Auburn, Alabama, home of Auburn University, has a population of 42,987. But that number swells to over 130,000 on Saturdays in the fall when the Auburn Tigers hit the gridiron. Legend has it that a crowd exceeding 200,000 was on hand for Auburn’s game with the University of Georgia in 2004. Football is a religion in the South, and Alabama is its holy land. The Auburn Tigers are undeniably the best team in the state and are arguably the best team in the nation’s best conference. The phrase “game day” is a bit misleading in this small college town as the RV’s begin showing up at 5 p.m. on Thursdays. Why 5 p.m. on Thursdays? Because they aren’t allowed in any sooner.
For many, a trip to Auburn for the big game is not complete without a visit to Chuck’s Bar-B-Que in the neighboring town of Opelika. The central Georgia/Alabama area has a barbecue style that is distinct to this region. It originated in the 50’s at a place in Columbus, GA called Smokey Pig by Buck Ferrell. Buck is the uncle of Chuck’s owner, Chuck Ferrell. Chuck’s Bar-B-Que has become the standard barer for the Smokey Pig style of cue.
So what is unique about this style of barbecue found exclusively in the villages of Auburn, Opelika, and Phoenix City in Alabama and Columbus and LaGrange in Georgia? Well, there is a lot involved. First off, they use a very specific cut of pork called a CT butt. Essentially it is a Boston butt that has had the bone and the fat cap removed. Therefore it is a leaner roast usually weighing between 2½ to 4 pounds.
Secondly, Chuck’s uses a wood fire of oak, hickory, and occasionally pecan rather than the usual bed of coals. This creates a hotter fire so the barbecue is done faster. It is an intense cooking method that requires constant attention. Ferrell prefers to oversee this himself. “I like to cook the product. I have some guys that work for me that can cook it just probably as good as I can. But for some reason, I just don’t think nobody can cook it as good as I can; so if I’m there, that’s what I like to do is cook,” he told The Southern BBQ Trail.
The finished product is a roast that is a little bigger than a softball with a good deal of char on the outside. Chuck’s offers the pork three ways, chopped, chipped, or sliced long ways. The most popular is the chipped (or finely chopped) because of the quality of sandwich it produces. The busiest days of the year are during Auburn home games and it is not unusual for Chuck’s to sell 2,000 chipped pork sandwiches on those days.
The final originality that signifies the Smokey Pig style is the sauce. It is a combination of ketchup, mustard, and cider vinegar with a few spices thrown in. The mustard sauce is used not just on the barbecue but it is also the sauce for their uncommon coleslaw as well which garnishes each sandwich. It even flavors the Brunswick stew which is another house favorite, often topped with a little chopped pork for good measure.
One last bit of business when visiting Chuck’s, it is not uncommon for folks there to greet you with the phrase, “War Eagle.” Don’t ask any questions, just say it back to them and go your way.
905 Short Ave.
The restaurant is just a mile or so off of Interstate 85. The town of Opelika is about 45 minutes east of Montgomery, AL and an hour west of Atlanta, Georgia.