This week we travel to Macon, Georgia to discuss the ins and outs of a very simple product that has been known to bring families together while arguments about its ingredients can also tear people apart. What is this product? Barbecue sauce. 

Roland Neel of Mrs. Griffin's barbecue sauce

Owner Roland Neel of Mrs. Griffin's Barbecue sauce in Macon, Georgia

Credit: GPB

Barbecue sauce is a great unifier. It brings together families and loved ones for cookouts and tailgates. Mrs. Griffin's Barbecue Sauce has been doing exactly that for close to 90 years. 



Roland Neel: We believe ourselves to be the oldest continuous barbecue sauce in the United States.

David Zelski: Barbecue and sauce. Two simple words, but when put together, they're quite powerful. Those words can bring people together from all corners of the state, the country, and the world to celebrate love and family in the form of a backyard holiday cookout or tailgating before a big game or Sunday after church dinner on the grounds. And one barbecue sauce from Macon has been serving this public good since 1935. 

Theme Song: I came from the mud, there's dirt on my hands. Strong like a tree, there's roots where I stand.

David Zelski:  I'm David Zelski, and this is the Fork in the Road podcast, featuring the stories from Georgia's farmers, fishermen, merchants, artisans, chefs and others who help provide Georgia grown products to folks in the Peach State and beyond. Today, let's dive into the world of Mrs. Griffin's Barbecue Sauce.

Roland Neel: Putting South in your mouth since 1935. That's our slogan.

David Zelski: Yes, that's the slogan. And we'll get back to that. If you were to throw a dart at a map of Georgia, the bull's eye pretty much would be downtown Macon. And that is where we are traveling today. We find ourselves just a little more than a mile from Mercer University's main campus and walking distance to the Allman Brothers Museum in a nondescript white building that pumps out gallons and gallons and gallons of tempting, tasty barbecue sauce.

Roland Neel: We make three different sources on this line. We've got Original, Hickory, Hot, and our newest Sweet.

David Zelski: That's Roland Neel. He is the owner of Mrs. Griffin's. Yes, you heard right. Mrs. Griffin's Barbecue Sauce is not owned by an old lady. But that doesn't actually mean there wasn't a real life, Mrs. Griffin. There was. Her name was Etta.

Roland Neel: Etta was the original mrs. Griffin. Mr. Griffin, he was going to call it Mr. Griffin's Barbecue Sauce. But then he thought about a little while and thought it'd sell better if he called it. Mrs. Griffin's Barbecue Sauce.

David Zelski: That right there is a marketing lesson from 1935. Here's the full story.

David Zelski (announcer voice): Mangum Edward Griffin was born in 1899, and he created a special barbecue sauce that he made for his family's 4th of July picnic every year. Everybody always raved about his sauce, and M.E. Griffin's brother suggested that he bottle some and bring it to his grocery store. M.E. brought 12 bottles and his brother sold them before Mr. Griffin could even get home. M.E. Griffin started the family run business in 1935 with the family making sauce in their kitchen. He called his special sauce Mrs. Griffin's Barbecue Sauce in honor of his wife, Etta Busbee Griffin. Because, according to Mr. Griffin, a woman's name seemed to sell better than a man.

David Zelski: Okay.

Roland Neel: But after 1935, it is continuously been sold every day. We believe ourselves to be the oldest continuous barbecue sauce in the United States every day.

David Zelski: That's some staying power there.

Roland Neel: Staying power, yeah.

David Zelski: Staying power, indeed. So how does a barbecue sauce stick around for that long? It must be pretty unique, right?

Roland Neel: Well, the Mrs. Griffin's style is really the unique. It's. It's the one. It's so old. It's the story of it. The barbecue regions were written about the original Griffin family was from Columbia, South Carolina, and they moved to Macon. And on the 4th of July as they would have picnics where the Macon crowd and the Columbia crowd would come to Macon. And it kind of was a little bit of a hybrid mustard sauce. They started adding a little bit of tomato paste, getting away from the Columbia group of the family. So it kind of brought mustard and tomato paste, mustard and ketchup type sauce and into Georgia. And we're very, very proud of that. Barbecue sauce regional books are written around Mrs. Griffin's.

David Zelski: The company continues to run in the tradition set by Mr. Griffin all those years ago. The various ingredients of the sauce are mixed, not cooked in a 60 gallon vat. The process, which actually takes four days, includes 12 steps to combining the ingredients, the sauce is then mix between 3 to 4 hours before being ready for bottling.

Roland Neel: Well, it takes it takes quite a few secret ingredients. One thing it starts with, we buy these 450 pound drums of mustard. We buy about 43,000 pounds of those at a time. Have those brought down here in a truckload. We also buy a 200 grain vinegar in these 330 gallon totes. Now 200 grain vinegar is much stronger than what you get at the grocery store. We add water to dilute it down. But if it was any stronger than 200 grain, it would have to be hazmat. So that is the strongest vinegar you can ship on a truck on a on an interstate.

David Zelski: I had this conversation with Roland as we walk through the Mrs. Griffin's plant. Now, you can only imagine how delicious that building smells.

Roland Neel: Oh, man, We got it going on in here. We've got smoked barbecue sauce filling up in the 32 ounce bottles over there. We've got our 1600 gallon tank, which we just emptied our 800 gallon tank our 300 gallon tank. And about a thousand bottles sitting right here on this pile and many more thousand out there. This is how we do things. It's a little bit manual, a little bit automated. It's a hybrid. But this one room here would fill up about every store in South Georgia.

David Zelski: And what are those stores? Do you have to travel to Macon or down to South Georgia to find Mrs. Griffin's barbecue sauce. Nope, not at all.

