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35.9251°N, 86.8689°W
Franklin, TN, USA

Swing open the cast iron portal of a smoker and prepare for an exercise in sensory overload. There’s heat, sure: It smacks you in the face and reminds you there are things far hotter than a sweltering July in Middle Tennessee. Smoke stings your eyes and you think of campfires when you were a kid. Your mind wanders to the fires of our ancestors who learned quickly that cooked meat tastes better, is easier to work with, and is preserved for longer. Finally, the smell of smoked meat infiltrates your nose and overwhelms your olfactory sensors.

“There’s something about barbecue that people gravitate to,” says Claire Crowell, who began serving at Puckett’s in high school, later worked as a General Manager, and today is the COO of A. Marshall Hospitality. “Barbecue is comfort food, and people have an emotional attachment to it – from the style of sauce to the way it’s smoked.”

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At Puckett’s in Franklin, the way it’s smoked hasn’t changed much since Claire’s father, Andy Marshall bought a small grocery in nearby Leiper’s Fork in 1998.

“My dad came from the grocery business – he’d opened four Piggly Wiggly groceries, but in the 90s he sold them all and bought this tiny grocery-market-restaurant and he moved us all out to the country,” Claire says with a laugh. “It was supposed to be his retirement plan, but if you know Andy – he doesn’t sit still for long.”

The original Puckett’s opened in Leiper’s Fork in the 1950s, and became a local gathering spot. Marshall loved the community element – folks coming in before work for coffee and conversation, families stopping in to pick out food for dinner – and he quickly expanded the food and music offerings. The concept gathered attention from singer-songwriters and foodies alike, and in 2004 Marshall took a chance and opened a Puckett’s location in Franklin. Since then, many soon-to-be-in-the-spotlight artists and bands have graced the Puckett’s stage.

“At the time, Franklin was just starting to grow and become this beacon of American Main Street,” says Claire. “It felt like a risk, but it’s paid off.”

Eventually, Andy Marshall opened more Puckett’s across Tennessee, as well as a seafood restaurant, a pub, and several ice cream parlors. But Puckett’s in Franklin has remained the anchor for this culinary family.

Every Puckett’s has a smoker, and each has a unique name.

“This one’s called Jolene,” says Claire as she pries open the metal door. Smoke wafts out and temporarily blinds us. When we can finally open our eyes again, we’re greeted by the sight of dozens of pork shoulders resting on racks. “Our reputation is built on barbecue,” says Claire. “My dad was born and raised in Memphis, so we do Memphis-style barbecue with a dry rub.”

From ribs to pork shoulder to whole chickens and turkey breast, everything is smoked over cherry wood – sometimes for 18 hours or more. While their exact technique is a house secret, it involves smoking, resting the meat at a lower temperature, and sometimes wrapping certain cuts so they continue to cook and steam after the smoking process is complete. It all adds up to difficult choices when you sit down to eat and stare at the chalkboard telling you which meats are available that day.

“Tennessee is well known for barbecue,” says Claire. “It’s a huge tradition, and it’s our pride and joy.”

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