Big Daddy’s barbecue: A slice of heaven?
WARRIOR, Ala. — Paul Woodard walks from the kitchen of his small storefront barbecue restaurant, and it’s easy to see why they call him Big Daddy.
He has to stoop when he walks through the doorway.
At 6-foot-4, 350 pounds, he’s a big guy, although down from his peak weight of 560 pounds a few years ago.
In the world of gourmet cooking, Woodard is bigger than ever.
At lunchtime on a Thursday afternoon, a couple dozen people are packed at tables in two small rooms connected by a narrow doorway in Big Daddy’s Bar-B-Q. Red curtains cover windows that face a classic Main Street, U.S. 31 in a small town about 20 miles north of Birmingham.
The Birmingham News recently pronounced Woodard’s restaurant as the home of the best ribs in the greater Birmingham area. Big Daddy’s won the gold medal for the seven-county area.
From early morning to late in the evening five days a week, Woodard, 45, works feverishly in procuring and preparing the succulent pork. You won’t find him at the restaurant on Wednesdays or Sundays, though, because of what he calls his most important job: serving as an elder at the 225-member Woodland Park church in Birmingham.
“People say I could make more money if I was open on Wednesday and Sunday,” Woodard said. “That’s not an option for me. I’m not going to sacrifice my relationship with Christ for a few dollars.”
He teaches Bible study on Wednesday nights and occasionally preaches from the pulpit.
“I preach and sing and do a little bit of all of it,” he said.
Woodard, who began his career in the mortgage business, learned the art of barbecuing from his father and proudly cooked for the church’s married men’s fellowship and married women’s fellowship dinners on the fourth Saturday of every month, and at fourth Sunday church dinners.
“It would rotate from house to house,” he said. “It continued to snowball.”
Woodard’s biggest barbecue-making experience came at the request of Dr. J.W. Pitts Jr., the pulpit minister at Woodland Park.
Pitts also runs a health-care group for employees of American Cast Iron Pipe Co. When the minister threw an appreciation banquet for the patients, about 750 people showed up to eat Woodard’s cooking.
“That was the largest we ever did,” he said.
After years of cooking for church fellowship dinners, Woodard heeded the satisfied church diners who called for him to make his barbecue more widely available.
He left the mortgage business and opened Big Daddy’s about two years ago.
“I never would have thought it would come to this, the best ribs in Birmingham,” he said. “That’s how God works things out.”
Since the best ribs honor, Big Daddy’s has been swamped.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” he said. “We’d been praying for growth. It reminds me of Malachi. You open up windows and pull out a blessing you can’t even handle. I almost can’t keep up.”
His family and church members pitch in to help run the business. His daughter, Shandi, runs the cash register and takes orders. His 10-year-old son, Paul Jr., known as “Lil’ Daddy,” waits on tables after school. His wife, Sharon, pitches in after she leaves her main job at the VA Medical Center.
The song leader from church, Willie Wade Jr. — also known as “Big Daddy 2” — helps slow-cook the ribs from two to four hours in a pit behind the restaurant, grilling over charcoal, hickory and cherry wood.
Woodard shops for the meat each morning and handpicks his cuts. He prepares the meat before cooking by trimming off skin and fat to make it tender. He bastes generously as he cooks. He serves the ribs with a sweet and spicy sauce that he makes from a mixture of molasses, brown sugar, red pepper and other spices.
“That makes it different,” he said. “I haven’t written it down. If I tell you the secret, it won’t be a secret.”
Woodard doesn’t eat that much himself, he said. He underwent a gastric bypass surgery in 2005 to help him drop 210 pounds.
Pitt called Woodard a tireless worker in church and business.
“He takes his spiritual responsibility seriously, believing if he performs those roles to show a committed life (that) finance, family and other things will fall into place,” the minister said.
Pitt said he went to the restaurant the night after Big Daddy’s won the best ribs prize. Usually a modest trickle, customers were overflowing. It was a proud moment for the church members who were there.
“We just enjoyed sitting there watching,” Pitt said. “We were spiritually full.”
The main items on the menu are full slab, $17; half slab, $9; rib plate, $8. Popular side items are slaw and potato salad. There are also homemade desserts, such as the chocolate chip cheesecake. The ribs truly are special. The bones fall out of meat so tender that it almost melts in the mouth.
It’s enough to make Big Daddy’s ribs stand out over stalwarts in the barbecue industry. He beat out established contenders including Dreamland Bar-B-Que and Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, two local favorites.
Now Big Daddy’s has joined their ranks, with a special blend of hard work, love and faith that he says goes into every serving.
“It’s a unique taste,” he said. “It’s hard work to maintain the quality. It takes a little more time, and there’s a lot of love that goes into the cooking.”