TRUE 'CUE KENTUCKY

A few dozen places in the state cook with some kind of hybrid unit to turn out respectably smoked meats, while a few places rely on nearly 100% gas and very little wood and smoke. That’s why True ‘Cue exists—to honor those smoking meats with wood. 

We’ve a wealth of BBQ places grilling and smoking meats on masonry pits, wood-fired tank cookers, and big grilling grates for dipping and flipping pork shoulder slices and half chickens in the style common to a few south central Kentucky counties. You can read about all this confusion in The Kentucky Barbecue Book and follow my barbecue travels at Wes Berry’s Kentucky Barbecue Adventures on Facebook. For some videos of Kentucky’s varied regional styles, check out this YouTube channel.

According to True ‘Cue guidelines, a barbecue establishment must cook the traditional meats of its place using 100% wood coals or charcoals as the sole heat source. In North Carolina, this meat is pork; if a BBQ places smokes pork shoulders or Boston butts using 100% wood or coals, they qualify for True ‘Cue certification in the Tar Heel state. Not so simple in Kentucky, but I’ll attempt to establish some guidelines.

To qualify for True ‘Cue KY certification, a restaurant must meet the following criteria:

  1. It must be located in Kentucky and serve barbecue on site where it is cooked (exceptions may exist for food trucks and other mobile purveyors, but a restaurant that serves barbecue cooked by another business does not qualify).
  2. It must offer regular business hours, with barbecue available on the menu at least monthly.
  3. In western Kentucky the dominant barbecue is pulled or chopped pork from whole shoulders or Boston butts plus, in a few counties, smoked mutton--so if a place in western Kentucky cooks raw pork and sheep with 100% wood or coals they qualify as True ‘Cue even if they cook chickens, bologna, turkey, cured “city” hams, brisket, hamburgers, blackbirds or beavers on gas-fired cookers.
  4. In a few south central Kentucky counties, the #1 meat by far is “shoulder,” which means a pork shoulder blade steak grilled over coals and sopped with a dip of vinegar, lard, black pepper, cayenne and other goodies. Barbecue places specializing in this style and cooking over coals get True ‘Cue certification. Nearly all of the barbecue places in this small region grill shoulder steaks, half chickens, pork chops, hamburgers, hot dogs and pork ribs over coals burned down from sticks of hickory. A few use manufactured charcoal. Purists might call this grilling instead of barbecue, but for south central Kentuckians that’s what barbecue is.
  5. The rest of Kentucky is a hodgepodge, with people smoking and grilling a bit of everything. In these places without a dominant barbecue style, those using 100% wood or coals are certified.

True ‘Cue realizes that, when it comes to barbecue, “There’s a continuum – perhaps a slippery slope – between what is undeniably and gloriously the real thing and that which clearly is not.” I signed on with True ‘Cue because I agree with their vision of honoring barbecue’s roots in wood cookery. But I’ve also many friends in the barbecue business who use hybrid gas cookers and fire them with lots of wood to produce tender tasty smoky meats, and I’m happy to eat their brisket and beef ribs when I’m a lucky dog enough to get them. My tastebuds also believe that whole pork shoulders cooked over hickory coals on masonry pits—that labor intensive work of shoveling coals under meats every 1-2 hours—creates a miracle of barbecue, a taste that can’t be replicated on a tank smoker with an offset firebox using 100% wood (and I greatly admire the deep-smoked barbecue I’ve tried from these machines). I’m thankful we’ve still a couple dozen places doing barbecue on old-school masonry pits in Kentucky, most of them west of I-65, and they clearly earn True ‘Cue honors. 

But what about folks, like Blue Door Smokehouse in Lexington, KY, who use a hybrid unit and fire it nearly 100% with wood? At Blue Door, their Southern Pride cooker’s gas source kicks on at 220F and they cook at 225F, meaning their smoky brisket cooks with nearly 100% wood so long as they’re watching the temperature gauge to keep it above 220F, and I think their meats taste a lot smokier than those cooked over manufactured charcoal which burns so clean. Call it hairsplitting—which it is, and imperfect at that—for the purposes of True ‘Cue’s vision of rewarding barbecue people who do it with 100% heat from wood and coals, when it comes to hybrid cookers it’s messy determining what percentage of wood to gas places use, so it simplifies matters to exclude them altogether. 