Roland Neel: You can find it nationwide on, And All the Krogers in the Southeast. Really, most stores within about a four state area. All Winn-Dixies all Bi-Los, Harveys, Krogers, Walmarts, mostly all of those places. But anywhere out of the Southeast do, What we're most proud of Mrs. Griffin's is we can go out into an open market like a Walmart store. And Walmart has been very, very supportive of Mrs. Griffin's, given us a lot of space on the shelf, and when they do that, we can beat all the other brands in this area. Maybe not nationwide, but this area, we can kill them sometimes two and three times more sales for Mrs. Griffin's than just nationally, billion dollar brand. And I can't tell you how much I appreciate the customers and the people that are actually putting that down the grocery scanner. How much we appreciate them supporting a small regional brand like Mrs. Griffin's.

David Zelski: Now, we've talked this long about the barbecue sauce, but, you know, we haven't even mentioned what food to put it on.

Roland Neel: The label says Mrs. Griffin's is good on everything.

David Zelski: Good on everything.

Roland Neel: But especially pork, chicken, little beef, anything like that. And it can also be used as a ketchup, like a mop sauce where its mopped through the meat after, say, the meat may be cooked or something like that. So we suggest trying Mrs. Griffin's on just about everything tastes great on everything.

David Zelski: Now, as much as I like the idea of taking Mrs. Griffin's to my next family cookout, it also makes me wish I could order up a load of stuff for myself right now. Well, you kind of can.

Roland Neel: Well, we're so fortunate to work with William and Camille Foshee who own Cast Iron Catering. And they're in the same building we are. And they're one of the finest caterers in central Georgia. And they love Mrs. Griffin's. They take much Mrs. Griffin's and use it in a lot of different recipes, anything from macaroni and cheese to just all kinds of stuff we never even dreamed of. And they use it in their catering. We could not be more proud to be associated with them.

David Zelski: Mrs. Griffin's barbecue sauce in your macaroni and cheese? Yum, yummy, yummy. Is that Ace Ventura? Yummy. Now let's hear a little more from William at Cast Iron Catering.

William Foshee: We're here in Macon, Georgia, located off Ross Avenue, where Miss Griffin's Barbecue Sauce. We happen to be a catering facility, Cast Iron Catering that is alongside. And we like to use their product frequently on a lot of stuff that we do as well. Given this a hometown Macon thing, we we like to keep it local and going. All right. Today, I'm going to make a little bit of a barbecue. Well, a little cajun twist. They've got this new barbecue rub right here that Mrs. Griffin's has just gotten out on the shelves. It's something we like to use a good bit, especially with our porks and our barbecuing. But also it's really good on fish and other fried items. Toss it like seasoning salt.

David Zelski: Hmm. That's not sauce. That's something different, Roland?

Roland Neel: In our quest for growth and new items to put in the supermarket shelf. We're very excited to announce our shake, which is a rub, but we rather call it shake. So you shake a little bit of this and what you're cooking, and it's not going to get any better than that. This is Mrs. Griffin's Shake made from the same basic ingredients that the sauce is made from just with a little drier.

David Zelski: It's like a sauce, but dry. It's a rub and a shake. So let's drop back in on William as he describes one of the ways he likes to use the shake.

William Foshee: We have our onions. Nice. Fine. Julienne in here. We're going to take some of our seasoning. Mrs. Griffin's almost had it shaken up. Right. It adds a little bit of a nice vinegar, dehydrated mustard kind of salt flavor. And then, I mean, if you want to sweeten it up, you can. It does have sugar in it. So caramelized nicely. I put it in here to also mix with some red wine vinegar to help it dissolve down. Add your slaw, let it sit overnight. You have a nice vinegar base, barbecue slaw.

David Zelski: Well, that was a big mistake, because now I'm super hungry.

William Foshee: All right, we've done the slaw with the rub. Now we've got it on the plate waiting, and we're going to go into our proteins. We have a nice pork tenderloin here. We're Just gonna do it dry, rub style, straight up seasoning, a little bit of oil and a cast iron skillet. Cast Iron Catering. You got to roll with what your grandma taught you on. So we're going to go ahead and take this pork tenderloin right here. We've been letting it sit out room temp. Always a good way to make sure you cook meat thoroughly, cook it from room temp, and now you're just searing and firing.

David Zelski: That is not helping. That sounds amazing. And I think it's important to point out that William is a pro and could be using any sauce or rub that he wants or even makes on his own. But he chooses Mrs. Griffin's.

William Foshee: I love Mrs. Griffin's for many reasons. A: he's my nextdoor neighbor good guy. We the flavors are the marinades they use, we use a lot of mustard in our stuff. We love vinegars. It just kind of hand-in-hand goes together with what we like to do on our side of the world. At what he has access right here next door to us to be able to work together. And it's local. Macon grown, Macon owned, Macon shipped, Macon delivered, Macon packaged, Macon everything. And we're Macon everything here. We got good food, we got good sauce, and we're located right here in Macon, Georgia.

David Zelski: Mrs. Griffin's has been around since 1935. That is a very, very long time to be selling barbecue sauce.

Roland Neel: We we believe we lasted this long because the love from our customers and everybody else and we just we really appreciate the business.

David Zelski: You don't have to be in middle Georgia to enjoy Mrs. Griffin's Barbecue Sauce, but if you find yourself near Macon, you can just stop by and say hello to Roland and pick up a bottle or two for yourself and you can watch A Fork In The Road on GPB-TV or any time on the website. That's where you'll also be able to listen and subscribe to this podcast or download it on your favorite podcast platform. I'm David Zelski. Thanks for listening to A Fork in the Road.


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