By Pamela Coyle
Keep in mind three things about Ridgewood Barbecue in Bluff City:
It’s not easy to find. Don’t ask for the recipe because only two people in the world know it, and it’s not written down. And most importantly, it’s all about the ham.
Ridgewood’s signature barbecue dish is pit-cooked with a heavy-smoked taste, then sliced thin and piled on platters or massive sandwiches with a tangy sauce. It’s a method Larry Proffitt’s father, Jim, developed back in the 1940s.
The key, Proffitt says, is starting with a high-quality product.
“Any country boy knows you put pork shoulders in sausage,” Proffitt says. “We use hams. They make for a different type of barbecue, with more body. It’s not like you are eating something mushy.”
The smoke pits are outside, which Proffitt says is a requirement. Ridgewood now has four pits and smokes at least 150 10- to 13-pound deboned hams each week, double that in the summer.
Obviously, the formula works, so the family sees no reason to change it, to the delight of customers and food critics alike.
Back in 1948, Grace and Jim Proffitt picked a spot on Old Highway 19E to start their restaurant, and it still serves the venture well, despite its small-town surroundings. Bluff City is home to less than 2,000 residents, but foodies come from miles around to enjoy one-of-a-kind barbecue from a family that cares about maintaining the restaurant’s original charm and draw.
“It is just a little joint,” Proffitt says. “You have to want to come to find us.”
Proffitt started working there when he was a boy, often picking up the manual-labor tasks.
“When someone didn’t show up on Saturday, guess who washed the dishes and bused the tables?” he jokes. He’s now passed along the family tradition to his daughter, Lisa Peters, who runs the restaurant. But don’t expect anyone outside the family to take over.
The recipe has more than 24 ingredients, and after Proffitt’s brother died in 2003, it was time to pass on the family legacy to the next generation. He wrote out the recipe, made Lisa study it and practice reciting it aloud until she had it down, and then burned the paper.
That’s what you call a secret family recipe.
The Dish on Ridgewood Barbecue
Throughout the year, our team travels the state in search of good food and friendly service. In each issue, we feature one of Tennessee’s best eateries, and in our opinion, the best dishes to try.
Ridgewood Barbecue is located at 900 Elizabethtown Highway, Bluff City, TN 37618. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
To contact Ridgewood Barbecue, call 423-538-7543.