The Queen of Barbecue in Brownsville

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Helen's BBQ

Whoever said barbecuing was a man’s job never met Helen Turner. The 58-year-old Brownsville woman is the owner and pitmaster at Helen’s Bar-B-Q, and she’s been serving up smokin’ good grub since 1996.

“I started working here 30 years ago when an older man had the restaurant, and I helped him,” Turner says. “He was aging and decided he didn’t want it anymore. He told me if I’d pay the taxes, it was mine.”

Turner seized the business opportunity, and since then, she has developed a local – and national – following for her pulled pork sandwiches, ribs, bologna, Polish sausages and made-from-scratch sauces in hot and mild. Homemade sides include baked beans, potato salad and coleslaw.

SEE ALSO: Tennessee’s Best BBQ

In 2012, Turner was featured in Southern Living’s Smokin’ Hot List, recognizing 10 of the South’s best pitmasters. And in March 2013, Turner boarded a plane for the first time in her life to attend the Wine + Food Festival in Charleston, S.C., where she was crowned the first-ever Queen of Barbecue by the Southern Foodways Alliance. Previous winners have all been kings.

“I don’t know any other females that do it, but you know, women are good cooks,” Turner says. “My husband Reginell comes in and starts the fire for me every morning at 5 a.m. before he goes to work. He’s been doing that for 17 years. We’ve been married for 30.”

Turner cooks on an open pit with plenty of hickory wood smoke on the restaurant’s screened-in back porch. She doesn’t season the meat – she prefers to let her customers do that themselves with her signature sauces.

SEE ALSO: Larry’s BBQ in Decherd Serves Up Tasty Family Recipes

Rumor has it there are only a few female pitmasters in the country. Turner figures that’s because not many women want to work around smoke and fire. She admits the fumes sometimes drive her to tears.

“I guess I’m one of a kind,” Turner says, chuckling.

As for retirement? She doesn’t see herself abandoning the pit any time soon.

“I just enjoy working. It keeps me busy,” Turner says. “And I love my customers. They’ve been coming so many years that I start fixing their food when they walk in, ’cause I already know what they want. I just welcome everybody that comes in and tell them, ‘Make yourself at home.’”

Helen's BBQ

The Dish on Helen's Bar-B-Q

Address: 1016 N. Washington Ave., Brownsville, TN (about a mile from Brownsville’s town center)
Phone: (731) 779-3255
Hours of Operation: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday.

4 Comments

  1. Jeff Hilton

    July 27, 2016 at 9:41 am

    Jo Hilton at Jacks Creek BBQ in Jacks Creek, TN has been cooking BBQ there since 2008. There are other female BBQ owners. It would be nice to see her get some recognition. Their number is 731-989-4140.

    • Jessy Yancey

      August 1, 2016 at 11:23 am

      Thanks for sharing! We’ll check out Jacks Creek BBQ soon.

      Jessy Yancey, editor
      Tennessee Home & Farm

  2. JP

    May 16, 2017 at 10:01 pm

    I’ve had plenty of BBQ in my life and no one compares to Mrs. Helens!! It’s indescribable, and she is the absolute sweetest.

  3. Rochell

    August 16, 2018 at 9:56 am

    Helen’s is one of the best!! My favorite is the bologna & polish sausage.

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