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Eat me: Mutton barbecue

Muttonchop896
If you’re from Texas, barbecue means beef brisket. If you’re from almost anywhere else in the South, it means pulled pork. But in western Kentucky, specifically in and around Owensboro, barbecue means mutton.

We had hoped to go to Owensboro’s International Barbecue Festival during last year’s excursion to Kentucky, but weather kept us away. As a consolation, DPaul’s mother sent us a shipment from the famous Moonlite Bar-B-Que Inn, considered by many to be the ultimate barbecue in the area. However, she sent us just the pulled pork in sauce, not the mutton they are so known for. This year, we took matters into our own hands and ordered some up.

Mutton is, of course, adult sheep (also used to refer to goat meat in some places), and so it stands to reason that it is gamier than pork or beef. Indeed, I think the mutton meat by itself would be overwhelmingly gamy, but hickory smoke and the sweet-vinegar dip complement it very nicely indeed. Of course you have to have that on a soft bun, and you better be sure there’s cole slaw involved. Myself, I like mine right on top of the meat; DPaul keeps it on the side.

Now, for some reason, pulled pork is served in a "sauce" whereas the mutton is served in a "dip." Personally, they taste rather similar to me, though the dip is thinner and maybe a bit more vinegary. Whatever it is, it is delectable.

I’ve railed against the obliteration of true regional foods, especially in places like Kentucky. This is exactly the kind of thing I hope and pray will stay around for a very long time indeed. It is unique to its area, and has been lovingly developed and improved over many, many years. You can’t get a more authentic taste of Kentucky than this, food miles be damned.

Moonlite Bar-B-Que Inn
2840 W. Parrish Ave, Owensboro KY

(Photograph from Moonlite’s site)


One year ago today … I kicked off the Great Guac Hunt. Guess it’s time to pick that ball up again.

  • How cool is that?
    Scares me a little.
    But I still think I want some.

  • Yes, yes you do.

  • I love pulled pork, and never heard of mutton. Well, I think maybe in some Scottish play. I give you credit for trying it. And looks like in the picture that you can ship it home. Did you bring any back with you?

  • To quote Jerry Seinfeld, “Salad’s got nothin’ on this mutton!”

  • SGC: Yup, you can order it via their website, which is what we did. You’ll pay as much if not more in shipping than for the food itself, but it’s worth it for a unique treat.
    Lisa: Truer words were never spoken.

  • I am from Owensboro and being that the International Barbecue Festival is starting in a couple of weeks, I was just browsing around the internet looking for articles on it. Just wanted to give my opinion that Moonlite isn’t the best mutton in town. I think that honor belongs to Old Hickory Barbecue. While they do not have a website allowing you to order it online, if you are already in Owensboro, it’s the place to go. Moonlite is good and they do have a better atmosphere, not to mention an awesome all you can eat buffet, Old Hickory takes the cake in the mutton division. To anyone reading this, feel free to come visit Owensboro on the second weekend of May every year for the BBQ Fest. More food, fun, and entertainment than you can shake a stick at. There are approximately 80,000 visitors to the festival every year. More information can be found at http://www.bbqfest.com/

  • Thanks for the tips. I’ve heard that Moonlite is not necessarily the best in town, just the most famous, and as you point out the easiest to get it from remotely. We tried to go to the BBQ Festival a couple years ago, but weather kept us away. Sooner or later, though, we will make it!

  • Jake Brad

    I know of Moonlite but is there any other mutton bbq joints in that area

  • I’m told there are many (Old Hickory is the main competitor, I think), but don’t know of them as I have never made it to Owensboro!

  • ctford

    Old Hickory is better. I live about 30 miles from Owensboro in Henderson KY. In Henderson EVERY BBQ place has Mutton and it is great!. I grew up on mutton and would take it every time over pork or beef. I remember my grand dad buying 2 goats or sheep for the big family BBQ on Labor day. Best food ever!! Moonlite uses to much vinegar unless you get there sliced mutton not chopped. Henderson has at least 5 places that sell Mutton.

  • jim

    actually in western kentucky barbecue generally means pork. mutton is only served in some restaurants, and those that do serve it always serve pork as well.