So if you're already willing to drive, or you find yourself heading southeast on I-24 on your way to Bonnaroo, Monteagle, Chattanooga or the Atlanta-area Ikea, consider making a detour to visit Two Purple Pigs Barbecue in Manchester, Tenn. Heck, it's not even really a detour, since the restaurant is located about 100 yards off the interstate at Exit 110. There's even a billboard right before the exit to remind you to hit the brakes.
Affable owner Bob George is liable to meet you at the door. He's a native Tullahoman, but learned how to cook in the army and how to cook barbecue, specifically, while living in Memphis. Tell him if it's your first visit, and he'll offer what he gives to all newbies: a free sampler platter of his pulled pork, brisket, smoked ham, potato salad, baked beans and coleslaw. George is not about losing money; after sampling, he's convinced you'll buy. "I guarantee we've got something you like. We just need to find it."
All the side dishes, sauces, salad dressings and even the ranch dip for the chicken wings are made in house. When I asked if the ranch dressing came in a jar, George proudly averred, "It comes in several jars. I mix them together to make it special." And he's not lying.
The coleslaw is mild and not overly creamy, with just a touch of dill. George calls it his "redneck wine" since it's an excellent palate cleanser between bites. The mustardy potato salad was also quite tasty, with a nice light consistency. The baked beans obviously came from a can, but they also benefited from the kitchen's tinkering with the addition of some extra brown sugar to add some sweetness.
But enough about the sides, how's the meat? Quite good, actually. Two Purple Pigs manages to get quite a variety of meats out of their custom smoker behind the restaurant. With his use of a combination of cooking methods to ensure meats with different cooking times manage to arrive hot and fresh on your plate, it's obvious that George has learned a lot in his almost two years of operation.
The smoked ham is an unexpected treat on the menu. It benefits from the kiss of hickory off the smoker, and made for a delightful sandwich served up on a French roll. The brisket was also quite smoky, but not overcooked to the point of falling apart at the first attack of a fork. It waits until it hits your mouth to dissolve. Plated without sauce (like most of Two Purple Pig's main dishes), the brisket was especially good when I added George's hot barbecue sauce, which is available at each table. The mild sauce was just fine as well, but I preferred the spicier version.
The pulled pork had a very interesting flavor that I attributed to the unusual addition of black pepper as the primary ingredient in the pork rub. Rather than smoking the shoulders for 20 hours outside, Two Purple Pigs uses a combination of smoker and oven to maintain a nice balance between smokiness and moistness. The barbecue sandwich is available "Memphis style" if you prefer slaw on your bun, and is available as part of a plate for $7.00 with two sides. It was a pretty unique sandwich that I'd definitely make the return trip for.
The ribs employ a mad scientist's combination of cooking methods. Big St. Louis cuts are smoked for a couple of hours to take on the hickory flavor, then brought up to temp slowly in a Dutch oven. They are then wrapped in plastic wrap to preserve flavor and moisture as they steam themselves and render out that wonderful fat. You'd think this might lead to some limp ribs, like (blaspheme!) parboiling. But George gives them a thin coat of his rib sauce and then a quick pass across the grill to create a nice crunchy exterior around tender rib meat. They still maintain a little bit of "pull," rather than falling off the bone, so they were a delight to tear into.
In fact, Two Purple Pigs used to buy what they called "Dinosaur Ribs," which were irregularly cut but really tasty. As much as many patrons enjoyed the Fred Flintstone-like dining experience, George went back to his prettier regular-cut ribs.
George does a lot of catering, including providing the food for the executive team of Bonnaroo right across the interstate. He doesn't currently serve as a vendor on the festival grounds, but he is the first and/or last meal that a lot of Bonnaroonies enjoy during that festival. "See that gas station over there? 35,000 hippies get off the bus right there!" Two Purple Pigs is also quite popular with Canadian snowbirds who frequently stop in at the halfway point between Canada and Florida.
So if they're willing to drive that far, maybe you should take a short field trip out to try some of that wonderful peppery pork. Tell Bob we sent you, and he'll flat set you up!
Two Purple Pigs
620 Woodbury Hwy
Manchester, TN 37355