By Jason A. Smith and Joel Hall
As residents in Henry and Clayton counties celebrate Independence Day, some of them are taking advantage of a tradition gaining in popularity in the South.
Local barbecue restaurants are contributing to Fourth of July festivities by serving up Brunswick stew and other specialties straight from the pit.
One such establishment, which has seen its share of customers in recent days, is McGhin's Southern Pit Bar-B-Que, at 2148 Ga. Highway 20 West, in McDonough. Michelle Freeman owns the restaurant, along with her sister, Cindy Hudson.
Freeman says the restaurant, which is closed today through Sunday, has prepared a number of barbecue orders in recent days. She says many customers have expressed a desire to avoid the kitchen for the holiday, and have chosen barbecue as the solution.
The restaurant owners have spent most of their lives surrounded by barbecue. Their father, Bennie Cato, ran his own barbecue establishment in Milner, Ga., before retiring several years ago.
"It's just a way of life to us," Freeman says.
The first McGhin's restaurant was opened in 1984, by franchise owners Fred and Brenda McGhin. Its headquarters are currently located in Griffin.
Freeman believes one of the aspects of the business which makes it unique, is its family atmosphere and emphasis on serving customers.
"We're not so commercialized, and I hope we don't get that way," she says.
Freeman says barbecuing is a tradition which has increased in popularity in recent years, particularly in the South.
"People used to eat barbecue in wintertime only, because of things boiling," she explains. "But now I think people just love it year 'round. I know I do. I think it means 'family' to people."
In Jonesboro, the Jonesboro Masonic Lodge will host it's 44th annual Fourth of July Parade and Barbecue.
The parade, co-sponsored by the City of Jonesboro, will take place from 10-11 a.m., starting at Jonesboro Middle School and ending at the Jonesboro Masonic Lodge, located at 144 North McDonough St.
From 11 a.m., to 6 p.m., at the lodge, members will serve plates of barbecue pork, Brunswick stew, bread, potato chips, and pickles, all for a donation of $6 per person. Drinks will also be available for an extra fee.
Darrell Flanigan, Worshipful Master of the Jonesboro Masonic Lodge, said the parade is a long-standing Jonesboro tradition. "The fire department used to do it until it got too big, so it has probably been around for 60 years," said Flanigan. "We have a clientele that has been coming for years and years."
In preparation, members of the lodge took Wednesday evening to Friday morning, cleaning the two massive barbecue pits located behind the lodge, smoking 3,300 pounds of pork, and preparing 200 gallons of Brunswick stew.
"This takes almost all the members of the lodge working as a team to get things done," said Vernon Harp, senior deacon and grill master of the lodge. "It's a labor of love."