“A lot of people would go out and buy hickory chips. That’s not—that won't give you anything. You have to use green hickory wood. You need to cut a tree down.” – Anthony Bledsoe
Woodstock Store N’ Deli
Anthony Bledsoe cuts his own trees for fuel. He chooses hickory trees from the forests that surround this tiny community of Woodstock, Tennessee. Fresh green hickory imparts a flavor, he says, that is unbeatable; conventional dried, aged, and soaked hickory chips just go up in smoke.
Located between Millington and Memphis, the Woodstock Store N’ Deli actually straddles town and city; the customer orders in Millington or the front half of the Store, while the barbecue is smoked and the sandwich prepared in Memphis.
Mr. Bledsoe has been working barbecue pits for over four decades, since he was thirteen. He says he’s been perfecting his hot sauce for just as long. The sauce can be had on a Sleeper, a pound of chopped barbecue between a bun.
What follows is a portion of the original interview that has been edited for length. To download the entire transcript in PDF form, please click here.
Subject: Anthony Bledsoe
Rien T. Fertel: Okay; this is Rien Fertel on the Tennessee Barbecue Trail. It is July 18, 2008, a Friday; I’m in Millington, Tennessee with Mr. Anthony Bledsoe. The name of the place is Woodstock Store and Deli. It is at 6055 Woodstock Cuba Road, and I’m going to have Mr. Bledsoe introduce himself and give us his birth date.
Anthony Bledsoe: My name is Anthony Bledsoe; I was born on the May 31, 1953.
When did you start doing barbecue here?
We started barbecue here 10 years ago but I started barbecue when I was 13 years-old out in Allendale, Tennessee; worked in a restaurant with a guy that sold barbecue and I got hooked on it, and so I wanted to do it myself.
Where is Allendale, Tennessee?
That’s in Bartlett, Tennessee. … The name of the store was Dave’s Barbecue. It’s on Highway 70 which is Summer Avenue out in Bartlett.
Can you tell us a bit about him [Dave]?
Well I really don't know that much about him. I worked for them about two or three years, and then he died and I really miss the old guy ‘cause I didn’t get the barbecue sauce recipe. [Laughs]
So you worked at—at the place in Bartlett for a couple years you said and then the gentleman died, the owner, and then where—where did you go then?
Well the guy closed the store up and you know I just furthered my education, which I graduated from high school and then I started working at a restaurant called Steak & Ale Restaurant which I was fresh out of high school and I started cooking there. And started cooking there—I just worked at home on my own barbecue sauces and how to cook pork a little bit better myself.
So you would barbecue at home often?
Almost every week. [Laughs] … Well I would cook for the family. I mean we just—every Thursday or Friday we would throw ribs and chicken and stuff on the grill and—and I would just try to do different types of sauces. I just wanted to try to patent the sauce that—that guy was making out you know—. So I think I come pretty close now though.
Was this on the grill or something you built at home?
It was a pit that we built at home out of blocks you know, concrete bricks and blocks and—. … Well you—pretty much you build like a block. You put—you build a square and you put a rack in between some bricks and then you build it up a little higher and then you put a top on it and then at the back of it you build like a chimney—like a fireplace chimney straight up so the smoke can come out of it.
What makes Memphis barbecue special do you think?
I—I think it’s the way—the way it’s cooked. I think it’s you know we—we use wood; we use coals. We slow cook and we don't do a lot of rub. I mean I don't; I don't rub anything and I don't inject. I don't do anything like that. I do it the old basic country way, just like my grandpa used to dig a hole and put the whole hog in the ground. Well I pretty much do it the same way. All I do is I wash and clean it and I put a little salt towards the bone and—and slow roast it with hickory—hickory wood—green hickory wood.
Well let’s talk about this place. Where are we? Describe where we are in relation to Memphis.
Well believe it or not, one side of the store is in Memphis and the other—front side of the store is in Millington, Tennessee.
Yeah; [Laughs] so we’re just like the halfway mark here. And we started this store 10 years ago, like I say to be you know a little grocery store and deli, and this give me an opportunity to produce some of the stuff I can do—some of the stuff I do. I can do a whole lot of stuff. Barbecue is one of the things that we specialize here and people love here. I—I do send barbecue—Fed-Ex barbecue a lot of places. But barbecue is the main thing here. We do pizzas and we do fried chicken; I make my own coleslaw, my own potato salad, my own banana pudding. I—I do everything from scratch.
Let’s talk about the barbecue. When—what kind of product do you use—I mean what kind of cut of meat do you use I should say?
I use US—USDS Choice pork shoulders. … I usually put the shoulders on early in the morning by 8 o'clock, try to keep the fire to around about 350-degrees you know—you know chunking in some big logs of green hickory wood, you know not to overwhelm that smoke flavor but to try to keep it evenly and we usually take it off around like 6:00 in the afternoon.
And do you think hickory wood imparts a flavor to the meat and—?
Very much so; a lot of people would go out and buy hickory chips. That’s not—that won't give you anything. You have to use green hickory wood. You need to cut a tree down. [Laughs]
Do—do you cut a tree down?
I do. … I have a guy to bring me green hickory wood.
You don't buy it from a manufacturer?
No; I don't. I go—I go out in the woods and grab a green hickory tree.
And—and why do you do that? Talk about green hickory and kind of cured or older hickory.
Well green hickory has the—the tree is green and it has that sap and that’s what gives you that hickory—good hickory smoked flavor. If it’s dry then you got a bonfire. It’s—it’s nothing there; there’s no juice or nothing to give you—not the kind of flavor, so you use the green hickory wood—that’s what gives you that good hickory flavor and smoke. You can smell the difference when you got green hickory.
Where—where does he get his trees, do you know—how far away?
Right around the corner. [Laughs] Come—we’ll go—
Right around the corner? So it’s—it’s real local.
Well yeah; we—we get it right around here, yeah.
Okay; well tell me about the—the rest—the process in making a sandwich.
We get our bread from Wonder Bread. We use the big—I think it’s the seven-inch bun. We use—probably—well you just saw me make a cup of jumbo barbecue we call the sleeper. You probably had a pound of meat on that thing you know. You get a couple ounces of coleslaw and about four ounces of sauce and it sells.
Why do you call it the sleeper?
‘Cause usually you—you go to sleep when you get done. [Laughs]
To download the entire transcript in PDF form, please click here.