Bare Bones Barbecue: Up in smoke

Mystery Diner • Oct 29, 2019 at 8:00 AM

Recently, my meat-eating friend the Carnivore told the dine-around bunch there was smoked meat to be found in a barbecue joint he knew of called “Bare Bones Barbecue” and that “we’d have a pleasant drive getting there.” After a drive of 20 minutes or so on the local Interstate road system, we found the exit to Tenn. Highway 126, the road to Bare Bones Barbecue.

As we discovered, Bare Bones Barbecue is located in a rural part of Sullivan County. Though it is closer to Blountville, the barbecue’s building is tucked into the front side of a somewhat nondescript residential and commercial building with a Memorial Boulevard address, far out in the eastern spiral arm of Kingsport’s urban sprawl.

The invitingly smoke-gray restaurant building sports a drive-up window for take-outs. Inside is a compact, minimally decorated dining area with seating for about 20 or so connoisseurs of smoked meats that is minimally cozy. Restrooms are just around the corner, and there is a smaller room that is accessible from the main dining area.

Bare Bones Barbecue sauce inquest: Bare Bones Barbecue has placed four sauces on the table for their customers, each of varying sweetness and heat intensities. My preference was for Bare Bones’ Dixie Heat sauce. I found it more tangy than sweet with an agreeably spicy heat experienced forward on the tongue. The mustard-based Yellow Jacket sauce was so-so; needing more vinegar to give it a looked-for “stinger.”

Southern Sweet was too sweet for my taste: the sugar notes dominated to the exclusion of all others smothering the subtle flavor found in any smoked meat. Memphis sauce had the proper balance between sweet and tangy that was missing in Southern Sweet. Cider vinegar, ketchup, fresh garlic and onion combined to create a pleasantly tangy and lingering aftertaste.

Cheeseburger: On the drive over, the Carnivore had been regaling us with tales of how great the ribs were at Bare Bones Barbecue. Unfortunately, my partner’s dreams of wearing an ear-to-ear barbecue sauce “smile” home were dashed as soon as we walked through the restaurant’s door: two customers leaving the restaurant were toting the last of the day’s production of ribs with them.

Scanning the menu, my dining partner ordered up a Bare Bones cheeseburger ($6.49), swapping out its bag o’ chips for macaroni and cheese as her side order ($1.99). My partner’s burger was beef, of course, garnished with yellow cheese, the usual slice of onion, one of tomato and half a leaf of iceberg lettuce, and tasted about the way you’d expect. Her macaroni & cheese apparently had the burger’s cheese as part of its recipe; same color and flavor.

Pulled Pork Platter: The Retiree, returning from her latest jaunt abroad, chose a Bare Bones Barbecue pulled pork platter ($11.76) sided with some of their baked beans and homemade potato salad. The pulled pork was very moist and flavorful, with the baked beans a tasty accompaniment, especially with a squirt of one of the house barbecue sauces. All in all, the Retiree was very pleased with her choice for supper.

Pulled Chicken Sandwich Platter: Our calorie-counting friend the Dieter ordered a pulled chicken sandwich platter ($7.99) with baked beans and some homemade coleslaw. Here, the folks at Bare Bones were in their element in creating a flavorful collage of smoked chicken, primarily leg and thigh meat but with some white meat added, and all of it smoked to a turn. My taste of the Dieter’s sandwich had some of her coleslaw side order on it, making it a very tasty mouthful.

Pulled Chicken Platter: With a nod to the Dieter, the Carnivore also chose chicken as his protein source, opting for the pulled chicken platter ($8.99) adding in the baked beans and coleslaw. My meat-eating friend was pleased with the quantity and the taste of the smoked chicken on his plate. He wasn’t able to find a barbecue sauce that suited his taste buds but wasn’t worried, remarking that his baked beans were sure good as he mixed some in with the pulled chicken.

Saturday Special: Smoked Chicken Tenders Platter: My choice for supper was Bare Bone Barbecue’s Saturday Special: a platter of their grilled chicken tenders ($5.99) sided with macaroni & cheese and baked beans. The chicken tenders, though grilled, could have been smoked to add some added flavor to them. I tried some Dixie Heat sauce on my chicken. Sauce and chicken were most palatable. I even found a smoky note if I added in the baked beans. The Mac & Cheese was OK, though its color (yellow-orange tending to day-glo) was disconcerting.

The bottom line: Bare Bones Barbecue has a quality product in its smoked pork and chicken. The four barbecue sauces provided table-side are individually a good if not especially notable effort. Their baked beans, coleslaw and potato salad side orders are all excellent and flavorful, the macaroni & cheese less so. My chicken tenders needed both smoke and some additional care in preparation; no entrée in a barbecue joint should ever have to rely on a squeeze bottle of barbecue sauce to add a smoky overtone.

The main issue was that we arrived just seconds too late to sample those Bare Bones Barbecue ribs that the Carnivore had raved about.

Looks like the dine-around bunch and I will have to leave that for another visit.

Bare Bones Barbecue

5340 Memorial Blvd.



Tue-Thu 11 a.m.–7 p.m.

Fri-Sat 11 a.m.–8 p.m.

Available on Facebook

Credit cards accepted

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