Terrible to find out that our favorite pitmaster has passed away. JC Hardaway, who made the best chopped pork sandwiches and hamburgers in Memphis, passed away sunday at age 78.
Visiting the Big S to chow down on JC's food was a weekly ritual. JC would bring out a pad of paper and we'd jot down the orders while he brought out our quarts of beer, always chuckling to himself about something or other, always enthused that we came for his food.
our standard approach was to order one cheeseburger and one chopped sandwich- the heat from the bbq would be tempered by the burger, and everything then washed down by some cold beer. Damn! The combination of flavors and the permanently-midnight interior decor of the big S made the the whole experience otherworldly- we never wanted to leave.
Ribs weren't always available- possibly because JC seemed to get the biggest ribs i've ever seen- and maybe buffalo ribs weren't always for sale in Memphis? When we did opt for the ribs,they were tangy, salty, and sweet. And big enough for at least one more meal.
It was always great taking foreigners into this "bad area" and watching their responses as they tasted the food. It was great the way JC would greet 'em "where are you from? France? Have you heard of me? I'm world-famous!" It was great the time jay went nuts and ate 4 cheeseburgers. or was it bbq sandwiches? it was a lot of food, either way. It was great when we were watching the hopeless, hapless Grizz beat the Lakers on tv in the Big S. It was great when we finished the Big S t-shirts, with JC's face on the back.... turned out to be a limited edition. I hope you got yours.
A group of us went to see him a while back when he first went into the hospital and brought him some things, but he was heavily medicated and so out of it that i think we confused him more than helped. JC, true to form, kept trying to get out of bed to fix my friend eric a cheeseburger.
we miss you JC.
from the Commercial Appeal-
Like great BBQ, pitmaster's fame took sweet time
By Christine Arpe Gang
December 10, 2002
Joseph C. 'J. C.' Hardaway, an award-winning barbecue pitmaster, died Sunday at St. Peter Nursing Home. He was 78.
Mr. Hardaway's life revolved around barbecue for almost 65 years, starting at age 14 as a delivery boy at Hawkins Grill on McLemore. He later became its pitmaster.
Everyday he smoked pork shoulders that were acclaimed in the neighborhood but largely unknown by the greater population until he was discovered in 1996 by Lolis Eric Elie.
Elie, a columnist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, is the author of Smokestack Lightning: Adventures in the Heart of Barbecue Country and the producer of the documentary, Smokestack Lightning: A Day in the Life of Barbecue.
"After going to barbecue restaurants around the country for six months, Frank Stewart (photographer for the book) and I concluded J. C. Hardaway made the best pork shoulder sandwich we'd eaten," Elie said. The film crew concurred with their opinion a few years later.
With Elie's passionate nomination, Mr. Hardaway received the 2000 Keeper of the Flame award presented annually at the Southern Foodways Symposium held at the University of Mississippi.
The award pays homage to people respected for their contributions to Southern food traditions but who are relatively unknown.
"In a town as barbecue-crazy as Memphis, a genius like J. C. Hardaway was largely unknown," Elie said. "He is a symbol of all the Southern chefs who are not on the covers of magazine and not on television but who are cooking great food day in and day out."
Hardaway was scheduled to pit his barbecue sandwich against Devin Pickard's of Papa KayJoe's in Centerville, Tenn., at the symposium in October, but he was too ill to attend.
"He's the only chef to be invited to cook twice at the symposium, by popular demand," Elie said. The first time was in 2000 when got the award.
"He had a great impact on the group," said John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, which bestows the award and puts on the symposium. "When it came out that he was going to be there this year, I had calls from several chefs who wanted to be his understudy for the weekend.
"His death is sad for all of us who value wood-fired barbecue and for future generations who would have liked to taste his style of barbecue."
The 150 or so people attending the last symposium raised almost $3,000 to help Mr. Hardaway and his family with their expenses.
"Our organization valued and cared for him," Edge said. "We admired his dignity and his commitment to wood-fired barbecue."
Mr. Hardaway left Hawkins Grill in 1993 to work at Big S Grill on Dunnavant.
He smoked the shoulders, made the slaw and prepared two sauces - sweet and hot.
"The shoulder sandwich has discovered its Stradivarius" in Hardaway, Elie wrote in his book.
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Augustine Catholic Church, where Hardaway was a communicant, with burial at Calvary Cemetery. R.S. Lewis & Sons Funeral Home has charge.
He leaves his wife, Arlene Turner, and a brother, George Hardaway of Lexington, Ky.
- Christine Arpe Gang: 529-2368