Archibald’s has the best ribs in the world. Let’s get that out of the way up front. More people know about Dreamland, which gets a lot of attention from football announcers, but Archibald’s is better: the best.
We took a detour on our trip to Birmingham for Anne Rain and Hunter’s wedding. We stopped in Tuscaloosa to spend some time with our friends, Bob and Babs McCurley. Bob has extra Alabama football tickets, and we go to a game every year unless people we really, really love aren’t getting married on Game Day. I always teach one of Bob’s classes in return. I get the best of that deal!
We got into town at 11:30 a.m. on a Thursday and made a beeline for Archibald’s. Archibald’s is an institution in Tuscaloosa. People were already coming in Thursday morning to reserve slabs for Saturday — Game Day.
Archibald’s is a no-frills place.
For decades they have cooked ribs and pork in a pit over hickory coals, and they have cooked a lot of it. Just look at the chimney. This is how barbecue should be cooked.
The pit opening is inside, about three feet from the counter. You order your food and the pit master, who is a genius in the art of barbecue, reaches in and pulls out the meat you have ordered, plates it, and then turns around to place it on the counter, all the while taking additional orders, both for that day and for Game Day, all without writing anything down.
Archibald’s is mainly a take-out place. There used to be a counter and four stools, but they have expanded and now have three two-person tables. There also are a couple of picnic tables outside but, as I say, most people take a slab or 20 home or to their tailgate. Archibald’s also has expanded their menu to include chicken. You can get either a whole or a half chicken. And they sell slaw and baked beans and potato chips and soft drinks. And banana pudding.
I got a rib sandwich (3 ribs between two slices of white bread accompanied by two more slices of white bread: soaking up the sauce with bread is part of the routine.) I also got some Golden Flake potato chips, which are excellent, and a Dr. Pepper (my usual choice in the absence of Coca Cola.)
Let’s take a look at the ribs — at least two of the ribs.
The rib sandwich was sensational. The ribs were meaty and full of pork and hickory flavor. The meat had that wonderful exterior you can only get over a pit, and the inside was moist and tender, with just the right amount of give. The sauce is spicy and thinned with vinegar, much like Dreamland’s sauce. It really does wonders with the white bread. A rib sandwich is about right for lunch. If you order more, you will just keep on eating until you finish everything within reach.
Nancy ordered a half chicken and some slaw. It came with four slices of bread. They didn’t include the slaw right away, and by the time I got it Nancy had torn into the chicken.
She occasionally mumbled “juicy” or “good,” but pretty much kept her head down and attended to business.
As I have said, Nancy doesn’t eat dark meat, but after finishing the breast, she went through the thigh like Sherman through Georgia. I was able to salvage the wing and the leg and, of course, the bread. It was the best smoked chicken I have ever had.
You should go to Archibald’s. There are a lot of reasons to visit Tuscaloosa other than barbecue — the sports, and the University theatre and music programs, the local art museum with the truly outstanding Westervelt Collection, and the Bear Bryant Museum. But the ribs at Archibald’s are reason enough. So’s their chicken, for that matter. See for yourself.
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