Alabama's best export might be slathered with sauce. Alabama-based barbecue restaurants are spreading throughout the South and beyond, slowly gaining an out-of-state foothold in a highly regionalized business where diners can be pretty picky about what's on their plate.
Any fan of Southeastern Conference football knows about Tuscaloosa's Dreamland BBQ Ribs, which started in a smoky, dark building in 1958 a few miles from the University of Alabama. Dreamland now has six restaurants, including two in upscale parts of metro Atlanta, and each has the same motto: "Ain't nothing like' em nowhere."
Golden Rule Bar-B-Q, which opened in 1891 near Birmingham, has 20 locations in Alabama and has expanded to one each in Georgia and Tennessee with plans to move into more states by the end of the year.
And Jim N' Nicks Bar-B-Q has grown beyond its Alabama roots into Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee. With projected sales of $79 million this year, Jim N' Nicks has plans to grow to two dozen locally owned restaurants by early next year, with one as far away as Denver.
The trick, according to Jim N' Nicks marketing director Sam Burn, is translating the tradition, food and fun of a backyard cookout into a restaurant experience that sells across state lines. He says barbecue is something people are really passionate about.
He says it's "very personal and communal and local."
Food expert, John T- Edge, says the migration of barbecue restaurants has quickened in recent years. He calls it a "curious phenomenon," one that goes against generations of tradition of old Southern men, black and white, cooking meat by a pit for neighbors.
Full Moon Bar-B-Que started in metro Birmingham and has expanded to locations including Baltimore, where Baltimore Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis operates a restaurant.
And in the Tennessee Valley of north Alabama, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur is planning to branch out.