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2012 Workshop in Henderson, Kentucky - Story list

Cool beans and barbecue

Jabin Botsford

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Around 6:15 a.m., Chris Waldridge opens the door to the smoke pit at Thomason's Barbecue to cool it down for the meat. Chris has worked at Thomason's for eight years and begins cooking the restaurant's fare at 4 a.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

It’s a cool crisp early morning as Chris Waldridge begins tossing large amounts of chopped hickory logs and bark into a 52 year-old all brick smoking oven stained and charred from years of old fashioned traditional barbeque smoking.

The 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. window is Chris’s favorite time of day and the most enjoyable part of work for him because it allows him to think and just be alone from the stresses and worries of life.

Chris has been working as a cook at Thomason’s Barbecue for the last eight years.

“I couldn’t ask for a better job and boss,” Chris says. “You laugh about something every day here.”

But maybe it’s not a job.

“I like to think we are all a big family here,” owner Frank Gibson says. “We probably joke around a little more than we should sometimes.”

Frank has kept Thomason’s style and process of cooking and preparing food as original as possible.

“That hand pulling is labor intensive; no one does that anymore,” Frank says. “I know there are easier ways, but this is how we are going to do it.”

Frank believes his customers really appreciate the quantity and extensive time they put into their products specifically their barbecue baked beans. Since Frank bought Thomason’s, his business has grown every year for the past 18 years and has gained more and more national recognition from newspapers, magazines and television shows.

“The beans is the best item we have going for us,” Chris says. “If anybody comes here, they will be back, and if they don’t, they don’t like barbecue."

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A comfortable and friendly atmosphere draws patrons to Thomason's Barbecue. Pigs of all types and materials decorate the restaurant.

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Norma Daniel (center), born and raised in Henderson, takes orders while the cook, Chris Waldridge (right), loads dip into a refridgerator at Thomason's Barbecue, a well-known local restaurant.

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Chris Waldridge loads a wheelbarrow full of mutton for the smoke pit at Thomason's Barbecue, a well-known restaurant on Atkinson Street where locals come to meet and greet.

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Thomason's Barbecue cook Chris Waldridge maintains the restaurant's authentic methods and processes. Here, he adds Sunkist soda to a pot of beans.

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Clarita Whelchel (left), jokes with other employees at Thomason's Barbecue while chopping some pork.

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Austin Priest, 75, enjoys his mutton at Thomason's Barbecue. Austin tries to come for lunch once a week and has been coming regularly since Thomason's opened in 1960. "They have the best mutton in town or really anywhere around," he says.

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Chris Waldridge takes a smoke break on the back porch of Thomason's Barbecue. He says he enjoys the quiet of working alone in the early morning but also appreciates the camaraderie with other employees once they arrive.

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2012 Workshop in Henderson, Kentucky - Story list