On the list of things Southerners love, barbecue comes somewhere between Saturday afternoon college football games and Elvis Presley's music.
Every Southern state from Tennessee to Texas hails the superiority of its barbecue, and Kentucky is no exception.
Hickory-smoked barbecue has been a staple of commonwealth cooking since frontier days, when it was served at church gatherings, picnics, pie suppers and "moonlights," where square dancing to a string band was an occasion calling for nothing but the best barbecue.
The best Kentucky-style barbecue is usually pork or mutton smoked in a hickory pit, basted with savory sauce, and traditionally served with a big slice of white onion and corn cakes.
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The gold standard of Kentucky barbecue is found at Moonlite BBQ in Owensboro (hey, Bill Clinton is a fan, and Arkansans know something about barbecue), but you don't have to go quite that far for a heaping helping of something spicy.
Should you need a barbecue fix this weekend, here are three places outside Lexington (which sports enough fine barbecue for its own story) worth trying:
If you think you won't find quality barbecue outside of Western Kentucky until pigs fly, just head out U.S. 25 to Scott County. When you see the flying pig about 5 miles north of the courthouse in Georgetown, you'll know you've arrived.
Fat Boys BBQ has so many loyal followers that getting in on a Friday or Saturday night is problematic. Not surprising, with a full menu of ribs (half- or full rack, with or without sides), pulled pork, brisket and chicken, served with barbecue side staples such as coleslaw, potato salad, corn, fried pickles and cowboy beans. Almost as an afterthought, it lists stuffed tomato with chicken or tuna salad at the bottom of the menu.
You could easily overlook Stop and Go in Richmond (no flying pig here) if not for the tiny diner's color scheme of red, white and green. The food, however, speaks for itself. The coleslaw is creamy perfection, the baked beans have extra seasoning, and there are two special sauces: one for chicken and one for ribs, pork and beef brisket.
Tucked away off Louisville's Hurstbourne Parkway, Famous Dave's isn't the easiest place to find either, but make the effort. It might be part of a Minnesota-based chain and it might look a bit like Cracker Barrel, but don't let that deter you. It offers chicken wings and Texas beef brisket, but the award-winning ribs are the star on this menu. Try the Southside rib tips, a pound of hickory-smoked goodness served with fries, jalapeño pickled red onions called Hell-Fire pickles, and Dave's famous Rich and Sassy Sauce, so secret that according to Dave, even his mother doesn't know what's in it.
In November, barbecue aficionados across the commonwealth will converge on Danville's Constitution Square for the inaugural Kentucky State BBQ Festival, Nov. 5 and 6.
Superstars in the world of barbecue smoking will fire up their grills for the event, where attendees can taste and not just salivate over what is being prepared.
Among those confirmed for the festival are pitmasters Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe, a host on CBS Sports' Ultimate Barbecue Showdown and a judge on the Food Network's Tailgate Warriors, and Carey Bringle, whose Memphis Wet Sauce was named the No. 2 barbecue sauce in the country by Bon Appetit magazine. Joining them will be two-time Memphis in May's Whole Hog World Champion Melissa Cookston, and TLC's Pitmaster finalist Moe Cason.
For more information, go to Kentuckybbqfestival.com.