Adventures in Birmingham: Ken’s Hickory Pit BBQ

Ken's Hickory Pit BBQ in Center Point

(Thanks to Jonathan Dorough for suggesting Ken’s.)

To get to the Center Point campus of Jefferson State Community College, you get off I-20/59 at Highway 79 and drive northeast for like 15 miles. I’ve been out there many times for culinary classes, but that whole region remains a mystery to me. I did try the taco truck on 79 in Tarrant, about halfway between Jeff State and the interstate (very good, though the one on West Valley is a bit better), but there’s a huge, relatively densely populated area that’s gotta have all kinds of stuff to do, right?

Well, thanks to a friend that grew up in Tarrant, I know of at least one place to eat.

Ken’s Hickory Pit BBQ is about half a mile past Jeff State’s campus on 79 (if only I had thought to drive past the school when stopping for dinner on the way to class instead of settling for the Golden Rule on the other side of campus). Like all great barbecue joints, it doesn’t look like much: a run-down shack with a gravel parking lot. But pull in and you’ll know something’s up. There’s a huge pile of logs out back, and you can smell the smoky goodness from at least 1,000 feet away.

What makes Ken’s different is its sauce. I won’t get into a debate over barbecue styles here, but it’s not the white sauce or thin, vinegary stuff that’s most popular in these parts. It’s thick, sweet, and spicy, with molasses and tons of pepper. Paired with well-smoked chicken, pork, or sausage, it’s great. (Ken’s makes ribs too, but we didn’t get to try those.)

The chicken isn’t shredded like at most places; it comes in large, juicy chunks. It’s something more barbecue joints should try. The pulled pork is just right, falling-apart tender with bits of crusty exterior mixed in. The sausage tastes like smoked sausage, which is to say pretty good, but the chicken and pork stand out.

The barbecue pork plate at Ken's

A barbecue plate comes with white bread, slaw (not great), fries (a little soggy), and some very tasty baked beans. They’re cooked in a spicy, mustardy sauce with lots of bacon. Sides really aren’t what’s important for me when I eat barbecue, but these beans are excellent.

I’m a fan of Ken’s; if you’re ever looking for a change from the typical Birmingham barbecue, it’s well worth a trip. (Though Miss Myra’s and Saw’s are still #1 and #2 in my book.)

Ken’s Hickory Pit BBQ is at 4817 Pinson Valley Parkway (aka Highway 79). Their phone number is 205-853-6488.

3 thoughts on “Adventures in Birmingham: Ken’s Hickory Pit BBQ”

  1. I’m originally from that side of town (Huffman). I’ll try to think of my favorites from the east side, although to be fair, I moved to Florida when I was in first grade. I still have extended family over there, though.

  2. Alright folks I am a for real Pinson AL native.  Ken’s has been in business since the early 70’s.  I think the building was orginally an old gas station.  I can still rember when Hwy 79 was still two lane when the restruant first opened.  Over the years Ken’s has held on as a great local tradition in Barbacue.  What makes Ken’s so great is the sauce perfected to outstanding standards.  Ken’s Barbacue is if I remember pulled but mostly sliced or diced which ever why you want it.  Once you enter the resturant you will note the distinctive large cooking pit with the meat already cooked from overnight.  My favorite has always been to order a traditional pork sandwich with the meat cut from the outside and extra sauce.  In Ken’s local talk that would be ordered as outside meat extra sauce.  Over the years other Barbacue places have set up shop in Pinson but none have surpassed good ole Ken’s.  Sad to say I understand Mr Ken passed away several years ago but not to worry the same people that have worked under Ken are still there and even under new owenership the quality is still the same.  Over the years I have lived in Chicago, IL, Nashville, TN, Washington D.C. and now Naugatuck, CT still I have never found any barbacue to match Ken’s.  When back home visiting family I try to stop by and savor the tast of outside extra sauce.  Speaking from experiencing Ken’s as a household name I must say this place rates up there with the famous Wall Drug Store with it’s free ice cold water.
    You will not be disapointed.  And if you do visit be sure to check out Pinson’s Turkey Creek Falls!

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