From the Pecan to the Pit

Monica Parpal |
Culinary Personalities

Even though it occupies the same street as his charming, southern-style restaurant, The Pecan, Tony Morrow's Real Pit BBQ {3807 Main Street, College Park; 404.996.2973} is unlike anything in south Atlanta. This unassuming restaurant welcomes locals and visitors alike with brisket, pork shoulder, and barbecue chicken done just like Morrow's great-grandfather used to do it. And although it's only been open for a few months, they can barely keep up with the demand.

What does “real pit barbecue” mean?

Well, a lot of barbecue restaurants use machine-operated smokers to cook their meat. We don't have that. We built a 14-foot brick “pit,” which is where we slow-cook all our meats—including our brisket and our pork shoulder—for up to 16 hours, using hickory and white oak wood as fuel. With our method, the flame never touches the meat.

How did you learn this method of barbecue?

This is the style that my great-grandfather, Elmer Garth, used growing up in Decatur, Alabama. He barbecued from age 12 all the way until he passed away at age 98. That was his job. I remember watching him throughout the whole process as I was growing up. It was amazing to me. Our concept is loosely based on his design and his process.

So this is a family business?

It is. I'm the pit master, and my son, DeVaughn Morrow, is the pit boss. He's responsible for cooking all the meats, and manages a small staff of about eight people. He loves to be able to take a raw piece of meat and make it into something that people really enjoy. For a 19-year-old, that's pretty good. Our guests are always saying that it's the best barbecue they've ever had.

What menu items have been the most popular so far?

We have the best brisket in the state, even though brisket is not a very popular cut of meat in this part of the country. Our brisket is cooked for 12 to 14 hours, depending on the size of the meat, and we do a nice brown sugar dry rub with about 16 different seasonings. It's very tender, and we're able to keep the moisture in it without boiling it, and without injections or marinades. We also just added hickory smoked salmon, which is delicious. We just pop it all on the grill and let the hickory and oak do their work.

We also focus on our sides. Sides are just as important as the meat, and ours are absolutely delicious. Our mac n'cheese is excellent, and we use a cole slaw recipe that goes way back in my family history. And our desserts are to-die-for—Fried Peach Pie with tart peaches and just a dusting of powdered sugar, as well as delicious Red Velvet, Lemon, and Sweet Potato Cupcakes.

We hear that the meat isn't the only thing smoking at Tony's. Tell us about the smoking patio and cigar humidors.

Absolutely—we are a combination barbecue and cigar restaurant. We have a full humidor of premium, hand-rolled cigars, and an outside patio for smoking. Customers can sit down on the patio to dine, watch the game, enjoy a nice drink, and smoke if they so choose. For our cigar smokers, we created a membership program with cigar lockers, so they can keep their cigars here. Cigar smokers enjoy good cuisine and good liquor, and we offer both. We're also really into pairing—from pairing beer with barbecue to pairing cigars with scotch.

What unexpected surprises have you encountered since opening last December?

Right now we have a smoker that can handle 32 chickens and 16 slabs of ribs, in addition to the 14-foot brick pit which can cook up to 70 shoulders and 120 chickens—but it's not enough. After our customers come the first time, they come again and again. Also, over 50-percent of our orders are to-go. We end up running out of food. We're designing another smoker, which will triple our capacity. But honestly, it's been a pleasant surprise. It means we're doing something right.

What advice would you have for someone who wants to start a restaurant of their own?

You really need to get out and start cooking for people other than friends and family. Just because someone told you that you can cook—even if you are an excellent cook—you need to get the restaurant experience. My advice is, get out there and work for someone, cook for the public, and get a feeling for what it's like to work under pressure.