By Marlee Moore
Chequita Walker takes a simple approach to pork preparation — a move that helped the subtly smoked swine at JJ’s BBQ in Elba clinch the title of Bama’s Best Pulled Pork.
“The recipes aren’t a big secret, but I’m not telling everybody,” Walker said with a smile. “Texture matters. If the pork is cooked right, it falls apart.”
Sponsored by the Alabama Pork Producers, the Bama’s Best Pulled Pork contest scoured the state for hometown restaurants paying homage to barbecue. JJ’s BBQ serves slow-smoked pork shoulder infused with hints of hickory, oak and pecan. The tender meat is then mixed with burnt ends that crackle and melt when diners bite into the ‘que, particularly when it’s served on a sandwich or piled on a baked potato.
JJ’s BBQ was one of four restaurants judges visited July 15-16. The Bama’s Best Pulled Pork Final Four was selected from over 100 nominations on Facebook and scored over 2,000 votes.
Judges were pig farmer Josh Tubbs, Alabama Farmers Federation Pork Division Director Russ Durrance and “Simply Southern TV” host Mary Wilson.
Tubbs, whose family raises hogs in Walker County, said judging criteria included pork texture and taste, followed by sauce flavor.
“If I can take a good piece of pork and enhance it with sauce, that’s good,” he said. “If the sauce doesn’t take away from the flavor, that’s even better. JJ’s was the best of both worlds.”
Durrance said it was impressive to see communities rally around the Bama’s Best Pulled Pork finalists.
“We visited places that are off the beaten path,” he said. “It’s cool to see community support for these restaurants and for the pork industry. Farmers are out working every day of the year, and we appreciate consumers who enjoy their great products.”
JJ’s menu must-haves include ribs, barbecue baked beans, rice cooked in chicken broth and served with pulled chicken, and smooth, mustardy potato salad. Walker spoons up two sauces — a sweet, tomato-based sauce and a spicier version she likes to drizzle on a pulled pork sandwich heaped with slaw.
Family plays a big part in JJ’s BBQ. Walker grew up watching her father and grandfather smoke whole hogs and worked in the restaurant business before branching out on her own. The walk-up-only restaurant is manned by family members and is named after Walker’s adopted son, Josiah.
Walker, who works full time for the Department of Corrections, said her next goal is to build a dine-in restaurant.
“The people of Elba have shown me nothing but love. They come out and support me,” said Walker, who was born and raised locally. “I have love in my heart for what I do.”
As Bama’s Best Pulled Pork winner, JJ’s BBQ won $500 and will be featured in the September Neighbors magazine. The Elba eatery also earned bragging rights and a plaque, courtesy of the Alabama Pork Producers.
JJ’s is open Thursday and Friday from 4:30-8:30 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit the restaurant at 509 Claxton Ave., Elba, AL 36323.
The remaining Bama’s Best Pulled Pork finalists were Heard’s BBQ in Maplesville, Holy Smoke BBQ in Hartselle and The Pink Pig food truck in Moulton.
The finalists and JJ’s BBQ will be featured in the next season of “Simply Southern TV.” Wilson, who hosts the Alabama Farmers Federation-sponsored show, thanked all four finalists for hosting the judges.
“I’ve always told people that if I could have only one meal for the rest of my life, it would be BBQ pork, so judging this contest was a dream come true,” Wilson said. “The four finalists did not disappoint and definitely deserved to be honored. It was tough competition, but the smokiness of JJ’s BBQ really stood out. I also judge pork by the flavor you find in the burnt