Mutton Mutton, Who’s Got The Mutton?

Back in 2005, I was deeply involved in searching for the best BBQ in America and had heard Owensboro, KY mentioned several times. What got that town mentioned so often was it is in Davis County in Western Kentucky and when the locals say BBQ they’re often referring to mutton or mature sheep.

I did a little research and learned that the soil and terrain of that area are well suited for raising sheep and the people who settled it came from parts of Europe that were heavy into raising and eating sheep. Well before this I had learned that BBQ is a somewhat regional thing. In Texas it’s beef. In Western North Carolina it’s pork shoulders while in the Eastern part of the state it’s the whole hog. Memphis is ribs and Columbia, SC is fresh ham.

I don’t know what accounts for all these differences but I knew I needed to try me some barbecued mutton. One of my friends suggested I needed to become a barbecue judge so I did a little Googling and learned that the Memphis Barbecue Network had a certification class scheduled for July of 2005. I got an application in the mail, along with my $75 check, and when the time came I headed for Memphis. With mutton in mind, I planned my route to include a stopover in Owensboro and lunch at one of its most heralded joints, Moonlite Barbecue.

With a full belly and uncertainty about liking mutton, I bought a t-shirt on the way out. That t-shirt, over the years, has got me into a lot of conversations with strangers who had been there or who were just curious about the restaurant or the town.

Two things prompted this story. One was seeing the following video on KET’s Kentucky Life about the annual International Barbecue Festival in Owensboro and the other, recently noticing that my Moonlite t-shirt is damned near worn out.

I’ll just have to resort to wearing my collection of t-shirts from Sweatman’s, Wilber’s, and a plethora of other barbecue joints.

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