The Barrel House in Lynchburg Smokes the Competition
Chuck Baker didn’t set out to open one of the most beloved barbecue restaurants in Tennessee – it just happened. The fourth-generation bricklayer was looking for a new venture to allow him to spend more time with his family when he thought up The Barrel House in 2012, so he bought the vacant laundromat in the town square of his hometown of Lynchburg and set up shop.
“I had the idea to try this and it just worked out,” he laughs.
And though he’d always enjoyed cooking (both of his parents were great cooks), he’d never done anything on such a large scale. Nor had he tried his hand at barbecue.
“We opened our doors on April 7, 2012,” he says. “People always ask me, ‘When did you start doing barbecue?’ and I tell them April 7, 2012.”
You’d never know he was a newbie to ’cue. From his famous Rack of Ribs to Smoked Sausage with Barrel House Liquid Gold Mustard Sauce, each dish is as finger-licking good as the next. And he’s gaining recognition for it all.
He was invited to compete on Destination America’s BBQ Pitmasters TV show in 2013. The following year The Barrel House was voted one of the state’s top five barbecue restaurants in a poll by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, inscribing his name alongside pitmasters from Nashville and Memphis.
But it was a stroke of luck – and hunger – that brought him his biggest national accolade and his most popular menu item.
If You Go...
Location: 105 Mechanic St S, Lynchburg, TN 37352
Phone: (931) 759-5760
Check the website for season-specific hours.
One day, The Barrel House was so busy that they ran out of food. That meant a late night for Baker and his then 12-year-old daughter, who was camped out with her dad. On a break from smoking butts, Baker went to make her a grilled cheese. He discovered a little leftover barbecue in the fridge, heated it up and added it to the simple sandwich.
“Daddy, this is like a grilled cheese on crack,” she enthused on first bite. In fact, she was so enamored that Baker added the concoction to his menu.
The world noticed. In September, Buzzfeed compiled their list of The Best Grilled Cheese in Every State as determined by Yelp reviews. The grilled cheese on crack was named best in Tennessee.
The quaint café is casual and comfortable. “Some people call it quirky, most of us say it’s like home,” Baker says. “It’s not real fancy, it’s just good food.” And both the restaurant’s name and décor reflect its location, just down the road from the Jack Daniels Distillery. The historic spot brings in hundreds of tourists a day, and Baker credits it as a secret to his success.
“That helps tremendously,” he says. “If it wasn’t for the tourism from Jack Daniels, I probably wouldn’t be here.”
Now eying a second location, Baker is proud of what The Barrel House has accomplished, and prouder still that he treats every customer like a VIP.
“People sign my walls and my ceiling. We have thousands of signatures,” he says. “I had one guy look at them and ask me if I’d ever had any important people come in here. I said, ‘Yeah. All of ’em.’ And that seems to work. I get my staff to make sure everybody counts. You can’t please everybody but you can please most anybody, and that’s what matters.”