Carlile’s Barbecue

Review by: Roadfood Team

Since 1945, Carlile’s Barbecue has been serving Birmingham with big plates of smoky pork, along with hand cut fries. Don’t forget to finish your meal with a cool slice of lemon ice box pie.

Birmingham’s Lakeview neighborhood was, in ages past, home to innumerable warehouses and machine shops servicing the city’s then-enormous steel industry. There were many hungry blue-collar workers wanting a down-home lunch like they remembered at home growing up in rural Alabama. To fill that need, two brothers, using a misspelled version of their family name, decided to set up shop in 1945 with one the city’s best-kept barbecue secrets. Quietly but busily, over 60 years later, it’s still a tradition, despite the fact that the clientele is much more likely to be white-collar, instead of blue.

Carlile’s Barbecue is a small, homey place that seems to know what local folks like. Barbecue occupies center stage, to be sure, but there’s other things, like a meat and three, with a different meat each weekday, hamburger steak, and roast beef. Patrons can choose from a wide variety of home-style vegetables, such as pinto beans, creamed (fried) corn, and turnip greens. All items come on traditional melamine plates, and the decor suggests mid-20th century Americana, with booths, faux wood paneling, and even a few stools for unaccompanied folks.

What to eat at Carlile’s Barbecue

However, Carlile’s is most noteworthy for a distinct style of barbecue in comparison to other Birmingham-area joints. Many places favor a pulled, or coarsely chopped, cut of pork shoulder, with a ketchup-based sauce spiced with Mediterranean-like herbs and seasonings.

Not so at Carlile’s Barbecue–they prefer to let the meat to do the talking. So much so, in fact, that meat drippings are the prime ingredient in their unique sauce, a concoction of probably mustard, a touch of tomato, but a whole lot of carbon. Specks of outside meat are preserved in all their goodness in the sauce, and it is something that does not in the slightest serve to cover up the meat–it truly compliments it, amplifying the already smoky, firm (crunchy in some places) pieces of porcine goodness. Travelers ought to pick up a bottle of the stuff to go, or better yet, a quart.

Put it together with some spiked baked beans, hand-cut fries, and a well-chilled piece of lemon ice box pie for dessert, and one has a true Southern barbecue meal. Service is friendly, as one would expect. And the importance of sweetened iced tea cannot be minimized here: Carlile’s brews some of the most refreshing in all of Alabama, with the right mix of sugar, ice, and lemon.

Republicans and conservatives will appreciate the fact that the restaurant honors local members of that party abundantly with plaques and photos on the walls here, as well as the requisite memorabilia of Alabama and Auburn football. Regardless of one’s partisan affiliation or college allegiances, though, Carlile’s, although outside the tourist areas of downtown somewhat, is worth a short detour.

Original post by Mike Stroud

Directions & Hours

  • Monday: 10:30 AM – 3:00 PM
  • Tuesday: 10:30 AM – 3:00 PM
  • Wednesday: 10:30 AM – 3:00 PM
  • Thursday: 10:30 AM – 3:00 PM
  • Friday: 10:30 AM – 3:00 PM
  • Saturday: Closed
  • Sunday: Closed

What To Eat

pork plate

pie slice

sweet tea

barbecue sauce


Carlile’s Barbecue Recipes


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