“Mom, I want to open a barbecue restaurant,” Steve Southwell told his mother, Frances Southwell, when he retired from his career at Georgia Pacific Railroad.
When Frances, known locally as “Miss Frances,” replied, “Go for it,” she didn’t know that what followed would be a lot of work for her.
“One or both of us is here every day,” she told me.
Fortunately for local and visiting barbecue lovers, Steve’s mother didn’t reply with Chow Town Chef and Barbecue Hall of Fame inductee Paul Kirk’s advice to aspiring restaurant entrepreneurs: “Go see a psychiatrist!”
In business since June 2003, Smoakies moved from its original refurbished gas station to the present location on Aug. 15, 2014.
Steve, a self-taught pitmaster, humbly credits his Southern Pride pit for the consistently excellent Smoakies barbecue. Steve’s preferred wood for fuel and smoke is white oak. Hence the “oak” in Smoakies.
Chow Town friend Gary Bronkema and I were in town for a Memphis Barbecue Network Judge training class prior to Big Pig Jig judging. When Bronkema asked the front desk staffer at the Ramada in Cordele for a local barbecue joint recommendation, she said, “Everyone around here likes Smoakies.” She recommended the chopped pork and ribs, as did other locals we asked.
We were instant fans of Smoakies on our first visit. Made-from-scratch fried green tomatoes and onion rings, pork spareribs, chopped pork and friendly service won us over.
The dark bark on Smoakies ribs yields to tender, juicy rib meat, gently kissed with smoke. The ribs need no sauce.
Smoakies chopped pork sandwich in a bun is in step with the best you’ll find in the South. Allen & Son in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Starnes in Paducah, Ky., come to mind — and that’s a compliment. While I’m a big fan of the vinegar base sauces at Allen & Son and Starnes, Smoakies mild and hot mustard barbecue sauces also stand out as a perfect chopped pork complement.
Miss Frances told us her fried green tomatoes technique is easy. Each tomato slice is dipped in water, then flour. It goes into the fryer after a second dip in water and flour. They are delicious plain or with ranch dressing or Smoakies barbecue sauces. I especially like them with a dab of hot mustard barbecue sauce. Next time I will try Smoakies fried dill pickle chips, recommended by one of our fellow judge trainees who also discovered Smoakies.
Next year I’ll try Smoakies tender Texas-style brisket, chicken, chicken wings, turkey, all-beef Slaw Dog and the Smoakie Dog topped with Brunswick Stew.
I am fussy about Brunswick Stew. My gold standard is Johnny Harris’ original in Savannah, Ga. After savoring Miss Frances’ Brunswick Stew I added it to my favorites.
Here’s her recipe for one of the finest Brunswick Stews you’ll ever eat:
Miss Frances Southwell’s Brunswick Stew
Miss Frances makes 40 gallon batches of this stew each week and 120 gallons per week during holidays. Thanks to Chef Paul Kirk for reducing her 40 gallon recipe to one that makes 6 to 8 servings.
2 medium yellow onions, ground
2 cans creamed corn
3 to 4 cans crushed tomatoes
3 cups tomato ketchup
1 1/2 pounds barbecue Boston Butt, finely ground
3/4 pounds barbecue chicken, finely ground
Salt to taste
Miss Frances recommends a 4-quart stainless steel double boiler for this homestyle recipe.
Steam the onions first, then add corn, tomatoes, ketchup and meat. Gently simmer 1-1/2 to 2 hours to marry the flavors. Add salt to taste.
Miss Frances’ homestyle banana pudding is a perfect ending to a Smoakies feast. Maybe she will share that recipe another day. Meanwhile Smoakies fans are glad Steve took his mother’s advice and went for it. He says she is his “right hand.” Top notch barbecue and sides with friendly, dedicated kitchen staff and servers makes Smoakies Bar-B-Que one of my new favorites. I’ll be back!
Smoakies Bar-B-Que is located at 602 N. Greer St. in Cordele, Ga. Its telephone number is 229-273-0802.
Ardie Davis founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on food shows and writes for barbecue-related publications. His most recent releases are America’s Best BBQ (Revised Edition), with chef Paul Kirk, and Barbecue Lover’s Kansas City Style .