Helen's Bar-B-Que Is a Place On Earth

During Yahoo Y’All week, we’re celebrating the food culture of the American South. Expect profiles of cooks, makers, and bartenders, plus recipes showcasing the classics (and twists on those classics) you love.

“Women don’t cook barbecue,” one of Helen Turner’s customers told her years ago.

“Well I do,” she retorted at the time. She’s been doing so all by herself for just about two decades at her Helen’s Bar-B-Q in Brownsville, Tennessee.

“It’s just me and this barbecue place. This is just what I do, six days a week, all day long.” From making the sauce—there are no bottles here—to pulling the pork to hand-writing the bare but excellent menu on white poster board, this is Helen’s show. (If you need proof, know that she burns through two food processors a year just by making coleslaw.) The only thing she gets help with is lighting the fire: Her husband has been doing that part every morning without fail for 17 years, so the oak and hickory wood have transformed into coal by the time she arrives at work.

“I don’t care who walks in this place: When you walk back out you smell just like Helen’s,” she says in the video above. It was made by the Southern Foodways Alliance as part of its Keeper of the Flame Award, given to heroes and heroines of traditional foodways like Helen.

Watch the video for more, including how Helen learned to be a pitmaster and why some of her customers come all the way from Illinois for her $4 barbecue sandwich.

For more on barbecue, read:
Franklin BBQ, By the Numbers
Things People Do While Waiting in Line at Franklin BBQ
21 of the Best BBQ Sandwiches

What’s your favorite barbecue spot in the South?