Jul 20, 2016

A commoner dines at Starnes Barbecue, Paducah, Ky.

A lot of barbecue aficionados probably wouldn’t consider the Western Kentucky and Southern Illinois region of the United States as an area worthy of comparison to, say, the Carolina or Memphis barbecue styles.  But then again, they may not know what they’re missing.

Case in point:  Starnes Barbecue, a rather ordinary looking, mint green colored diner just outside of downtown Paducah, Ky., where U.S. 60 and U.S. 45 meet.

I discovered Starnes through a combination of research and recommendations, so I made it a point to stop there for a late lunch during one of my work trip drives back home from Nashville.  

As hard as it may seem to do, I got turned around and almost missed the building, although the pile of wood behind the place should have been my first clue.  I blame the layout of the Paducah highways.  Fortunately, the sign confirmed I was at the right place..

The interior of Starnes does remind you more of a coffee shop than your typical barbecue joint.  Except for a couple of booths, you find a spot at the counter seating surrounding the serving area.  Centered in the “U” is a display of candy bars, moon pies, other assorted snacks and sauce by the bottle for sale.   The soda fountain is stocked exclusively with RC products -- I took this as a good sign of things to come.

Starnes has been a staple in Paducah since 1955, and it’s clear to see not much has changed about the place since they opened, including the clientele.  In fact, some of the patrons I met were happy to tell me they’ve been coming here all their lives.  Again, like the town coffee shop, this is their regular gathering spot.  It just happens to have ridiculously good and cheap barbecue sandwiches.

And ONLY sandwiches.  Unless you want to take home some meat by the pound.  Or, if you’re lucky, they’ll have some ribs the day you visit.  Starnes does offer the standard sides that come with barbecue -- cole slaw and potato salad.  It should be fairly easy to decide what you want.  Of the five meat choices available that day, I chose the chopped pork.

All Starnes sandwiches are served on toast.  With nothing else.  This is a good thing, as you can slather the meat with sauce at your own discretion, and the toast will act as the perfect buffer between the sauce and meat.  I found the pork to be super soft and flavorful enough to not need the sauce, but they work so well together anyway.

The sauce itself tasted slightly vinegary in style to me and had a spicy kick I really enjoyed.  It’s no wonder I learned later that Starnes' sauce comes highly recommended as a flavor enhancer for a wider variety of foods.

The cole slaw reminded me of KFC’s but better and fresher.  I likened it to my grandmother’s slaw -- she was born a Kentucky hillbilly, so it must be second nature.  The mustard style potato salad was just as good.  Both tasted like they were made in-house, and at just $1 per serving they round out an excellent economical lunch.  With coffee, my entire meal was $5.59!!

If you’re in search of barbecue in Western Kentucky, do yourself a favor, get off the interstate around Paducah and find Starnes Barbecue.  You’ll never look at a barbecue “sammich” quite the same again.

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