Always grinnin’ at Charlie’s

Published 6:37 pm Thursday, June 10, 2010

Charlie and Susan McGee, pictured in the center with their grandson, Will Fisbeck, 7, opened Charlie's Piggin' N' Grinnin' in Benton Harbor seven years ago. Photo by Bryan Clapper


Fans of traditional southern barbecue can rattle off a list of famous hole-in-the-wall restaurants from cities across the lower half of the country like they’re national monuments and destinations of their own: Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City, Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur, Ala., Dreamland in Tuscaloosa, County Line in Oklahoma City.

True barbecue aficionados might want to add Charlie’s Piggin’ N’ Grinnin’ in Benton Harbor to that list.

Owners Charlie and Susan McGee opened Piggin’ N’ Grinnin’ seven years ago, after 13 years of successful competition on the barbecue circuit. Since then, it’s developed a steady base of loyal fans who consume as much as 800 pounds of slow-cooked meat each week.

“We grew up in Memphis, and when we moved out of the south we couldn’t find barbecue like we were used to,” Charlie said. Moving around took the McGees to Arkansas, Indiana and Kansas, where Charlie and a friend entered their first barbecue contest in 1990.

His first time entering a barbecue contest, he took home a first-place trophy – a small clear cube with a charcoal briquette entombed in it – in the sausage division.

“That was the last category called,” Charlie said. “We hadn’t won anything up to that point and were walking away and were almost back to where we were set up, and heard ‘Piggin’ N’ Grinnin’ over the loudspeaker.”