A group of friends in search of Chattanooga's best barbecue restaurant has taken their summer-long quest to almost a dozen destinations around Chattanooga, Ooltewah, Lookout Valley and Hixson.
The gang of 16 buddies set out simply to find their own personal favorites without any intentions to "crown an overall winner," according to Ryan Ewalt, who instigated the search.
Ewalt said none of the crew considers themselves "foodies," but since the barbecue tour began, they have individually developed stronger opinions about their personal preferences.
Ewalt said his goal was to find the best pulled pork in town, while some of the others were focused on ribs and beef brisket.
"We tend to disagree a bit on sauces but hardly ever on the quality of the meat," Ewalt said.
So far, the tasting tour has included Old Plantation, Petunia's Silver Jalapeno, Couch's, Shuford's Smokehouse, Sugar's Ribs, Rib and Loin, Bones' Smokehouse and Hillbilly Willys.
In the coming weeks, they will sample either The Purple Daisy Picnic Cafe or Porkers and Nooga-Q Smokehouse Grill. Just to be sure they haven't missed anything, they will all return to three of the restaurants visited this summer to see if they can come up with the "top three."
Restaurants were chosen mostly by word of mouth, Ewalt said, resulting in discovering new places they had either never heard of or experienced firsthand.
"Every spot has been picked because at least one person told me they thought it had the best barbecue in Chattanooga. Most spots were recommended by multiple people," he said.
New to Chattanooga, Ewalt said after nearly two years of living in the Scenic City with his wife, he had yet to find any barbecue around town that he was really excited about.
"So I floated the idea of going to one barbecue place a week during the summer to find each of our favorite spots. A lot of the guys were excited about the idea, and, if nothing else, it would be a good opportunity to hang out once a week," he said.
They are so dedicated to the mission and each other that when one of the guys was out one week after having his appendix removed, Ewalt picked up a platter from that week's stop and brought it to him for dinner.
The guys keep the ratings pretty simple and are giving grades from "disappointing" to "awesome" in four basic categories: meat, sauce, sides and dessert.
Those categories encompass what Ewalt feels are most important in a complete barbecue meal.
Although no one is thinking they'll quit their day jobs to become food critics after the summer tour, they are considering launching another search in the spring to find Chattanooga's best burger or Mexican restaurant.