Since 1952, Decatur, Alabama residents and visitors have filled the tables at Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q anticipating Big Bob’s brand of smoked meats with his signature white sauce.
Location: 1715 6th Avenue SE, Decatur, Alabama
Menu: The menu at Big Bob’s is relatively simple and satisfyingly predictable. First, choose your favorite smoked meat: pork, chicken, chicken wings, turkey breast, spare ribs or beef brisket. Then, choose a couple of sides. For many years, the options were only baked beans, potato salad, chips or vinegar-based coleslaw, but in recent years, green beans, mac and cheese, French fries or a side salad have been added, probably due to the picky preferences of youngsters. A roll and a selection of award-winning sauces complete the most popular plates which are most often washed down with a tall glass of sweet iced tea. Grilled cheese sandwiches and hot dogs are available for those who haven’t yet learned to appreciate the specialties of the house.
Gibson’s special brand of Brunswick stew is also widly popular. When the weather is cool, diners keep their fingers crossed that another bowlful will still be available by the time they get to order it.
Large salads and gigantic baked potatoes topped with cheese and your choice of smoked meats have been added to the menu line-up. Simple barbecue sandwiches can be ordered as well, with or without coleslaw.
Almost as famous as the barbecued meats are the homemade pies. Coconut, chocolate, lemon and peanut butter fillings crowned with impossibly high meringue are in great demand, along with rich pecan pie.
Thoughts: Big Bob Gibson’s nickname was inevitable. Standing 6-feet 4-inches tall and weighing almost 300 pounds, he made an extremely imposing impression. Back in 1925, he was working for L & N Railroad during the week and barbecuing for family and friends on the weekends. All of his lucky taste-testers urged him to quit his railroad job and barbecue full-time. By the early 1950’s, with the help of his family, he did just that and opened his first place on 6th Avenue in Decatur. The business was so successful that all five of the Gibson children and many of the grandchildren have happily kept it going. In 1987, a larger restaurant was built right next door to the original one, and in 1992, a satellite location was opened on the south side of town. Now, 94 years and four generations after those early backyard barbecues, Big Bob Gibson’s recipes and flavors are still luring diners by the thousands every year.
Gibson’s original white sauce distinguished his barbecue from any other in the area at the time. Now, it is synonymous with North Alabama barbecue in general. The Gibson offspring have taken cooking to new heights, though, and have won numerous major awards in barbecue competitions around the country. Visitors to the 6th Avenue location will need to walk around the huge trophies on display near the front door as they make their way to a table. They will also pass shelves full of other sauces and dry rubs now bottled and sold, in addition to the white sauce.
Those who manage the restaurant today obviously do it in such a way that produces loyal employees who stay with them for years. The lady in charge of pies, for example, has been showing up at 6:00 a.m. and creating her masterpieces every day for 45 years with no plans of stopping.
Bib Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q is a casual restaurant with reasonable prices and a neighborhood vibe. Personally, I am not surprised at its longevity. I ate there as a child, and now I make sure that my grandchildren enjoy it, too.
Price range: Salads, stew, potatoes and appetizers range from $4.99-8.99. Sandwiches are $3.49-6.69. Plates are $7.99-26.99, and pie is $3.69 per slice.