Bob Sykes and his wife Maxine ran a hamburger and milkshake shop for several years before they realized their true calling was barbecue, which led them to open their Bessemer, AL joint in 1957. Sykes trained with a famous Tennessee pitmaster named Buck Hampton where he mastered the art of barbecue, and his son Van holds up the craft today, cooking the meat with a “hot and high” technique over four kinds of hickory wood. The tenderness of the meat and the way the hickory wood brings out the pork’s natural flavor have kept people coming back for 60 years.
If you’re here for the first time, go for the Big Bob Special — a large plate of assorted barbecue, two sides and a drink (you’re getting sweet tea if you want the real experience). The pork sandwich is by far the most popular menu item, and understandably so, as you can taste how much time and heart goes into it. Throw in one of Bob Sykes’ silky lemon meringue pie slices for dessert, and you’ve got the makings of a classic hearty Alabama lunch.
Today, Van Sykes and his nephew Jason Jewell run the joint along with pitmaster Travis, who starts the fire as early as 4 AM on busier days. Sharon, in charge of the soft, silky red velvet cakes, has been working in the kitchen for over half the time the restaurant has been in existence. You’ll meet the whole crew if you stop by in May for the Bob Sykes’ BBQ & Blues Festival, the restaurant’s annual summer kickoff.