Food & Drink

Virginia is for Barbecue Lovers


Paulie’s Pig Out nestles in the cradle of ’cue.

Words By Deb Freeman Photography by Caroline Gutman

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An order of smoked chicken at Paulie's Pig Out.

Updated

15 Apr 2024

Reading Time

6 Minutes

IF YOU'RE DRIVING with the window down on Rockfish Valley Highway in Afton, Virginia, you’ll smell the smoke before you see it: the aroma of pork and chicken, cooked low and slow in a pair of oil tanks repurposed as meat smokers. Made by owner Paul Matheny’s father, those smokers are better marketing for Paulie’s Pig Out than any billboard or commercial.

Paulie’s opened in 2009 in a tin-roofed former gas station off the highway. A few picnic tables cluster near the smokers. After ordering at the window, patrons swig colas from the vending machine while drinking in the Blue Ridge Mountains backdrop. Finally: Order up! Opening a styrofoam clamshell from Paulie’s feels like opening a present.

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The exterior of Paulie's.
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Paulie's Owner, Paulie Matheney, hands an order to a customer.
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Tim Ray checks on meat in one the smokers at Paulie's Pig Out.

Virginia gets a bad rap when it comes to barbecue. Some folks think it’s nonexistent; some will simply shrug and point you across the state line to North Carolina. But Virginia is where barbecue began. Its pioneers were enslaved Black pitmasters cooking for the colonial gentry, and it was their skill and ingenuity that popularized the cooking style as they were sold throughout the country. Virginia barbecue has been about community rather than commodity ever since, with traditional restaurants taking a back seat to meats cooked in pits at family and community events. Finding good Virginia barbecue joints means knowing where to look.

At Paulie’s, you won’t find anything fancy, like automatic smokers. Rather, the place harkens back to barbecue’s early years. Recipes come from Paulie’s grandmother: The oh-so-tangy tomato-and-vinegar sauce on the pulled pork sandwich, the smoked chicken with its perfectly crispy skin, the dry-rubbed ribs (a must) cooked until tender, with just the right touch of smoke. With every bite, you’re tasting time and skill—and history too.

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A half order of ribs.
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Roosters roam near the picnic tables at Paulie's Pig Out.

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