Can a beloved Knoxville delicacy go global?

If you’ve ever dreamed of copyrighting the use of the term Pigburger, well, just forget it. Boyd Anderson has already filed the papers with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The former Drake University basketball star thinks he has perfected the ancient Knoxville delicacy, and with the help of sausage stalwart Wampler’s, he’s manufacturing pigburgers, 48 to a 12-pound box. Expect to see them in the frozen-meats section sometime before long.

Anderson is a tall, lean, physically energetic man of 50 whose shaven head enhances his athletic appearance. About a decade ago, I wrote about how he was marketing Brother Jack’s barbecue sauce, which was on grocery shelves for a while. It was great stuff, but eventually didn’t work out. After a run for Knoxville City Council, without luck, Anderson moved to Florida for a while. He has recently moved back to town with his wife of five years, Andrea.

Anderson has since retired as a Fed Ex man, and been ordained a minister in the World Faith Home Mission, but through all those changes, he couldn’t get the memory of Brother Jack’s out of his mind. “I’ve eaten barbecue all over the country, but I’ve never had it like Brother Jack’s.”

No barbecue place, and hardly any restaurant of any sort, has approached Brother Jack’s status as a culinary legend. The lively little take-out place on University Avenue in Mechanicsville served barbecue and atmosphere and a curiously complex sauce. Blacks and whites of the segregated South rarely stood so close together as they did when they crammed themselves in there late at night for an after-midnight barbecue sandwich, some ribs or a half a chicken on white bread, or a pigburger. That signature spiced ground-pork sandwich, usually served with sauce and onions, became a standard. Other restaurants began offering their own versions.

Anderson grew up with Brother Jack’s, and tried his first pigburger when he was a little boy, around 1965. Some details are murky, but authorities agree that Brother Jack invented it. “The idea and concept came up in 1922,” Anderson says, when the original “Mr. Jack”—his real name was Charles Andrew Jackson, a former Market Square butcher’s assistant—opened a meat market in Mechanicsville. After a few changes of fortune, Jackson specialized, starting his barbecue joint on University in 1946, first known as Jack’s Place. He ran the business for decades, with his son Clifford “Tip” Jackson, who took over in the later years. (The man many remember as “Brother Jack” was actually Tip.) Their motto was “Brother Jack Feeds the Soul.” They sold a unique delicacy known as the pigburger, which by the 1980s was going for just $1.

“Mr. Jack” died at 93 in 1988, and his son Tip’s death in 1995 seemed to signal the end of the Brother Jack dynasty. But Anderson has been working closely with Mr. Jack’s “blood nephew,” Claude Tate, a barbecue veteran now in his 70s who helped assemble the ingredients.

Anderson has organized a company called Geno’s Foods. It may sound like a multinational lasagne manufacturer, but Anderson says he named his new company for his son. Geno Anderson is a former Karns High basketball standout on his way to Tennessee Tech.

“It has a built-in market already,” the elder Anderson claims. “Everybody who came to UT from the 1920s to the ’80s and ’90s.” Brother Jack catered to his own neighborhood, but his establishment became a late-night mecca for generations of undergrads.

Brother Jack’s pigburger had an unusual sweet-hot personality. Anderson says it was known for one mysterious ingredient that energized and united its flavors. “Some people thought it was cloves, but it wasn’t cloves,” Anderson says. With Tate’s approval, he used all the original ingredients, but added one more, a factor in Brother Jack’s equally secret sauce. “It escalates it,” he says.

The only specific ingredients listed on the box are pork, sugar, and salt. Mystery dwells in the vaguer word “spices.” Nutmeg? Allspice? He will say no more. “Even if you knew what was in it, you still couldn’t duplicate it,” he says.

“It’s the burger that’s better than beef,” Anderson says, more than once. It’s the pigburger motto. “It’s more tender than beef,” he amplifies. “It’s sweeter than beef. It’s just a phenomenal taste.”

On a steamy day last week, Anderson invited this reporter out to the northside apartment he shares with his gracious wife, to sample the pigburger, straight from a box from Wampler’s. Andrea serves it on a bun with melted cheese and sauteed onions and a little hot sauce and of course Brother Jack’s sauce—a new version of it with the thicker consistency of ketchup. “It sticks to the meat better,” Anderson says.

“Once you eat it, you become addicted to it,” he says. “You cannot stop eating it.”

This reporter will not dispute Anderson’s claims. The generous offer of a second quarter-pound pigburger turned out to be impossible for a dieting columnist to decline. The Anderson pigburger has a complex and interesting taste and is indeed very tender, if flatter and more geometrical than Brother Jack’s palm-shaped patties.

“I’m not wanting to offend no one,” he says, by jumping on the trademark. He says he’s not going to get tough with the handful of Knoxville barbecue joints that serve a “pigburger” right now. He has a motive to stay on good terms with them. “I just want them to buy our pigburger. It already has all the ingredients into it. Just put it in a skillet and cook it.”

He hopes to be distributing it to as many as four billion people worldwide. “That can actually happen, in five or six years,” he says, especially when it catches on in the Asian nations. The Wampler’s factory in Lenoir City is doing the honors now, but he pictures, in the future, a plant in East Knoxville, perhaps on Prosser Road, to bottle the sauce, “a factory to give people jobs.”

“Of my first $100 million, I’m going to give at least half to charity,” he says. “God always gives you two chances,” he says. He’s taking this one for all it’s worth.

© 2010 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 2

jarndyce writes:

And somewhere in the Bible - Leviticus, I think - God makes it clear that he who selleth the pigburger shall be, lo!, twice blessed.
(Good luck to the man, seriously. But one chuckles when commercial enterprises are given a spiritual veneer.)

BayardDonahoo writes:

Brother Jack's manhandles all my other memories of that era. A stunningly vivid and alive place. Jack, Tip, Sarge . . . Thanks.

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