MAIN INGREDIENTS: White bread, ground pork, possibly cloves
ESTABLISHED: Some time in the mid-20th century
FUN FACT: Pigburger originator Brother Jack’s was also known as “Nasty Jack’s.”
It’s a big spicy burger, almost spherical like Dad used to make in the backyard, except it’s made of well-seasoned ground pork. Offered a choice of mild, medium, and hot sauce, get the hot, an exotically sweet syrup that tastes of cloves and hot chilis and something else we’ll have to guess at. Onions are a recommended option. It’s served between two obligatory slices of white bread, which are insubstantial goo and happily forgotten by the time you’re halfway done.
Hearsay suggests it’s a Knoxville original, and if you Google it, which seems like a silly thing to do, you get mostly references to the Knoxville product. Some think the pigburger was invented by Brother Jack’s, the much-lamented barbecue institution whose aroma dominated University Avenue during the best parts of the 20th century. Brother Jack’s is long gone, but Dixson’s on Magnolia Avenue may be the most authentic surviving practitioner of the pigburger. There have been a couple of other places in town that serve a good sandwich by that name, but people who remember Brother Jack’s say Dixson’s is the closest. And for $2.80, it may be the best bargain of the Knoxville originals.
Dixson’s is a trailer-sized building of obscure provenance, a stucco building with moderne lines of blue and white, and neon. It’s behind the larger and unrelated building known as the Dixie Lounge. Though they’re unrelated places with a very different clienteles, they share an address, 1201 Magnolia, which makes historical research problematic. We first became acquainted with Dixson’s when the Knoxville Smokies were still playing baseball in Bill Meyer Stadium, to which Dixson’s was the closest business.
Bill Dixson started the place sometime in the early ’90s, by some learned estimates, and he remains the official chef, but you’re likely to encounter his talented nephew, Wayne McCallie. How many pigburgers does he sell in a weekend? “Ain’t no telling,” he says. “It’s nothing to sell 100 in a day.” And it’s not even their mainstay. Dixson’s sells barbecue ribs ($25.30 a side), barbecue chicken, and exactly three side items: baked beans, potato salad, and coleslaw. “Small menu, big flavor,” McCallie says. You can get you a Coke from an old machine there.
It’s mainly a takeout place, and seating’s extremely limited, though on a nice day you can sit out on one of the two tables on the porch, on the other side of the screen from the smoker. Wash your hands first, because you’ll be sucking your fingers before you’re done. “The sauce, that’s the kicker to it,” McCallie says. He won’t say what’s in it, because he doesn’t even know. That’s Uncle Bill’s province. “You know, people say they taste cloves, but honestly, I’ve never seen him put cloves in it.” If there aren’t any cloves in it, it just adds intrigue to the enduring secret.