located near NASCAR sanctioned tracks). They've been an annual stop ever since.

The decor is tasteful 1950's paneling and wood (you have to love the design on the paneling). They updated the bathrooms in '05 but everything else is still just as it's been for the last 15 years.

The food is piled high, and the beans are not to be missed. We always "import" their barbecue sauce up north each year - at least a case at a time. The sweet tea is consistent, not bitter, clear and supersaturated with sugar! The best.
5 star rating
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Posted By chris c on May 12, 2005 9:11 AM
This is *hands down* the best BBQ I've had, and I've had a lot. The very thin-sliced (not shredded) pork is incredibly tender, and flavored with just the right amount of smoke. The sauce is amazing, sweet and spicy, without being too hot. The bun is typical, soft white bread, and nothing to rave about, but by not attracting any attention to itself, it enables the taste of the meat to shine through. I get mine as they come standard, with cole-slaw on the sandwich. I'm not a raving cole-slaw maniac, but it's crunchy and creamy, as slaw should be, and adds a nice texture to the sandwich. They don't overdo it with the slaw either, which is nice.

The fries have been rated among the best in the country (according to one of the many magazine profiled posted up on the walls) and while I prefer steak fries or crinkle-cuts to natural fries (think Wendy's diameter but with the skins on), they are awesome. Cooked very well done, these are dark, dark fries.

Because I only get there infrequently, I have never strayed from a straight up pork sandwich, so I also can't comment on anything else on the menu.

BBQ is a regional food, so it can be hard to compare the best Tennessee BBQ to the best Texas BBQ or East Carolina (no tomatoes!) BBQ, but in a face-off, I think this is best-in-breed and best-in-show against anything else.

Atmosphere is hard to describe... It's a BBQ place, so you wouldn't want someone scraping the crumbs off your place setting for you, and of course they don't. Typical fast diner service -- you get the feeling it might be a tad more friendly if you came in often enough for them to know you -- and pretty much the only down-side is that the many, many framed newpaper and magazine articles maybe makes you feel like the place is a little too self-aware of its own importance. But honestly, who cares, because the food is the thing here.
5 star rating
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Posted By Bill Brant on October 27, 2004 7:42 PM
After reading several reviews here and on other sites declaring Ridgewood to be a bbq mecca, I decided to include a visit on my recent fall foliage trip, going somewhat out of the way for the visit. Unfortunately, I can't concur with most of the reviews and question whether many people outside the Carolinas or Georgia know what southern bbq is, because this isn't it!

I definitely wanted pork (as is required in these parts - real bbq house should not even offer beef). Felt that $12.95 for a plate was a bit pricey (also don't particularly like fries with bbq) so I opted for pork sandwich and side of slaw. The pork on the sandwich reminded me, well, of Arby's. Sliced very thin like deli meat and completely overpowered by sweet sauce that could have come off any grocery shelf. Slaw similarly tasted like it came straight from supermarket. While service was pleasant, you could definitely tell that they wanted to turn over the tables as quickly as possible to accomodate hordes of leaf-peepers backing out the door. True sign that this is pure tourist chow should have been easy to spot - there were very few Tennessee plates on cars; vast majority were from Florida, which is generally a bad sign for any restaurant.

All in all, very disappointing. If you find yourself in Tri Cities area seeking bbq, I might suggest the Firehouse in downtown Johnson City - much better bbq.
0 star rating
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Posted By Chad Tindell on June 18, 2003 9:03 AM
First let me say, I love barbecue. I've lived in Knoxville, TN all my life, except for 3 years away in law school in Memphis, TN. Lots of great barbecue in Memphis. And, I've sampled from quite a few other places around. And my favorite of all is the Ridgewood. The sliced pork is the best. They smoke all the meat in the smokehouse next to the restaurant, keep it heated up in piles on a grill and smother it with that wonderul sauce.

I've read reviews of "regular" folks and barbecue afficianados, and the consensus is, don't miss a chance to go. Some say 'best on the planet', some just plain ole fabulous. I know this is high priase to live up to, but I've never been disappointed. And never has the dozens of folks I've taken on the pilgrimage.
4 star rating
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