portraits from the pit

Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson…

by Josh Madden

portraits from the pit

Kansas City and Memphis have ketchup. The Carolinas have their mustard and vinegar. Alabama has mayonnaise and white BBQ sauce! Northern Alabama has established itself as a force in the barbeque world, largely in part due to the success of

Big Bob Gibson

in Decatur, Alabama. I was born in Decatur. Growing up, I lived down the road from a barbeque place. My pastor had a barbeque restaurant. And now, I live in Brooklyn where barbeque is one of the latest food crazes to hit the scene. Needless to say, I know a thing or two about smoked meats.

On a recent trip back home, I hit up

Big Bob Gibson’s

pitmaster Chris Lilly. On a sunny Saturday at 10am, I met Lilly at the Danville Road location he helped to open in 1991. The restaurant was abuzz in preparation for a busy college football gameday. A house divided, I saw “Roll Tide” and “War Eagle” shirts all over the kitchen. Lilly escorted me to the “pit room” where chickens were coming straight off the smoker and immediately immersed into a bowl of the famous white sauce. Back in the kitchen, pork shoulders were undressed from their plastic wraps and mopped with sauce then hacked to pieces to later make a home on a plate or bun.B

ig Bob Gibson

’s has a stable of local meat suppliers and uses hickory wood to create a signature taste. Using techniques that go all the way back to 1925 and dominating the barbeque competition circuit, Lilly lifted them from a neighborhood joint to a nationally-recognized powerhouse.As Lilly explained it, “Initially, people think of it [white sauce] as a novelty…that’s until they taste it. White sauce has helped Northern Alabama become it’s own barbeque region.”

Don’t have a trip planned to Alabama (they also have a North Carolina location) anytime soon? Satisfy your curiosity and order some sauce at