Zach Parker was a few weeks shy of his twenty-second birthday, in 2013, when his father, Ricky Parker, passed away. Ricky was a legendary whole-hog pitmaster and the owner of B. E. Scott’s Bar-B-Que, in Lexington, Tennessee. Ricky bought the place in 1989 from Early Scott, who taught him how to cook whole hogs when he was fourteen. Zach began working for his father at thirteen. When his father died suddenly, he had the cooking knowledge, but was he ready to run a business?

“I wasn’t, really,” he told me during my recent visit to one of West Tennessee’s few remaining whole-hog establishments. A decade later, things have changed. “I don’t think there’s anything in the whole-hog business that I don’t know,” Parker said. Now he’s looking to expand a tradition that has been shrinking.

Nearby Jacks Creek B-B-Q announced in May that it was closing. “We hope someone will buy/rent Jacks Creek BBQ and keep the tradition alive,” a Facebook post from the restaurant read. Parker bought the place last month, and he plans to reopen it soon. His first orders of business were to remove the electric cookers and refurbish the concrete-block pits that had sat dormant for years. The previous owners had switched to cooking pork shoulders, but Parker will bring whole hog back to the tiny town of Jacks Creek, a 26-minute drive from his current restaurant. “It’s not too bad of a drive, and I don’t have to hit a red light,” Parker said.

Chester County was like the Lockhart of West Tennessee whole-hog barbecue before most of the joints closed or switched to cooking pork shoulders. Henderson is the county seat (confusingly, Lexington is the county seat of next-door Henderson County), and Jacks Creek is a blip on the map about ten minutes east of Henderson.

This rural county of fewer than 18,000 today had six different whole-hog operations in 1997, when Pat Martin worked there for the now-closed Thomas & Webb. “Jacks Creek is ground zero for West Tennessee whole hog,” he said while we sat at the downtown Nashville location of his Martin’s Bar-B-Que chain. But now Martin’s Bar-B-Que—with ten locations in four states—serves more West Tennessee–style whole hog than West Tennessee does.

Martin has been a mentor to Zach Parker—especially on the business side— since Parker took over B. E. Scott’s Bar-B-Que. Martin was happy to hear that Parker was looking to expand. Another Nashville pitmaster, Carey Bringle, owner of Peg Leg Porker and Bringle’s Smoking Oasis, also encouraged Parker’s expansion, telling him not to worry about naysayers who think he should stick to just one joint. “You’re not there to develop a franchise,” Parker remembers Bringle telling him. “You’re there to develop a legacy.”

The jumbo pork sandwich from B. E. Scott’s Bar-B-Que. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn
Pitmaster Zach Parker. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn
Left: The jumbo pork sandwich from B. E. Scott’s Bar-B-Que. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn
Top: Pitmaster Zach Parker. Photograph by Daniel Vaughn

The menu at B. E. Scott’s is simple. You can order beans, slaw, and potato salad alongside a pork sandwich or pork plate. There won’t be much more at the new version of Jacks Creek B-B-Q, where Parker will keep the original name. “I just think it’s a big deal to make a difference between Scott’s Bar-B-Que versus Jacks Creek B-B-Q because they are two different places,” he said. He even let me try a new baked beans recipe he was testing for Jacks Creek.

The whole-hog process will remain the same. Parker has found that 220 pounds is the sweet spot for hogs on his hickory-fueled pits. That size provides enough fat to develop the flavor he’s after. “If you don’t have fat content and lard dripping on the coals for twenty-four hours, you’re pissing in the wind,” Parker said. I was in the pit room just before opening time as Parker’s uncle Danny Parker and cook Elisandro Castro were bringing the finished hogs inside. Minutes later, they added three fresh pigs to the pit that doesn’t cool down until Sunday, when the restaurant closes for two days.

I followed Castro inside to watch him deconstruct the pig. If you’ve seen the process at a North or South Carolina whole-hog joint, where all the cuts are mixed and chopped into a uniform consistency, this is different. Castro readied a series of deep pans for different portions of the pig. He first removed the rib bones and all the meat still clinging to them. (The ribs are a popular order, but they don’t have any of the bark or seasoning a Texan would expect on pork ribs.) Next Castro slid his hand along the spine to remove the loins and tenderloins. He then pulled large chunks from the hams. These portions are all held in a pan for customers who specifically ask for lean meat. If you’re really in the know and want the tenderloin, ask for the catfish cut, so called because it resembles a filleted catfish.

Other customers prefer the richer, fatty cuts like pork belly, which are called middlins at B. E. Scott’s. The long, glossy strands of meat are also known as pork spaghetti. Castro pulled the flank out in a single piece, and it had strands like the belly. Both are added to a pan that sells out quickly thanks to the popularity of middlins. The shoulders and the rest of the meat are chopped together, and that’s the pork you’ll get on a sandwich unless you make a specific request. The only seasoning on all these cuts comes from a vinegar-based mop sauce applied throughout the cooking process.

I tried a jumbo sandwich with lean and fatty meat, some extra hot sauce, and slaw on a basic white bun. It was all the evidence I needed that this regional barbecue tradition is an art form worth protecting.

Several years ago, I wrote about a trip to Ramey’s Whole Hog BBQ, in Parsons, Tennessee, less than a half hour east of Lexington, and thankfully it’s still going strong. The new Jacks Creek B-B-Q will be a step in the right direction for preserving this style of barbecue.

Parker wanted to make a statement about the importance of Jacks Creek by resurrecting a historic barbecue joint in a town that’s even farther from the interstate than Lexington. He could have chosen to open a second B. E. Scott’s in a bigger city—and probably make more money doing it. But Parker explained that a West Tennessee whole-hog joint belongs in Jacks Creek. “I want to give back to the community that sought after it so long,” he said.