When you live in a city with a lot of barbecue options, you need a quick way to parse out the worthwhile joints from the wastes of time. I’ve found that with some regularity you can determine a good barbecue joint just by the experience of being outside of the building. Archibald & Woodrow’s passes this test: the gravel parking lot juts right out onto Greensboro, making it difficult to even situate your car; the squat, slightly-sun-faded red brick building sits in a perpetual slouch; the coal-black smoker is visible up against the left-facing wall; the sweet perfume of wood smoke and rendering pork fat wafting over the Academy Sports parking lot.
The interior is even more promising. There’s wood paneling everywhere, slunking booths whose maroon cushions are wearing out, sets of chairs that have been cobbled together piecemeal. It retains all of the charm awkwardness of the building’s previous tenet, which I can only guess was a Country & Western-themed sports bar. This is a building that looks like it will exist without repair until it gives way to entropy and collapses. That, dear readers, is the sign of a good barbecue joint.
Of course, the reason to come to Archibald & Woodrow’s is for the food. Like just about all barbecue in Tuscaloosa, it is firmly in the Carolinian tradition (no beef, vinegar sauce). In a region where the word “barbecue” often refers only to pork shoulder, you need to deliver a quality pulled pork. The pulled pork at Archibald & Woodrow’s delivers. Well, I suppose it is more of a chopped pork, but the texture and cut is closer to pulled pork than any of the chopped pork served in other T-Town joints. It is served mostly lean and mostly from the interior of the pig. The exterior bits, with the pronounced smoke ring and crusty outer bark, rarely show up on your plate (the employees must hog all of those pieces to themselves). And while that is disappointing to me, the interior shoulder is plenty good enough. The smoke doesn’t overpower the essential porkiness of the meat, instead working as a secondary player whose job is to draw out inherent sweetness.
The sauce here is crazy-good: vinegary; very thin; hot spices that accentuate the smokiness of the meat. The pork comes in a bath of this sauce, and it quickly penetrates the slices of white bread that come with each order of pork. Archibald & Woodrow’s ribs are good as well; better than Dreamland’s, I’d say. Unlike with their pork, Archibald & Woodrow’s ribs have an abundance of smoke flavor and deeply smoky outer bark. They require some pull to get them off the bone, but they are not underdone. There is a misconception that good ribs should “fall off the bone.” I am sure that you’ve heard that phrase before. For me, ribs are overcooked when they simply fall off the bone. The texture of those kinds of ribs is gummy and inappropriate. Archibald & Woodrow’s ribs are tender without being slippery.
As far as pure barbecue goes, pork and ribs are all that Archibald & Woodrow’s has to offer. This all-pork approach is very traditional for the area. But Archibald & Woodrow’s has other menu options besides barbecue. You can get some of the most delicious chicken wings I’ve ever had. The wings spend a short amount of time in the smoker, and explode with flavor that is all chili heat tempered by fruit sweetness. If you enjoy chicken wings then you must order some from Archibald & Woodrow’s. If you don’t like pigging out (bad pun count: 2) on BBQ, you can order some of the quite-nice fried catfish or whiting.
A lot of people will judge a barbecue joint by its side dishes, especially the barbecued beans. The beans here are not exceptional; in a town that has had Mike & Ed’s revelatory beans, Archibald’s doesn’t measure up. The fries seem to be the typical sort of Sysco frozen crinkle-cut tasteless sticks. I would suggest that you order the collard greens or the unique macaroni & cheese that features the zing of orange zest as a secret ingredient. I have to mention how good the sweet tea is, too. It is among the sweetest in town, but I’ll be darned if I don’t drink multiple glasses full each time.
I’m from Kansas City — the barbecue capital of the universe — so I am VERY picky when it comes to barbecue. And the pulled pork here is good enough that Archibald & Woodrow’s would crack the list of “visit occasionally” spots in KC. I don’t bring that up to sound like a barbecue snob, I bring it up because it is some of the highest praise that I have to give. I hope to eat here once a week or so for as long as I live in Tuscaloosa. I will never tire of the pork here or the sweet tea or the awkward décor or the napkin dispensers that are always empty or the counterman that jokes with me about sports all of the time. Chances are that you won’t tire of these things either. I will one-day eat at every one of Tuscaloosa’s many, many BBQ joints, but at this point in time, Archibald & Woodrow’s is the clear front-runner for best BBQ in town.
Archibald & Woodrow’s Bar-B-Que is located at 4215 Greensboro Avenue, at the corner of 43rdSt. (205) 331-4858
Friday & Saturday: 10am-10pm
“Dining room closes 30 minutes prior to closing time. To-go orders only.”