Just as any great road trip should start, ours started with a stop. Before we could even think about shoving off on our exploratory adventure across the land of bluegrass and brown water, we had to make a pit stop first.
Paducah is an amazing and historic town. When it came to choosing a place that could set the tone for the kinds of places we were hoping to discover, we had a plethora of options. As we collectively tossed out suggestions, there was one that was instantly unanimous. It was then we knew that our first pit-stop had to be to tell the story of a true Paducah icon: Starnes Barbecue.
Since 1955, the Starnes family has been quietly serving up some of the best smoke beef, pork, and bologna in the state of Kentucky, and arguably, the country. They do so with very little fanfare, operating in the same general location that Floyd Starnes initially opened the doors to Starnes Barbecue with nothing more than a recipe for their signature sauce (untouched since its inception), an affinity for smoking meat, and a desire to make an honest living for their family.
Now here, 62 years later, the Starnes family still runs the quaint barbecue stand across from the famous Bob Noble Park. The small, half-windowed structure still wears the cool minty green walls on its interior, wrapped around a U-shaped counter that I can remember bellying up at with my grandfather in the late 1980’s.
“It’s always been my goal… to maintain what my grandfather began. I never wanted to be rich… I just wanted to make a living for my family.” Tim Starnes, 3rd generation owner and current proprietor of Starnes Barbecue tells us.
And he, his children, and his grandchildren all hold still to that promise. Very little has changed in the past 60 years for Starnes Barbecue, aside from changing locations a few thousand feet and adding a few fresh coats of the signature green paint on the walls that have invited generations of barbecue fans over the past few decades.
“We don’t really advertise…” Tim goes on to say, “We kind of let our customers do the advertising for us.” And that they do. The Starnes’ story of family tradition is rich on both sides of the counter.
Over the years, Tim has heard stories of family traditions that included Starnes Barbecue, whether it be from weekly lunch trips with children or grandchildren, or a family reunion they would smoke the meat for, the Starnes name means tradition for families throughout the region.
And you could probably say that no family relies more on tradition than the Starnes family, who, if they have it their way, are set to continue that tradition for generations to come.
To stay up to date on all of the happenings at Starnes Barbecue, visit their Facebook page.