A number of states claim to cook the best barbecue in the country, a cozy 35-seat restaurant in Herndon that has been cooking its meat the same way for 30 years draws diehard customers back time and time again – present company included. It lures Fort Campbell soldiers by the droves, and ships barbecue and sauce across the nation.
“I’m the only guy around here who still makes barbecue the old-fashioned way,” said William “Oscar” Hill, owner of Knockum Hill Bar B Q, located just past the four-way stop and post office in the heart of tiny Herndon. “The meat has to be hickory smoked in a pit.”
According to Hill, the majority of barbecue places now cook on gas rotisseries, throwing in a bit of wood to add a smoky taste.
“They lay the meat inside, set the thermostat, go off and let it cook,” he says. “Barbecue cooked on a gas-fired pit tastes like gas. It’s a lot more work the way we do it, and the taste is worth it.”
Area barbecue aficionados obviously agree with Hill, as several grocery stores in Hopkinsville and Cadiz offer his barbecue pork and two vinegar-based sauces – one mild and one hot – while a number of local restaurants feature a barbecue sandwich. And that barbecue is Knockum Hill.
Though open only on weekends, the eatery bustles on Fridays and Saturdays, especially in the summertime, when its few indoor tables stay busy and a 150-seat outdoor pavilion rocks with family reunions and wedding receptions that chow down at a barbecue buffet. Kids play in the surrounding spacious yard, as corn stalks rustle in the breeze right across the road.
Fort Campbell provides about 75 percent of Hill’s business. Every weekend, says Oscar, members of the 101st Airborne and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) fill his establishment with hearty appetites.
Known as “the home of the big chop,” Knockum Hill specializes in a really big pork chop, which is also popular with Nashville Titans tailgaters, who stop by to load up on west Kentucky barbecue before the game.
“After it’s cooked, that chop weighs over two pounds,” said Hill, “and I guarantee you can pull it apart and cut it with a plastic knife and fork. We have a few customers that can devour the whole thing; they’re just big eaters. But usually among the motorcycle groups that come from Clarksville, Nashville and Benton, a man and wife will order one chop and split it. It’s that big.”
The menu is limited to a pork plate, chicken plate, rib plate, pork chop plate or pork sandwich, with baked beans, burgoo, cole slaw and potato salad sides.
While most barbecue restaurants use pork shoulders, Hill swears by Swift’s Premium Boston butt, the only pork he cooks. Instead of using a knife to cut the meat, he pulls all the pork apart himself.
Folks have been flocking to Knockum Hill since 1980, when Will and Joyce Hargrove built the little restaurant next to their Herndon home, where he still lives. But when Joyce passed away in 1996, Will no longer wanted the business and the next year, sold it to his brother-in-law Oscar, who had been cooking barbecue with the rest of the combined family for years.
According to Hopkinsville historian William Turner, the unusual name originated around the turn of the 20th century, when a stage coach ran from Lafayette to Hoptown. Near Herndon was a stagecoach stop with a beer joint and a large hill close by. Travelers would get off the stage, get drunk on home brew and homemade whisky, and trade punches to see who could knock who off the hill. Thus, the name Knockum Hill.
No matter the name, Oscar says there is no secret recipe for his wildly popular meat and sauce.
“We just cook it the way it’s supposed to be cooked,” he laughs, “on a Kentucky hickory pit.”
Tuck Your Napkin In
Knockum Hill Bar B Q
(270) 271-2957 to order
barbecue and sauce
through Christmas Eve, 2010:
Fridays 9 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.,
carry out until 7 p.m.
Saturdays 9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.,
carry out until 3 p.m.