Best BBQ in Virginia: South Fork BBQ in Harrisonburg

John Tanner's Barbecue Blog


South Fork, easily the best barbecue place north of the North Carolina line, has closed.  Blaine Cooper has packed up his custom smoker and is headed to Austin, where good barbecue is appreciated.  It makes sense.  Why would a true artist want to serve people who would rather have chicken fingers?   The same thing happened years ago when the Golden Rule opened a branch in LongIsland, a true barbecue desert.  People only wanted hamburgers.

This is why we can’t have nice things.



I saw that Southern Living had named South Fork BBQ in Harrisonburg the best barbecue place in Virginia — actually, the one bucket list barbecue place in the Old Dominion.   Feeling a bit like Cincinnatus, I recognized the call of duty, and decided to take yet another road trip in my ongoing quest for good barbecue near Washington, DC…

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4 thoughts on “Best BBQ in Virginia: South Fork BBQ in Harrisonburg

  1. Hello John,
    I have come to your blog somewhat circuitously. Having visited South Fork BBQ for almost two years, I am planning on visiting in-laws for Easter, just outside Harrisonburg. My wife suggested asking a family member to pick up some BBQ from South Fork. I liked the suggestion and went on line to get Blaine’s phone number. At the head of the on-line listing, it read “Permanently Closed.” I delved into the reviews, hoping to find comments about the situation. That’s where I ran into your comment. Having read some of your review about Blaine, you have some idea of the degree of my disappointment.
    The first time I went to South Fork, I just got a quick pulled pork sandwich. My wife was waiting in the car, so I took the sandwich and left. In the car, I took a bite. My BBQ meter went off the chart! I gave my wife the sandwich and immediately returned to get Blaine to pack two pounds of pulled pork for the ride home. Without being asked, he offered to vacuum-seal the two pounds separately. I have been back a couple of times (I live in Woodbridge, VA) and have never been disappointed. Until now. Blaine and I had good conversations about BBQ. He talked, I listened. I left messages on his answering service, hoping he may return my calls.

    Last time I visited my sister in Tulsa, I threatened my wife with a detour to Austin to go to Franklin’s. Of course she thought I was crazy. Maybe she’s right. At least in this instance. So to hear that Blaine is Austin-bound, makes me feel like, “Damn it, they have Franklin’s and Stubbs, etc.” We had Blaine.

    But I did find your blog and that’s encouraging. I do feel a kindred spirit.
    One place in Alexandria, Va, I haven’t seen you mention is Sweet Fire Donna’s. It’s located in the Carlyle business complex, just off Duke Street. Their’s is the best Carolina BBQ I’ve had in Northern Virginia. Most of their other fare is decent, but not particularly noteworthy. Though, they do have an interesting cold slaw recipe with red, green and yellow peppers.

    I got my sense of decent Carolina BBQ from my uncle, who was mayor of Creswell, NC, for many years. He owned a residential house construction company and held a pig-pickin’ bbq for family and employees every year. My father grew up on a farm in Winona, Hyde County, NC. He knew a lot about pigs and also had pig pickin’s in autumn.

    Born and raised in Newport News, VA, I relocated to Woodbridge 35 years ago. I grew up with a fondness for BBQ, which has only increased with age. I have made some passable pork butt on my side smoker in the backyard, but certainly nothing I’d consider salesworthy. A little over a year ago, Myron Mixon’s company opened a restaurant in Old Town Alexandria. I thought, “Maybe we’re in for a treat.” I’ve been there twice and have yet to be impressed. I think consistency is the bane of most bbq businesses. You get wowed and then you get disappointed. Didn’t happen with Blaine. I’m not going to drive to Austin every year for a bbq pilgrimage, so I’ll just have to get by with what’s available.

    Thanks for what you do, John. Your hard work is noticed! I’ll contribute when I can.

    Nick Mueller
    Woodbridge, VA


      1. John, I read your Mixon review. Aaron Franklin uses a small tray of water in his smoker, when cooking ribs. I have to revisit his brisket video to see if he uses it there as well. I wrote a small review of my Mixon experience. Waiting for it to pass muster.


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