Chuckwagon BBQ: Madison, AL
with Mike Johnston
On day 22 of my journey I thought I'd have two stops, but the planned second one didn't happened because it turned out they were being permanently closed. That's okay, because they would have had a hard time matching the experience I had at ChuckWagon BBQ in Madison, Alabama. Madison isn't a very big city with a population of about 50k, but that didn't mean I could just walk in and have the place to myself. I arrived right at opening time and there were already 15 or so people ahead me just waiting for Mike Holley and his son Stephen to begin serving up their Texas-style 'cue.
Stephen is an easy going guy and you get that vibe from him right away. We connected first and he assured me that they'd try to give me a few minutes. His dad is an imposing presence, tall, with his beard, apron and signature cowboy hat. At first when he started slicing up 'cue for the first customer, I thought he was going to be a tough nut to crack. But as the line progressed, you could start to see that he was warming up...cracking a few smiles and engaging with his customers who wanted to chat a bit while still keeping the line moving!
I could see from my vantage point in the line that this brisket was definitely of the quality that I was getting back in Texas. And when it was my turn, I ordered a three meat plate consisting of sausage, ribs and brisket. He also pulled some pork directly from a whole pork shoulder...no chopping necessary. My sides were corn, slaw and baked beans that are made the same way his great-grandfather made them. I also ordered up one of Mike's wife Francis' fried peach pies. Everything on the plate was very good. The highlights for me were the brisket, sausage, pulled pork and those perfect campfire beans. The fried pie was out of this world good...warm peaches essentially wrapped in a sugar donut would be how I would describe them!
Turns out 'ole Mike Holley was a great guy and story teller. Oh if you could have been a fly on the wall by our table (not that I saw any). He and Stephen spent a good 90 minutes chatting it up with me, all while still managing to keep the constant flow of customers satisfied.
When you go there, you might want to get there early. I hear I got lucky - the line can wrap the building on most days. And you wouldn't want to miss out on the best Texas style 'cue in Alabama. #chasingbbq