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Ridgewood barbecue: The best in the state

“That is the best!”Photo by Brandon Hicks
Confirming what thousands of customers already knew, Ridgewood Barbecue has earned the title of best barbecue in Tennessee by the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
TDEC Commissioner Bill Hagerty visited the restaurant Friday afternoon to present Ridgewood owner Larry Proffitt with the official award for being named best barbecue restaurant in the state of Tennessee. TDEC conducted an online poll through Facebook to gain the public’s opinion of which restaurant was king of barbecue.
The poll gained more than 3,000 votes and Ridgewood Barbecue earned 2/3 of those votes. A total of five restaurants made the final round of the poll.
“This is quite an honor,” Proffitt said. “We are so thankful and humble that the people voted and selected us as No. 1.”
Proffitt said it was the restaurant’s loyal customer base that helped the business win the state title.
“We know who feeds us, and that is the customer,” Proffitt said. “We have people who come from all over, but who is here on a Tuesday morning in February? That is our local customers.”
Hagerty visited the restaurant to share a lunch with Proffitt at Ridgewood. The business opened for the special visit as it had been closed this past week for employee vacations.
“It is great to be here to celebrate something pretty special,” Hagerty said.
Hagerty and his staff members enjoyed a lunch including a barbecue sandwich, fries and beans, blue cheese dip and slaw.
“This is the best,” Hagerty declared after tasting the sandwich.
What is the secret to the best barbecue in Tennessee? Proffitt and his daughter Lisa Proffitt Peters, who manages the restaurant, say it is consistency.
“It is quality and continuity,” Peters said. “We make it the same as my grandparents did. The recipe and the portions have not changed. We have had people who hadn’t been back in years, and they say the food tastes exactly the same.”
Proffitt said his father developed the recipe that has been used for the barbecue after opening the restaurant. The restaurant opened in 1948. It changed focus to a barbecue restaurant in the 1950s when Sullivan County became a dry county and ended alcohol sales.
“My father developed the recipe, and my mom, my brother and me, we memorized it,” Proffitt said. “It has never been written down. Now I have passed it down to my daughter and she has it. We do it the same way my mom did. If you come back in 20 years, we will still be serving it the same, Lord willing.”
Proffitt said just talking about the family’s barbecue recipe gets his mouth watering.
“For us, barbecue is about fire and smoke,” he said. “We smoke our meat over hickory wood. If you are hunting for ambience, don’t come here. We are focused on selling food so good your mouth will water just talking about it.”
The family’s focus on quality barbecue has paid off. The restaurant has been the focus of many news articles over the years, has appeared on national TV and has been the subject of books and documentaries.
Now, the restaurant is wearing the crown of best barbecue in Tennessee. Proffitt said that will not change anything for the restaurant.
“We are here to do what we do, make an honest living selling good food,” he said.