BBQ is like DNA. No two region’s plates are exactly alike. Every part of America that smoke-cooks meat has its own way of doing it. The main differences are what meat is cooked, what kind of wood is used, different side dishes, different sauces (if any), different rituals of how it’s served and eaten. Until finding the Smokey Pig Bar-B-Que in Bowling Green (in Warren County, Kentucky), I was unaware that Monroe County in southernmost Kentucky has a style all its own.
Scott Huffer, whose family runs the Smokey Pig, explained that Monroe Co. BBQ is signified by shoulders that are thinly sliced into big pieces (not chopped or pulled) and customarily bathed in dip, the central Kentucky term for sauce. This sauce is not all that similar to dip up in mutton country around Owensboro, and even less like more typical ketchupy red sauces. It is more a piggy au jus, and it is pepper-hot. It all adds up to an exciting cut of meat, a vigorous chew with explosive flavor, so happily accompanied by creamy mac ‘n’ cheese, sweet & smoky beans, tart vinegar slaw or mayo slaw (both are available here).
(When I wondered, Why is Monroe County BBQ being served in Warren County? Scott told me that his family hails from there.)
More familiar barbecue on the Smokey Pig menu happens to be outstanding, too. Pulled pork is as soft as meat can be, succulent and subtle flavored, wanting only a drizzle of sweet Kentucky sauce.
Brisket is as lavish as bacon and nearly as flavorful. Ribs are big, meaty ones, heavily imprinted with smoke. Chicken drips with juice as soon as its chewy skin is breached.
Eating at the Smokey Pig is casual and comfortable, with one dining room offering a nice view of the Barren River below. Orders are placed at a window in the front room. The window is surrounded by moveable-letter signs with the regular menu as well as hand-written placards noting specials. There are a lot of choices (none bad, in my experience), so first-timers may need a while to decide. But if your palate is a curious one, I recommend Monroe County shoulder.