Friday, March 9, 2012

Old Hickory Bar-B-Q

KENTUCKY: Old Hickory Bar-B-Q
338 Washington Ave
Owensboro, KY 42301
Open Sun-Thur 9-9, F-Sat 9-10

Old Hickory was my third and final stop in Owensboro for mutton barbecue. It seems to be the favorite among locals who leave Moonlite for the tourists. Like the others in town, they smoke with hickory on a steel pit, but the rest of the experience is quite different. Buffet lines are replaced with service from a waitstaff, and combo plates and sandwiches replace heaping piles of barbecue, mashed potatoes and fried shrimp from steam tables. For a little extra you can order your meats "From the Pit" and get meat fresh out of the smoker. I sadly wasn't made aware of this option until after my visit.

I was hitting a wall on stomach space, but the trio of mutton (chopped, sliced and ribs) was too tempting to pass up. I got a side of burgoo alongside with some mashed potatoes that were suggested by the waitress. They were instant potatoes with canned gravy, but the rest was mostly positive.

The three popular forms of mutton together on a plate were a full spectrum of fat content, and therefore gaminess. The ribs had ribbons of soft fat running between the smoky meat. The flavor reminds me of the smell of wet wool, and it's hard to overcome. All of that is probably a personal issue because the rest of the ribs' qualities were just fine. The chopped mutton had more of the gamey flavor than either Ole South or Moonlite. The smokiness was still strong with a heavy vinegar flavor of the sauce that had already been added. The texture was fine and wet like saucy chopped pork. Less smoky was the sliced mutton which had some crispy ends, but it was overwhelmed by the thin sauce that it had been dipped in. The meat was moist without any of that gaminess I'd been inundated with on this plate.

The burgoo here was another winner. Great depth to the seasoning and a long cooking time brought out a complexity unlike the other joint's burgoo in town. Individual ingredients couldn't be identified since they'd been fully incorporated and broken down into the stew-like concoction.

As an outsider, I don't profess to have the ability to appreciate the intricacies of mutton barbecue, but the overt gaminess of the cuts here was hard to savor. This may be the precise reason why seasoned locals love it so much. It also may be that I was just muttoned out, but my memories of the flavors at Moonlite are superior. Either way, I'm more than willing to give it another go.

Rating ***
Old Hickory Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon


Josh said...

As an Owensboro native, I would say your dislike of the Old Hickory mutton is more an indication of your reaction to mutton in general and not Old Hickory.

Ole South has always been fairly bland as far as BBQ goes. I'm not sure how it is now that they have new ownership, but in the past they made more money selling breakfast than BBQ. Ole South is sort of like a home grown Cracker Barrel that just happens to serve BBQ too.

Moonlite sells its buffet to locals and its BBQ to tourist. Its mutton is, by design, as pork-like as possible. Its not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it definitely doesn't give you the full flavor and complexity of proper Owensboro style mutton. People here tend to think of Moonlite as the McDonalds of BBQ. They make their food appeal to as broad an audience as possible and it works. Honestly they are the first experience a lot of out of town locals (like people from Evansville) have with mutton- and it gets them interested. And that is great, they make a lot of money, do a lot to promote Owensboro regionally and nationally, and they give people the mutton bug.

Old Hickory offers what most locals consider proper mutton- with all of its tangy, gamey flavor. What most people consider off putting about mutton (ie: the gamey flavor) is what most here look for.

If you are ever back in town I would suggest trying a chopped mutton sandwich, from your joint of choosing. The buns, pickle, and onion really add something to the experience.

BBQ Snob said...

Thanks for the insight Josh. I had that feeling the entire way through this meal. I can't wait to give it another try.

Mark said...

First I wanted to say that I love your site! I am going to the final four in Dallas this April and I am making a bbq pilgrimage of my own through Lulling (City Market), Lockhart (Big 3), Elgin (Southside Market), a Saturday in Lexington (Snows), and finally Dallas on the weekend for Pecan Lodge and maybe Lockhart Smokehouse. BBQ is a hobby of mine and enjoy all types.

I am an Owensboro native and I think you may want to try Old Hickory again and get something straight from the pitt. I would suggest go through the deli and not dine in. I have eaten bbq in KC, North Carolina, Memphis, and Texas. Old Hickory is still in my top 15 and in the top 3 of anything outside of the big 4 bbq regions. Get the chopped and slice mutton. Also the chopped or slice pork is good as well. Moonlite is good for overall food, but the bbq is suspect. Keep up the good work on the site! Also, congratulations on your new position!


Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.