One Tank Travels: Barbecue in the Arkansas Delta

We invite you to have “More Fun Per Gallon”  in Arkansas this year. Each day we will be blogging on different Arkansas destinations that can be reached on one tank of gas or less. This is basically every corner of The Natural State. We hope these suggestions help you in planning a trip to remember.

Today’s Trip: Blytheville, Marianna and DeValls Bluff

Today’s “One Tank Travel” is a little different! We’re focusing on a thing, not a location. And wow…what a “thing” it is! Barbecue!

Barbecue is a passion in the South. People crave it. They “fight” over whose is the best. They drive for hours and hours to get to their favorite pitmaster to savor luscious meat he has prepared (I say “he” because I don’t think I know any lady pitmasters…if you do, let me know!). Here in the Arkansas Delta, we have some of the best you’ll find. Barbecue is very subjective. We all have different tastes, so some of you will probably disagree with my choices. But that’s okay! Tell me your favorite and I’ll go give it a try! In the meantime, jump in the car and take a Barbecue Tour of the Arkansas Delta.

I’ll start with the barbecue joint that’s closest to my home and my heart! A mere four blocks from my house in Marianna, you’ll find Jones Barbecue Diner. On a windy day, I can stand on my front porch and smell the amazing aroma of smoked pork! At Jones’s, the menu is simple and straightforward. You can get sandwiches, on white bread, with or without the homemade slaw or you can buy the meat by the pound. That’s pretty much it. You can buy a cold canned drink and a bag of chips to complete your meal, but you won’t find beans or fries or any other food. The barbecue, the slaw or the sauce has not changed in over a century…the preparation and the recipes remain the same. The meat is smoked for 12-13 hours. The sauce is relatively thin and slightly vinegary with just a hint of sweet. It’s wonderful stuff! In a recent article in Saveur magazine, culinary writer John T. Edge described Jones as, “one pitmaster I’ll always go out of my way to visit.” In May, pitmaster Harold Jones received a James Beard Foundation award as an “America’s Classic,” the first restaurant in Arkansas to receive the prestigious designation. When I first interviewed Mr. Harold, he was cooking about 900 pounds of pork a week. Since receiving the award, that amount has TRIPLED! The diner is normally open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. until about 2 p.m. The hours vary, especially when Jones sells all the barbecue he has on hand. Since the news broke about the restaurant receiving the James Beard Foundation designation, barbecue lovers from across the country have been showing up in Marianna…. Texas, Oklahoma, New York, Virginia, New Mexico, Florida, California, Tennessee and one lone Parisian visiting Memphis have all made their way to the small restaurant that holds two tables! Jones Barbecue has been a part of the food culture in the Arkansas Delta for more than a century. The Southern Foodways Alliance believes Jones Barbecue to be the oldest African-American owned restaurants in the South and possibly the nation. If you want to try the award-winning barbecue, come early! It’s best to call and check before traveling to visit. The telephone number is 870-295-3807. But as a life-long Jones barbecue eater, I can tell you, it’s worth the trip!
Craig’s Brothers Café in DeValls Bluff has caught the eye (or tastebuds!) of writers and editors of “Garden and Gun” magazine. Craig’s appeared on their “Best of the New South” list with the powerful statement, “If you had to eat a BBQ sandwich every day for the rest of your life, this would be it.” Since the 1940s, Craig’s Brothers Café (or as it’s called by most, Craig’s Barbecue) has been a favorite barbecue joint for thousands in the mid-South. If you don’t believe me, try and find a parking spot on a Saturday afternoon! Located right on U.S. 70, Craig’s serves more than just barbecue. You’ll find ribs, smoked chicken, and burgers on the menu. At Craig’s, unlike many barbecue joints in the Arkansas Delta, you have a choice of beef or pork. You’re also given the option on sauce: mild, medium or hot. I’ve heard about the hot…it’s been described as “diabolical!” The Arkansas Times stated “the hot sauce means business!” I’ll stick with the mild! But you’re probably braver than me. To say people flock to Craig’s is an understatement. Some say it’s because of barbecue, some says it’s the sauce, others point to the piquant coleslaw. Whatever it is that makes Craig’s barbecue sandwich one of the most beloved in the mid-South, I can assure you this…they won’t give you the recipe! You’ll find Craig’s Brothers Café right off U.S. 70 in DeValls Bluff. They are open seven days a week but their hours vary, so I suggest you give them a call at 870-998-2616.

The Dixie Pig in Blytheville has been serving up some of the best barbecue in the South…for nearly a century! Our friends at the Arkansas Times describe the sauce as “a fiery, thin blend of pepper and vinegar” and is best when used “in moderation.” To me, that means it’s hot and spicy! I “hear” that there is a thicker sauce kept behind the counter, but you have to ask for it! At the Dixie Pig, the barbecue is the whole hog and chopped and known as “the pig sandwich.” You can also get ribs, normally on the weekend. The Dixie Pig is also known for their homemade fries and onion rings. The Dixie Pig is located at 701 North Sixth St. in Blytheville You can give them a call at 870-763-4636.

So fill your tank, grab the family and go grab some world-famous Arkansas Delta barbecue! Safe travels!

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