Fresh Air Bar-B-Que – Athens, GA

Name: Fresh Air Bar-B-Que
Date: 3/5/22
Address: 1110 Hull Road, Athens, GA 30601
Order: Sandwich plate with Brunswick Stew and slaw, single rib (link to menu)
Pricing: $

Monk: Of all the regions of barbecue in the southeast, Georgia barbecue is probably the one I’m least familiar with. When I have visited the Peach State and tried barbecue restaurants (primarily in Atlanta), they are either heavily Texas-influenced (Fox Bros, DAS BBQ), a fusion-type place (Heirloom Market), or in the case of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque, Carolinas whole hog. But, as friend of the blog Grant has passionately defended multiple times on his excellent food blog Marie, Let’s Eat!, there is certainly a Georgia style of barbecue with many sub-regions of its own. On a recent Monk family trip to Athens for a gymnastics competition, I purposefully sought out a more traditional Georgia barbecue joint in Fresh Air Bar-B-Que.

The original Fresh Air Bar-B-Que is in Jackson, about an hour’s drive south of Atlanta, and first opened in 1929. It is (according to their website) “the oldest pit-cooked barbecue restaurant in Georgia still in its original location,” and since that original location was opened by Dr. Joel Watkins they have expanded to Macon as well as a couple of locations in the Athens area.

Fresh Air has a simple menu of chopped pork, ribs, and chicken that comes in sandwich, basket, or plate form. I went with a sandwich plate with stew and slaw.

Fresh Air’s chopped pork was on the leaner and drier side (as can be the case in this part of Georgia according to the article from Grant above), so I added some vinegar sauce, slaw, and hot sauce. The sandwich was good, if a bit average.

I bought a single rib bone to try it out and it was well cooked with a slightly sweet sauce. I would have gladly had a couple more.

What really set the meal apart was the Brunswick stew, which was in the upper echelon of stews I’ve tasted. I’m by no means a connoisseur of Brunswick stew, but Fresh Air’s was a thicker stew as opposed to a runnier soup. The greenish slaw was made of finely diced cabbage but I’d take a Lexington-style red slaw over it any day of the week.

Unfortunately, a lot of the classic barbecue joints in the Athens area have closed in the past few years: Bill’s Bar-B-Q in nearby Hull, Paul’s Bar-B-Q, and Hot Thomas Barbecue. Of the ones still open, I would have loved to have also checked out Butt Hutt or Zeb’s or Bar-B-Que Shack and tried this chicken mull dish I’ve yet to have. Even after a visit to Fresh Air Bar-B-Que, it’s pretty obvious to me that I’ve barely scratched the surface of Georgia barbecue. Next time.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 3.5 hogs

Linkdown: 1/26/22

A fun story from Charlotte Magazine on how Chapel Hill-born fashion designer Alexander Julian got paid in barbecue for designing the original Charlotte Hornets jerseys.

According to Juilian (also known for the UNC Chapel Hill argyle and being the costume designer for Robert Altman’s The Player), “I had this idea: What good is money if you can’t buy barbecue? I call it Carolina caviar. … I said, ‘I’ll give you ownership of the design for five pounds of Carolina barbecue a month.’ A (writer) asked me to sum up the whole experience. I said, ‘Well, George (Shinn) got rich, and I got fat. I traded $10 million worth of royalties for a gut.'”

Getting paid in barbecue, that’s the dream. Well played Alexander Julian, well played.

Native News

Garren of Jon G’s Barbecue featured on the Minsters of Smoke Instagram page

…speaking of which, Jon G’s is popping up at Triple C Brewing in Charlotte tonight

Sweet Lew’s has a new “Just Peachy” barbecue sauce available through the end of the month

Non-Native News

John Tanner checks out Ruthie’s All Day, The Federalist Pig, and DCity Smokehouse for an upcoming Smoke Sheet article

Adrian Miller is interviewed for this Atlas Obscura piece on the Southern Foodways Alliance oral history project

The Oak Texas BBQ makes its debut in Kemah, TX; they were previously based in Nashville and were Speedy’s favorites

The Texas Monthly BBQ Fest moves to Lockhart for this year’s edition

Tips on selecting the best wood for barbecue

Nice merch special from Fox Bros Bar-B-Q: two mystery shirts and a mystery hat for $35

Monk’s Favorite Barbecue of 2021

Monk: While my hunch is that I had roughly as much barbecue as last year, I suspect the ratio of mediocre barbecue to great barbecue was higher than in past years. There’s always highlights to pick out, but let’s hope next year is a more favorable ratio.

In alphabetical order:

Jon G’s remains the gold standard for the Charlotte area. And it seems that the rest of the southeast is starting to catch on with Eater Carolinas naming them “Barbecue Restaurant of the Year” and Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn raving about them in an article from mid 2021. The future for Garren and Kelly remain bright.

Chopped pork sandwich from Noble Smoke – Charlotte, NC

Some of the meats at Noble Smoke can be a little hit or miss for me, but the Lexington-style chopped barbecue sandwich is ever reliable.

Speedy has said he often thinks the ribs at Peg Leg Porker are the best in the state of Tennessee, and who am I to argue? The full wings are also a must-order.

Randy’s ribs are a sub-regional variety with a sauce that I understand is found primarily in the Savannah area. It expanded my framework as to what barbecue is in different parts of the US.

Life-changing whole hog. So far I’ve only made it to Sam Jones’ outpost in Raleigh but I can’t wait to try this same tray at Skylight Inn this spring.

Sausage, wings, hash and rice, ribs, brisket, and turkey from Sweet Lew’s BBQ – Charlotte, NC (link to post)

Between the house-made sausage, the barbecue hash, and Lewis Donald’s ever-constant tweaking of his main meats, Sweet Lew’s continues to evolve, and I’m here for the the journey.

It’s a shame that Whispering Pines was takeout only but I’ll make the hour drive to Albemarle again I’m sure. Great Lexington-style barbecue.

Linkdown: 11/10/21

The Local Palate and writer Jenn Rice detail a pretty action-packed eastern North Carolina barbecue itinerary. The usual suspects are on the list including Barbecue Bros faves Wilber’s Barbecue and Southern Smoke BBQ, but there are plenty of ones I haven’t tried yet. Bookmarking for next Spring.

Native News

A new live-fire cooking restaurant called Cinder is opening in Charlotte from Husk veteran Duke Kroger (who identifies as a pitmaster in his Twitter profile)

Mac’s Speed Shop is closing its Cornelius restaurant but opening a new one in Mooresville

Jon G’s was featured in the Fall 2021 Issue of QC Exclusive

ICYMI last month, Boxyard RTP and Lawrence Barbecue are one of the 12 hottest restaurants in the Triangle

The Smoking Ho takes on North Carolina starting with Buxton Hall #CarHOlinaBBQTrip

Lewis Donald and Sweet Lew’s BBQ raised funds to help the family of a young girl who tragically took her own life at the age of 11

Non-Native News

Heim Barbecue’s Dallas location will be closed for a few weeks after a fire but its Fort Worth locations remain open

Last week’s Georgia barbecue-focused The Smoke Sheet

The SmoKing of Meats is Joe Musungi, who blends Filipino and Texas barbecue

Are barbecue lines a thing of the past?

New-ish barbecue joint Palmira BBQ is one of the stalls at Port of Call