In sum, Kentucky can be proud of the large number of barbecue places we have cooking a variety of God’s creatures with 100% wood, coals from burned downed wood, or charcoal (a very small number of places use charcoal), plus a good number of other places exist that serve tender meats with plenty of smoke flavor using the manufactured gas-hybrid cookers. However, for the sake of clarity, the following list of barbecue places cook their regionally appropriate meats using heat from wood and wood coals only.

To the best of our knowledge, these restaurants serve barbecue that meets the True ‘Cue KY criteria:

  • 4 Little Pigs Bar-B-Que, 100 Beech Wood Lane, Benton, KY 270.527.9471
  • Against the Grain Brewery and Smokehouse, 401 E Main St, Louisville, KY 502.515.0174
  • Backwoods Bar-B-Que, 5172 Hinkleville Rd, Paducah, KY  270.441.7427
  • Backyard BBQ, 293 Old Edmonton Road, Tompkinsville, KY 270.407.5435
  • Bar-B-Q Hut, 594 Reynolds Road, Glasgow, KY 270.659.2933
  • Bar B Que Shack, 4687 Pembroke Road, Hopkinsville, KY  270.475.4844
  • Big Man BBQ, 211 N Broadway, Glasgow, KY 270.629.3322
  • Bully Barbecue, 1225 N Hwy 393 La Grange, KY  502.365.7784
  • Capps BBQ, 920 North Main Street, Burkesville, KY 270.864.9429
  • Carr’s Barn, 216 West Broadway, Mayfield, KY 270.247.8959
  • Carr’s Steakhouse, 213 West Broadway, Mayfield, KY 270.247.1111
  • CopperTop Bar-B-Q, 102 Cassidy Ave, Fredonia, KY  270.545.3939
  • Dave’s Sticky Pig, 206 Madison Square Drive, Madisonville, KY 270.326.5100
  • Deno’s BBQ, 600 North Highland Drive, Fulton, KY  270.472.2020
  • Dunn’s B-B-Q, 410 Jefferson Street, Franklin, KY 270.586.5115
  • Ed's Barbeque & Catering Services, 5521 Clarksville Rd, Russellville, KY  270.726.4136
  • FABD: Frankfort Avenue Beer Depot & Smokehouse, 3204 Frankfort Avenue, Louisville, KY 502.895.3223
  • Good Ole Boys, 9715 Hanson Road, Hanson, KY  270.322.8370
  • Grill In, 1550 Owenton Rd, Corinth, KY 859.823.2445
  • Hamilton’s Bar-B-Q, 211 Hill Street, Burkesville, KY 270.864.9446
  • Hammerheads, 921 Swan Street, Louisville, KY 502.365.1112
  • Harned’s Drive In, 4421 Clarks River Road, Paducah, KY  270.898.3164
  • Heaton’s BBQ, 495 Marion Road, Princeton, KY 270.365.3102
  • Henry’s Boogalou BBQ, 1401 Carter Rd, Owensboro, KY 270.689.2271
  • Hickory Heaven Bar-B-Q, 1890 U.S. Highway 60 East, Marion KY  270.965.0200
  • Hickory Hill Barbecue, 2791 Franklin Road, Scottsville KY 270.622.0508
  • Hoskins’ Bar-B-Que, 1015 State Road 849 East, Boaz, KY 270.856.3400
  • Hunter’s Hickory Smoked BBQ, 2636 N Highway 127, Albany, KY  606.387.4647
  • Jay Dee BBQ, 314 W Main St, Gamaliel, KY 270.457.3663
  • J & R’s Bluegrass and Barbecue, 1323 US Hwy 231, Hartford, KY 270.298.3036
  • Jimmy D’s Real Pitt Bar-B-Que & Self Storage, 5449 Scottsville Rd, Bowling Green, KY 270.781.2234
  • Knockum Hill Bar-B-Q, 11185 Highway 107 South, Herndon, KY  270.271.2957
  • Knoth’s Bar-B-Que, 728 U.S. Highway 62, Grand Rivers, KY 270.362.8580
  • Larry, Darrell & Darrell, 1106 Cuba Rd, Mayfield, KY 270.251.0464
  • Leigh’s Bar-B-Q, 9405 U.S. 60 W, Kevil, KY  270.488.3434
  • Moe-licious BBQ (Food Truck), Louisville, KY  502.445.8626  
  • Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn, 2840 West Parrish Avenue, Owensboro, KY  270.684.8143
  • Muddy Piggs Barbecue and Catering, 1240 US-62, Princeton, KY 270.365.0040
  • Old Hickory Bar-B-Q, 338 Washington Ave, Owensboro, KY 270.926.9000
  • Ole Hickory Pit, 6106 Shepherdsville Road, Louisville, KY 502.968.0585
  • Ole South Barbecue, 3523 Highway 54 East, Owensboro, KY  270.926.6464
  • Peak Bros. Bar-B-Que, 6353 U.S. Highway 60 West, Waverly, KY 270.389.0267
  • Pit Stop BBQ, 2393 State Route 121 South, Murray, KY 270.759.7001
  • Pop’s Southern Style Barbecue, 110 Kentucky Hwy 801 S, Morehead, KY 606.784.6378
  • Porky’s BBQ, 2031 Canton Road, Cadiz,  270.350.8870
  • Prince Pit BBQ, 100 Elm St., Bardwell, KY   270.628.0117
  • Prince Pit BBQ, 178 S 4th St, Barlow, KY  270.556.8914
  • R & S Bar-B-Q, 217 South Jackson Street, Tompkinsville, KY 270.487.1008
  • Red Barn Bar-B-Q, 313 South Main Street, Tompkinsville, KY 270.487.9000
  • Redneck Ranch Restaurant, 117 W Short Street, Clarkson, KY 42726.  270.242.1076
  • Red Top Bar B Que, 10388 Russellville Road, Guthrie, KY  270.483.1328
  • Rick’s BBQ and More, 5850 US 60, Ashland, KY 606.929.5522
  • River Road BBQ, 3017 River Road, Louisville, KY 502.592.7065
  • Roadside BBQ and Grill, 1815 N Metcalf School Rd, Knob Lick, KY  270.565.3037
  • Roy’s Pit Bar-B-Q, 101 Sarah Lane, Russellville, KY 270.726.8476
  • Ruby Faye’s Bar-B-Que, 415 S. Washington St, Clinton, KY  270.653.5302
  • Scotty’s Ribs and More, 14049 Shelbyville Road, Louisville, KY 502.244.6868
  • Shack in the Back BBQ, 406 Mt Holly Rd, Fairdale, KY  502.363.3227
  • Smoke Shack BBQ, 100 Holt Drive, Scottsville, KY 270.237.5629
  • Smokey Bear’s BBQ & Grill, 1509 American Greeting Card Road, Corbin, KY 606.523.2233
  • Smokey Pig Bar-B-Q, 2520 Louisville Road, Bowling Green, KY 270.781.1712
  • Smoketown USA, 1153 Logan Street, Louisville, KY 502.409.9180
  • Smokin’ This and That BBQ, 10020 Demia Way, Florence, KY 847.553.1481
  • South Fork Grill, 2224 Scottsville Rd, Glasgow, KY 270.659.4227
  • Southern Red’s Bar-B-Que, 5085 State Route 94 West, Water Valley, KY 270.376.2678
  • Split Tree, 115 Wilson Rd, Alvaton, KY  270.842.2268
  • Starnes, 1008 Joe Clifton Drive, Paducah, KY  270.441.9555
  • Straight from Texas Barbecue, 306 N 3rd St, Richmond, KY  859.625.2147
  • Texican’s BBQ Pitt, 6608 West Highway 146, Crestwood, KY 502.241.9227
  • The Bar-B-Q Place, 1499 Burkesville Road, Glasgow, KY  270.651.6266
  • Thirds BBQ, 200 College St, Bowling Green, KY  270.303.5917
  • Thomason’s Barbecue, 701 Atkinson Street, Henderson, KY  270.826.0654
  • Uniontown Food Mart, 330 Mill Street, Uniontown, KY  270.822.5005
  • Wagon Bones Grill, 591 West Short Street, Lexington, KY 859.523.2400
  • Will's Grill, 7021 Shelbyville Road, Simpsonville, KY 40067.  502.220.3258
  • Woodshed Pit BBQ, 1821 West Seventh Street, Hopkinsville, KY  270.885.8144

If you think you know a restaurant that meets the True 'Cue KY criteria, let us know.  If you think a place on the list now cooks with gas or electricity, drop us a line at truecue@gmail.com and we’ll check it out (we don’t want to start a flame war, so to speak).