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Recently a billboard was placed along I-65 claiming that Puckett’s was top 10 in the US for barbecue.  TOP 10?!?!?!  That’s a really bold claim, especially considering some of their Alabama neighbors that are heavy hitters on the national barbecue scene.  When you then consider the huge names nationally, Top 10 is a very narrow field in which to land. Whether or not that claim is true, or whatever method was used to determine such status, it had my attention.  It was now on Chase’s Hit List.

With some quick research, I discovered Puckett’s is a chain that began in the 1950’s in a grocery store in Tennessee.  The Alabama restaurant in Cullman is the first location outside of Tennessee, the seventh overall.  That makes sense because in all my travels I had never heard of Puckett’s and I have eaten great barbecue in Cullman.  While the city is a curious choice, the physical location isn’t.  I-65 is the major route for those traveling to the Gulf’s powder white beaches.  Millions of cars pass by Puckett’s current location, which is right off the interstate.  You can see it from the road so accessing it is easy.  What better reason to pull over on a road trip than for barbecue?

Puckett’s isn’t just a restaurant, it’s an entertainment venue.  Visually it pulls you in with a vintage décor that includes old signage and containers along with reclaimed doors and wood.  It’s bright and colorful with all the modern comforts yet maintains a rustic character.  Be aware that there is a bar and small stage for live music, but I saw plenty of young families with small kids.  It’s definitely a family restaurant, just be aware they’re appealing to a broad group of folks.

The pulled pork had a lovely smoke ring, with a smooth color grade from bark to pink to a smoky interior.  There was a flavor note I couldn’t identify, possibly from smoking it with cherry wood.  That’s a choice not often found in barbecue as the most common woods are hickory and oak.  Fruit woods do infuse a different flavor and Puckett’s has something in its flavor profile that was unusual but enjoyable.  The larger chunks of meat really let deliver the smoke flavor to your palette.  It actually doesn’t need sauce, but there are two options on the table.

The first is a Memphis style sauce, tomato base with no heat.  It’s thin and mildly seasoned, giving it a light texture but it does read as very sweet.  The other is a spicy, Texas style sauce that hits you immediately with spice then finishes with heat.  It’s a much more sophisticated and developed flavor than just dumping cayenne into your house sauce.  I actually preferred the spicy sauce.

The smoky baked beans were smooth and tender, heavy on the bacon and with a depth of flavor that was probably developed through lengthy simmering.  The bean flavor really comes through with a touch of sweetness.  The slaw was basic, coarsely shredded cabbage and carrots lightly dressed.  It was neither acidic nor fatty but crisp and refreshing.  The sweet potato fries were fire!  They were crisp on the outside, soft and creamy inside, and full of that rich, earthy flavor.  If you love sweet potatoes, these are your ticket.

I think an under-appreciated side is whatever bread is served on the side.  There’s not always a need for creativity as sometimes you need basic Sunbeam white bread to wipe up the remnants of warm barbecue sauce.  But sometimes thinking outside the box can pay dividends.  Puckett’s serves two small Cajun corn cakes as their bread accompaniment.  They resemble little pancakes and look great on the tray.  They’re tasty and a fun spin on bread.

This isn’t just a barbecue restaurant.  Their menu features lots of Southern entrees and sides that are favorites wherever you’re from.  Healthy salads are on the menu and breakfast is served during morning hours.  Puckett’s is quite versatile.  You’ll be comfortable grabbing a quick bite in your shorts and t-shirt, but you won’t be out of place if you come in dressed for a night out.  It’s fun and delicious!  There’s not a better combination than that.

Bonus Points:

Fountain Coke products

Sauce on the table

Sports on TV

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