Not much can start a fight quicker than the eternal debate over barbecue. Loyalists from Texas, Memphis, and the Carolinas have for decades stood prepared to give it all in defense of their region’s specific blend of meat, seasoning, cooking method, and sauce.
Jackson, for many, symbolizes a sort of crossroads in this ongoing barbecue war. Situated on middle ground as much by history and culture as by physical location, Jackson has developed its own style of barbecue that seems to blend defining characteristics of each of the others while at the same time retaining a very unique style all its own.
A Jackson staple for nearly three decades, E&L still sits in their original location on Bailey Ave. The surrounding neighborhood is considered by some to be a bit on the rough side, so one can safely assume that the friendly security guard stationed just inside the door was there to ensure customer safety and not to prevent barbecue loyalists from other states from causing a scene.
E&L’s longtime customers will tell you that nothing about their food has changed since they opened their doors 30 years ago, and the same can clearly be said about their kitchen and dining area. The smattering of 80’s era booths and tables sat entirely empty despite the long line and constant flow of people in and out–this is a to-go joint that serves your order straight into a Styrofoam box.
But you don’t go to E&L’s for the ambiance; you go for the food. More specifically, you go for the meat. The sides, while tasty and perfectly adequate, clearly aren’t the point. E&L offers a wide variety of smoked meats–wider than many barbecue joints, including fried chicken, whole catfish, ribs and rib tips, hot sausage links, and more–and every single one has a cadre of loyal customers who swear it’s the best thing on the menu. The one thing every item on the menu, sides, meats, and all, has in common is the sauce. Whatever you order from E&L’s, is guaranteed to be drenched in it, and it’s what they’re most known for.
It’s not hard to see why; this sauce has something for everyone, and when paired with the seasoned smoked meats the result really is a magical mix of all the competing regional barbecue styles. Sweet and tangy at the same time, with an underlying heat, slathered over slow-smoked meat that falls off the bone, this is legendary Jackson barbecue at its finest. And even someone partial to Texas or Kansas barbecue has to admit it’s pretty fine indeed.