New Memphis-style BBQ joint opens doors in Utah County

Cameron Treu is carefully slicing briskets made from the highest quality of beef at Bam Bams BBQ off of State Street in Orem. (Photo by Samantha Williams.)
Cameron Treu slices brisket made from high quality beef at Bam Bams BBQ on State Street in Orem. Other BBQ places are coming to Utah, like Pig City BBQ in American Fork. (Samantha Williams.)

The BBQ world is regional and Utah is discovering its own style. Some of the existing styles are classified as wet, dry or sometimes a mix of the two.

“In terms of eastern North Carolina BBQ, Utah doesn’t have much to offer,” said Jacob Dick, a computer science major at BYU. But Utah may be developing its own BBQ flavor.

Pig City BBQ is hoping to add to the young BBQ scene in Utah Valley. The restaurant will do this by adapting recipes to local food items of Utah. The smoker even burns locally grown oak wood.

Pig City BBQ recently opened its doors in American Fork with the hopes of attracting the old and the young to its Memphis-style BBQ.

The restaurant was opened by restaurant duo and local Utahns Sarah and J.R. Epperson. The couple has more than 30 years of combined food-industry experience.

J.R. grew up in Memphis and said he knows good BBQ when he tastes it. His father was known for his ribs that would fall off the bone. J.R. has created his own dishes, despite his father not sharing any of his own recipes.

Sarah and J.R. have made the restaurant a family endeavor. A tour of the restaurant reveals the couple’s wedding pictures, taken in Memphis. A picture of Sarah’s family in 1952 greets guests at the front desk. Patrons with keen eyes will be able to find a bacon press Sarah’s grandmother used over 50 years ago.

Pig City BBQ’s Twitter photo with the caption, “Pulled pork, ribs. Yeah, we’ve got it all!” (@pigcitybbq/Twitter)

Sarah’s mother even comes in once a week and makes all the pies from scratch. Unfortunately, customers usually don’t have enough room for dessert. Sarah’s son also comes to help around the restaurant. It’s not uncommon to see him fraternizing with guests and trying to help out where he can.

The couple says it’s not easy managing a restaurant together as a married couple, but they’re working on it. “It’s like having Hell’s Kitchens’ Gordon Ramsey being married to Gordon Ramsey,” Sarah said. “Because we’re both really passionate about we do.”

Patrons should expect good food and a great atmosphere at Pig City BBQ. The restaurant’s decor draws from downtown Memphis as an inspiration. The smoky dark vibe and live jazz musicians also add to the atmosphere. Local talent is usually brought in as entertainment.

Memphis BBQ is known for its saucy wetness, and variants of this style can also be spicy. J.R. admits he has been known to drink the BBQ sauce on its own. J.R. sucked his thumb as a child, so his father would put Tabasco sauce on J.R.’s thumb to break the habit. However, this backfired and now J.R. can’t get enough of it.

J.R.’s father also had his hands in the restaurant development. “I talk to my pops about the restaurant everyday,” J.R. said. “He’s always giving me pointers.”

Many of his father’s pointers are about trying new variations of classic BBQ dishes. The latest pointer was about deep frying green beans.

The one thing J.R. feels will keep customers coming back is the quality of the food. “If I can find good BBQ I would go there everyday,” he said. “I’d drive an hour to get good ribs.”

Pig City BBQ knows that people may not want to venture all the way to American Fork. That’s why they deliver and even cater events. The restaurant can accommodate parties of 25, if needed.

Patrons should not go with the expectation that they will have low-calorie meals. “We’re coming from a true southern background of just fattening people up,” Sarah said. There are gluten-free alternatives though.

Sarah and J.R. have also become good friends with country music singer Nathan Osmond. Osmond’s grandmother, who was a close friend of Elvis Presley’s in Memphis, learned to love Memphis-style BBQ while she was there. This love was passed down to Osmond. Osmond showed his support of the restaurant by singing at the store’s grand opening.

Sarah and J.R. admit that the most frequent question they get is about their brisket. Many patrons ask how it compares to Orem’s Bam Bam’s BBQ brisket. The Eppersons admit that they aren’t sure how they stack against Bam Bam’s, but they are willing to be considered their competition.

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