Sports Illustrated Magazine
The Family Business
At Archibald & Woodrow’s BBQ in Alabama, Woodrow Washington III continues an epic legacy.
There’s an old story in Alabama that when legendary coach Paul “Bear" Bryant died, he was buried in his trademark houndstooth hat with barbecue sauce stains on his tie. Not just any sauce. It was the signature sauce of the legendary Archibald's: the sauce that is the lifeblood of the family that has owned and operated the restaurant since it first opened in 1962.
I've heard that story, but I wasn’t at the funeral!'' laughs Woodrow Washington 111, current owner of all three Archibald's locations. "I don't know if it's a folk tale or not, but it's a good one."
Apocryphal or not, it's not hard to believe-Alabamians love Archibald s so much, the governor inducted it into the brand-new Alabama Barbecue Hall of Fame earlier this year. Not much has changed about Archibald's ribs since it opened: Washington's grandmother, Betty, was mixing batches of the sauce during the Kennedy administration and passed the recipe down through the family. Granddad George Sr. used logs of hickory wood in his fires, which still fuel the pits today.
From humble beginnings in a spot behind the family home just over the river from Tuscaloosa, Archibald's remains a true family affair. Washington's mother, father and uncle mixed sauce and grilled ribs to perfection in the original still-standing Archibald's, before passing the torch and tongs to Washington and his siblings, Lashawn, Reginald, and Dalvin. In 2002, Washington helped open Archibald's II which soon joined a third location under the name Archibald and Woodrow's BBQ.
Washington balances life as a captain in the Tuscaloosa Fire Department with his time stoking the massive fires that cook Archibald's world-famous pork ribs, which are cooked almost entirely by feel.
“Everybody has worked in the family at least a little" says Washington with a chuckle. "We all do the same style of cooking, but every chef has his own little way of cooking. My grandparents gave us all the recipe, but there
wasn't any kind of competition Just working”.
Archibald's ribs have fed generations of customers, many of whom stalk the sidelines on Saturdays. Washington says he once witnessed an Alabama lineman
wolf down a full slab and a half, or more than three and a half pounds of ribs, in one sitting. “You always hear stories, but I saw this for myself," Washington says. “I won't tell his name"
Archibald's fame us sauce will hopefully be available in bottle form soon at archibaldbbq.com, but if you want to get the Archibald's taste at your own tailgate or backyard, Washington says to skip buying a grill and build your own.
“I can get four cinder blocks and a grate," says Washington, “'and cook like we cook in the restaurant." Forget fancy temperature gauges or massaged meat. This true grill master was raised on open fires, hickory wood and family.
Washington's final bit of advice? He says; "Cook with a little love, too."