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Exploring Alabama’s top-ranked barbecue city

Greater Birmingham is moving on up. When it comes to barbecue, the ’Ham is fire, according to the data crunchers at Clever Marketing

They rated the Birmingham-Hoover metro area as the nation’s fourth-best for fans of smoked and pit-cooked meats, not to mention those who count macaroni and cheese as a side vegetable. The area came in sixth last year in the same group’s analysis.

But that’s not all. Clever’s latest report also ranked metro Birmingham-Hoover fourth nationally for barbecue eateries with the best collard greens, third for best catfish; and, of course, first for fried green tomatoes.

The three top metros on the list have serious barbecue bona fides, Austin, Texas; Memphis, Tennessee; and San Antonio, Texas. It’s good company.

(Emerson Vieira/Unsplash)

The annual analysis by the real-estate data firm covers the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas. The Birmingham-Hoover MSA includes Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair, Walker, Bibb, Blount, and Chilton counties.

It’s little wonder Alabama’s largest metro ranks so high for barbecue. Many local restaurants hew to tradition by cooking over fire on pits versus more widely-used meat smokers.

Most major barbecue styles are represented. The area has whole-hog specialists (Martin’s and three locations of Rodney Scott’s), a chicken-and-white sauce queen (Miss Myra’s), and Carolina-style pork butt practitioners with their distinctive tomato-vinegar sauces (SAW’s six locations).

The region even has its own barbecue style, represented by restaurants like Bob Sykes (Bessemer), Demetri’s (Homewood), Full Moon (multiple locations), and Dreamland (multiple locations). Founded in 1891, Golden Rule Bar-B-Q in Irondale is Alabama’s oldest continuously-operating restaurant of any sort.

(Golden Rule Bar-B-Q Irondale/Facebook)

What sets metro Birmingham-Hoover apart in Clever’s rankings? They found its people are particularly passionate about ribs and pulled pork (although beef brisket is making inroads, too). The area also has plenty of restaurants and food trucks to slake those cravings.

Clever set its “barbecue passion” rating by examining Google searches for information like specific barbecue joints, cuts of meat, or DIY advice. Birmingham-Hoover scored 98.5 out of 100. That was a huge leap over the 2022 survey, when its barbecue passion rating was 89.3, according to Clever.

The metro area ranked near the top for the number of barbecue restaurants, with just over four per 100,000 residents. In fact, Clever says, the area’s roster is a whopping 74 percent larger than the national average.

Riverside, California, which ranked dead last, bless its heart, has a paltry 0.71 barbecue restaurants per capita. And that meat is overpriced, the analysis concludes.

(Emerson Vieira/Unsplash)

There’s more tipping the scale for the Birmingham-Hoover metro area. It’s also near the top nationally for barbecue food trucks, with 1.08 per 100,000 residents. The national average was .74 trucks per capita.

The best measure of the metro area’s love for barbecue can be found in two Clever stats. While the price for pulled pork roughly tracks the national average ($5.29 per pound locally versus $5.32), the percentage of income devoted to barbecue is vastly greater. Birmingham-Hoover metro residents spend 40 percent more of their paychecks on smoked meat than the national average. That means they eat barbecue more often.

For now, we’ll put aside health concerns, including the recent analysis by WalletHub ranking the nation’s healthiest and unhealthiest cities including Birmingham (126th worst out of 182), Huntsville (137th), Mobile (156th), and Montgomery (177th).

Birmingham’s barbecue is too tasty to not at least briefly celebrate its place among the nation’s best. So, for tonight I’ll get a rack of ribs, sauce on the side. Hold the mac and cheese.

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