Dry-rubbed, hickory-smoked, no-sauce-needed ribs from Smokin’ on the Boulevard in Florence racked up the title of Bama’s Best Pork Ribs in an inaugural contest sponsored by the Alabama Pork Producers.
Jeff Carter and Karen Hill opened the roadside stand six years ago, where they cook St. Louis-style ribs low and slow in a fertilizer-buggy-turned-smoker. They said they were honored to be named Bama’s best, but accolades aren’t their priority.
“The awards don’t mean anything in comparison to our customers coming back again and again,” said Carter, whose champion restaurant received $500 from the Alabama Pork Producers. “If you’re willing to put the time in, anyone can cook like this. It affirms that we’re doing the right thing when customers say, ‘You’ve made my day again.’”
The ribs are massaged with a secret, world championship-winning dry rub before heading to a 150-degree smoker. Carter bumps up the heat by 10 degrees hourly for more than 10 hours. The result: Pull-off-the-bone tender ribs covered in a slightly spicy glaze.
While ribs are its specialty, Boston butts, chicken with white sauce, smoked bologna, pork tenderloin, brisket and smoked cabbage round out the menu. Smokin’ on the Boulevard is open Thursday-Saturday.
Bama’s Best Pork Ribs received over 900 nominations for more than 100 restaurants on Facebook this spring. Heard’s BBQ & Soul Food in Maplesville in Chilton County, one of four finalists, snagged the People’s Choice Award for receiving the most nominations. Wiley’s Smuteye Grill in Smuteye in Bullock County and Whillard’s BBQ & Grill in Marion in Perry County rounded out the Final Four.
The restaurants were pitted against each other during judging April 18-19. Judges were Alabama pig farmer Daniel Tubbs, competitive cook Bob Plaster and Alabama NewsCenter restaurant reporter Susan Swagler.
Swagler said the finalists served up barbecue brilliance worth the drive — even if it’s across the state.
“I was just blown away by the flavor and quality of ribs they are serving at all four places,” she said. “I was humbled by the stories of these barbecue cooks and incredibly impressed with the support of their local communities. These are good people serving honest-to-goodness great food.”
The Alabama Farmers Federation’s Guy Hall said the contest highlighted an iconic cut of meat just in time for summer road trips and grilling season.
“The Alabama Pork Producers was proud to uncover some of the finest pork rib restaurants in the state,” said Hall, the Federation’s Pork Division director. “Each had excellent rib recipes that would make your month water, and all four are worth a road trip.”