When a plate of ribs sits before me and I know I’m in trouble. The meat practically falls off of the bone and the sauce creates a fire in my mouth. I’m sampling what many have called the best barbecue in the U.S. in Hot Springs, Arkansas. McClard’s is not just a simple lunch or dinner option, but rather a testament to recipes that withstand time. It all began with a simple traveler’s recipe for the best barbecue sauce in the world and the rest is history.
The Location: McClard’s assumes a location that bubbles with activity, as it has been for some time. Just under an hour from Little Rock, Hot Springs takes its name from the array of springs in the area. It is also known for being the boyhood home of Bill Clinton. Many come down to bet on the horses for thoroughbred racing at Oaklawn, Arkansas’ own form of Churchill Downs. Hot Springs was also a hot bed of activity in the gangster days of Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. Mobsters would come down to Hot Springs to relax at the bathhouses and gamble away the day and night.
The History: McClard’s Bar-B-Q bears one of the best stories for how it developed its secret sauce recipe. Owners Alex and Gladys McClard owned the Westside Tourist Court. When a traveler couldn’t pay his $10 bill, he offered a sweeter deal. He would give the couple the recipe for the “world’s greatest bar-b-que sauce”. The couple benefited from the recipe, turning the Westside Tourist Court into a barbecue joint. They would later move to McClard’s current location by 1942. McClard’s remains in the family to this day.
The Food: Meat lovers will salivate over the options on the McClard’s menu. Ribs, beef and pork come dry or wet, depending on what you are in the mood for, be it lunch or dinner. McClard’s serves 7,000 pounds of beef, pork and ribs and 250 gallons of spicy BBQ beans each week. I ordered up a plate of ribs that practically fell off of the bone. McClard’s is also known for its tamales so diners will want to order up a tamale to try on the side.
The Sauce: You can pick up a bottle of the famous sauce at McClard’s or merely order your meat wet to truly experience the legendary recipe. The sauce that started it all, a $10 recipe essentially, now sits locked away in a safe deposit box in downtown Hot Springs. McClard’s Bar-B-Q sauce is not for those that don’t like a little bit of spice in their life. Diners should have water ready with each bite, as this Hot Springs sauce is truly hot.
Tips and Tricks: It would be a shame to show up to McClard’s without knowing a few tips and tricks to make your experience as finger-licking good as possible. The barbecue joint is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Also, you will want to be sure you have cash, as the restaurant is cash only. McClard’s has been written about and featured on countless food and travel shows so you can expect a wait. If you want to avoid the crowds, try coming for a late dinner, but no later than 8PM as that is closing time.
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