By Kara Martinez Bachman
Photography by Marianne Tod
It's Thursday night and James Beau Edwards and David Zettler have just pulled into town from a long road tour with their band, Stone Senate.
The contemporary Southern rock musicians had just played to crowds in Daytona, Florida and Sturgis, South Dakota, before making show stops in New York and Pennsylvania, and on this night they were joining Meridian musicians Timmy Segars and Ronnie Goss for a Front Porch jam session at Squealers Bar-B-Que in Meridian.
It won't afford the large, screaming fan base of their usual shows, but it will give them a night among family and close friends before heading home for a tour break.
“Squealer's Thursday night Music on the Front Porch has been a blessing to a lot of Meridian's local musicians,” says Edwards, guitarist for Stone Senate. “From one guy with an acoustic guitar to full bands, it has, over the last few years, offered something for every palate, both culinary and musically.”
Squealer's crew is busy transforming their front parking lot into an outdoor dining room to accommodate the crowd. Before it's over, the interior dining room, Front Porch and parking lot-turned-dining room will be packed.
“In fact, I was in town visiting my mom and had gone to meet David Zettler (Stone Senate drummer) for a beer and some barbecue when I got the call offering me a spot in Stone Senate so there's one more reason Squealers will always be near and dear to my heart.”
When Squealers was born about 12 years ago, Teresa Cranmore had plated up simple dishes from a trailer in the parking lot of a Knights of Columbus Hall. Since then, her restaurant has grown and is now considered one of the best places to grab some wings or a plate of pulled pork and chow down on some of the better casual eats Meridian has to offer.
It wasn’t long before Cranmore’s food truck transitioned into a small land-based restaurant. It was strictly takeout, housed in what had once been a snowball stand. Then, about six years ago, Squealers moved to a full-fledged dining space.
The world has taken notice. Squealers has been featured in Southern Living's most recent barbecue cookbook, “The South's Best Butts,” and has been named “The Best Barbecue in Mississippi” by MSN.com.
“MSN.com gave us the title back in 2015,” Cranmore says. “I just feel very blessed and honored that we received that accolade. We put a lot of heart into everything. When people come in here, we like to talk to them … Southern hospitality goes a long way.”
And music has also become a mainstay of the popular restaurant. On Thursday nights, a local or touring band plays, and the seats fill … along with food orders and spirits.
Japan-based musician Steve Gardner stopped by in August to play a gig with fellow musician Bill Steber of Nashville. “They treat you like family,” Gardner says. “Their crowd loves music almost as much as the barbecue, and that's saying something right there.”
In the audience is another musician, Ted Hennington, there to enjoy the live music with his wife, Gypsy, a belly dancer.
“It's a very laid back atmosphere,” Gypsy says, still clad in her dance attire from an afternoon practice. “It's not too uppity that you can't get up and dance if the spirit moves you to. And it's great that you can go see a band on a Thursday night and still get home at a decent hour if you work Fridays.”
“Just picture yourself at a good, old-fashioned barbecue with all your best friends and a band,” adds her husband.
Because her guests seem to arrive from everywhere, Squealers now has a sign-in book, where diners are invited to write their names and hometowns.
“I had some people from France in here today,” Cranmore says. “People from Australia came because they had read about Squealers in a magazine and worked it into their trip.”
Cranmore is humble about her cooking, and it’s probably this humility that has brought Squealers Bar-B-Que its success.
“Our customers tell us what they like and don’t like, and I listen to them,” she says.
In this way, the menu has evolved over the years, and its barbecue sauces have also evolved into varying options of savory and sweet.
“Our honey barbecue sauce is amazing,” Cranmore says.
Most use it on one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes: pulled pork. Another favorite is the homemade cheeseburger. For those who prefer chicken, there are traditional and boneless wings, lightly crisp on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside.
In a unique marriage of two culinary traditions, Cranmore serves plates where the flavors of Mexico and the South come together. Case in point: barbecue quesadillas.
“My mother was Mexican,” Cranmore says, “so that’s where all this Mexican influence comes in.”
Cranmore says the main courses are great, but it is the “starters and finishers” that set Squealers apart.
As soon as a diner is seated, fresh fried pork skins are brought to the table. For dessert, diners love the fried banana pudding or fried Twinkies.
“They’re busting a gut, but they’re just so glad they tried the pudding,” Cranmore says.
Cranmore says Squealers has a definite philosophy when it comes to barbecue.
“Our meat can stand alone. It does not need sauce,” she says. Unlike many barbecue joints, she wants the smoky goodness of the meat to enliven taste buds, instead of everything being drowned out by excess sauces.
“Sauce is something you put on to enhance the flavor of your meat, not hide the flavor of it,” she says.
With this in mind, Squealers prepares meats with the hope they will have their own rich flavors without need for drowning them in condiments. This means being attentive to the process from the very beginning.
“We season, smoke, and then add seasoning again when we pull them,” Cranmore says. “We believe in layering our seasonings.”
Apparently, whatever is happening in the Squealers kitchen, it’s working. Being named “Best Barbecue in Mississippi” is no small feat. “It’s one big story,” she says, “and we have people coming in and out that are part of the story.”
Want to go?
Squealer's Bar-B-Que is open
Monday-Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
and Thursday-Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to p.m.
Visit them in person at 4805 29th Avenue in Meridian, or at squealersbbque.com.