E & L Barbeque has been a Bailey Avenue staple since 1989, tucked in a brick strip with little signage except for a faded stamp on the building’s side. Once you hit the parking lot, though, the enticing aroma is advertisement enough.
Its start actually dates back to 1980 in Chicago, with founders Eddie and Lula Hilliard gracing the business with their initials, then bringing the barbecue back home to Mississippi. E & L Barbeque, at 1111 Bailey Avenue in Jackson, is now in the hands of a second and third generation with their daughter, Gladys Wilson, and her son, Corey Wilson, at the helm.
The source of that sweet and smoky aroma is up front, right inside the door, in a large aquarium-style cooker loaded with smoking meats, hickory and oak. A big upright fan handles the double duty of cooling customers and wafting that scrumptious scent around. “We started the aquarium-style — the inside pits — in Missisippi,” Corey Wilson says. “Coming from Chicago, it’s hard to barbecue outside in the wintertime. So, you have to cook on the inside.”
At the outset, Wilson describes their style as simply “backyard.”
“It’s the type of barbecue you do at home — not really fancy, just plain barbecue. That’s all we do.”
Chicago style? Wilson chuckles. “I’ve been out of Chicago so long, I wouldn’t even know. I would say a little bit … a mix between the two” of Southern backyard and Chicago style, resulting in meaty smoked ribs with a sweet sauce that’ll leave a tasty tang on the lips and fingertips. Their popular homemade barbecue sauce is his grandmother’s recipe.
The straight-ahead focus has served E & L well where sides of fries or potato salad and baked beans round out the combos. Rib tips may be the biggest seller, Wilson says. “It’s the end tip of the rib. They cut the tip off the ribs, and we chop those up into small pieces.” Though it sounds potentially easier to handle with a fork than those big ribs, Wilson quickly dissuades me of the notion. “Uh, no. It’s better to use your hands, in my opinion.”
The menu board leads off with ribs, which have earned E & L awards over the years, and also offers hot links, pulled pork, chicken, fried chicken wings, catfish, and sandwiches of steak, Polish sausage or pig ear.
The generous pile of sauce-slathered ribs on my plate easily outlasts a considerable lunchtime appetite, but good news: They’re just as tasty, cold, for a midnight snack later.
30 Years of Barbecue
E & L has a handful of tables and booths on site, but the business is primarily takeout, with heaps of down-home delicious tucked into carryout containers. Catering, especially on football season weekends in fall and winter, is a big outlet, too. Inside, E & L’s walls’ soft red hue echoes the primary reason most walk in the door — the pink tenderness of smoked meats on the bone and the deeply red sauce that tops them. Wilson practically grew up on the premises, and two large photos on the wall capture him in earlier years.
E & L Bar-B-Que has been a source for traditional barbecue in Jackson for 30 years. “I’ve seen a lot of places that are more chef-inspired. We don’t do that,” Wilson says. “Just meat, heat and smoke — that’s what we do. And, barbecue sauce. Here, we’re always a little messy.”
So, don’t wear white. Load up on the napkins. And, plunge right in.