Ridgewood Barbecue: The family and history behind the legendary BBQ joint

Tri-Cities Original

Drive through Bullock’s Hollow near Bluff City and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll smell barbecue. 

Follow that intoxicating aroma, you’ll end up at Ridgewood Barbecue. 

And if the restaurant is open, good luck finding a parking spot.

The seven-decade-old family-owned restaurant is a Tri-Cities Original with a fascinating past.

But long before there was a Ridgewood Barbecue where crowds line up for the smoked meat and secret sauce, there was just a couple trying to carve out a living.

Grace and Jim Proffitt wanted a better life for themselves and their sons Larry and Terry.

Digital Short: Ridgewood Barbecue 

“It was called Ridgewood Restaraunt,” said Larry Proffitt, the son of Grace and Jim who now owns the restaurant. “It began as a little place out in the country. A beer joint, I call it. They had steaks, country ham, and chicken…and it was good.”

But then – catastrophe.

The county went dry.  They banned booze.

So the Proffitts had to scramble.

That’s when Jim Proffitt got an idea while on vacation with his family with money he borrowed from the credit union.

“We went out one night and they were smoking chickens,” Larry said. “They had the fire here it was piped to the chicken. We came back and he made a pit down there.”

Ridgewood Restaurant became Ridgewood Barbecue. And the rest was history. 

Out of the ashes and smoke from the BBQ pit next to the white block restaurant, the Proffitt’s created something special. 

“At Ridgewood, there’s only one way your meat is cut.  That’s sliced,” said southern food writer Fred Sauceman. “And there’s one sauce…they don’t try to be all things to all people.”

And what goes into that sauce that makes it so legendary? Sorry…that’s a secret.

“It’s in my head and my daughter’s head. And it’s not apt that both of us will die at one time,” said Larry Proffitt. 

Sauceman was so taken with the food and the family behind it, he even wrote a book called “The Proffitts of Ridgewood: An Appalachian Family’s Life in Barbecue.”

“No matter what happened to them, they never quit,” Sauceman said. “In 1952, these people didn’t fold up. They figured out a way to retool that business and ultimately turn it into one of the premier barbecue places in the country.”

Ridgewood was even featured on Good Morning America. 

“We just kept adding this and adding that till we got it just right,” Grace Proffitt told GMA’s Joan Lunden.

“If something is good, don’t mess with it,” Larry said.

One of the most popular items on the menu isn’t barbecue. It’s the homemade “blue cheese” dressing.

And by the way, you won’t find any desserts on Ridgewood’s menu. 

Grace Proffitt once said, “If you done what you were supposed to… you wouldn’t need dessert.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Born and raised in the Tri-Cities, Josh Smith has been a member of the WJHL team since 1999. His family roots go deep in the region, and he’s traveled through almost every part of it covering news on local TV since 1995. When he’s not on the job, he’s with his wife, two sons, and daughter.   “They’re the best part of me,” he said.   You may run into them biking on the Tweetsie Trail, hiking around Bays Mountain Lake, or browsing the shelves at the local public libraries.

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