What is Sonny’s pork big deal?

Sonny’s BBQ is a popular Southern barbecue restaurant chain known for its slow-smoked pulled pork. The flagship menu item is Sonny’s award-winning pork barbecue, made from pork shoulders that are smoked for up to 14 hours over hickory wood. This results in incredibly tender, fall-off-the-bone pork that is then hand-pulled and lightly sauced with Sonny’s signature barbecue sauce.

Sonny’s pulled pork has developed a cult following over the years. People rave about the smoky, succulent pork that seems to melt in your mouth. The pork is the star attraction at Sonny’s and a big reason why millions of barbecue fans flock to Sonny’s every year. But what makes Sonny’s pulled pork so special and such a big deal among barbecue aficionados? Let’s take a closer look.

Why is Sonny’s Pork So Tender and Juicy?

The exceptional tenderness and juiciness of Sonny’s pork starts with the cut of meat they use – pork shoulder. Pork shoulder, also known as Boston butt, contains a high amount of fat and connective tissue. This makes it perfect for low and slow smoking.

The pork shoulders are seasoned with Sonny’s secret blend of spices and then smoked for up to 14 hours in custom-made Ole Hickory rotisserie smokers over burning hickory wood. This long, low temperature smoking tenderizes the meat by slowly breaking down the connective tissue. It also infuses the pork with delicious smoky flavor.

The hickory smoke adheres to the fat in the pork, imbuing it with smoky notes while keeping the meat very moist. By the time the pork reaches the optimal internal temperature of 195-205°F, it has become fall-off-the-bone tender and succulent. Sonny’s mastery of low and slow smoking transforms a tough cut of meat into sublimely tender, juice-filled pork.

The Art of Pulling the Pork by Hand

Many barbecue joints shred or chop their pork mechanically to speed up service. But at Sonny’s, they stay true to old-fashioned Southern tradition by pulling the pork by hand. Once the cooked pork shoulders come off the smoker after up to 14 hours, they are placed in a giant collapsible tub.

A Sonny’s team member then uses insulated rubber gloves to hand pull chunks of steaming hot pork from the shoulders, gently shredding each piece into long tender strands. Sonny’s believes hand pulling results in better texture and moisture retention compared to mechanical shredders which can overprocess the meat. It also showcases the pork’s ideal pull-apart tenderness.

Hand pulling the pork is hot sweaty work that requires time and care. But it makes a noticeable difference in the final product you enjoy in your Sonny’s pork sandwich or plate. You get supple, juicy pork that has been lovingly pulled apart by hand, not churned out by a machine. It’s a dedication to quality that Sonny’s fans appreciate.

The Balance of Smoke, Spice and Sauce

While the pork itself is undoubtedly the star, the supporting flavors added by Sonny’s also play a key role. Sonny’s uses just the right balance of smoke, spice and sauce to accentuate the porky goodness.

The hickory smoke provides a kiss of woodsmoke that gives the pork depth but doesn’t overwhelm it. A custom blend of mild chili powder and other spices infuses flavor while letting the natural pork shine through. And Sonny’s signature sweet and tangy barbecue sauce adds kick while glazing the meat in finger-licking stickiness.

The sauce includes tomato paste, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar and other ingredients that complement the pork’s richness. Sonny’s sauce possibilities are also endless. Guests can choose regional styles like Alabama White Sauce, Carolina Mustard Sauce, Mississippi Comeback Sauce and Sonny’s House Original to customize their barbecue experience.

It’s this perfect marriage of high quality smoking, seasoning and saucing that makes Sonny’s BBQ pork so craveable. Every component enhances the succulent pulled pork rather than mask it. This nuanced balance of flavors is difficult for competitors and amateur pitmasters to achieve.

Consistency and Quality Control

With over 200 locations across the South, how does Sonny’s ensure consistency and quality across its vast barbecue empire? They achieve this through in-depth employee training, strict adherence to proprietary processes, and active monitoring of standards.

Sonny’s award-winning pork doesn’t come easy. Their pitmasters and meat cutters go through an intensive certification program to master Sonny’s methods of trimming, seasoning, smoking and pulling pork shoulders. The exact process is laid out in Sonny’s Pitmaster Playbook which covers every detail like equipment settings, wood selection and smoking times.

In the smokehouse, the Ole Hickory rotisserie smokers are loaded with pork carefully arranged for optimal smoke exposure. The pork smokes for 11-14 hours at precisely controlled low temperatures between 220-240°F. Smokehouse employees continually monitor the smokers to ensure perfect results.

Finally, the pulled pork is weighed, portioned and stored for no more than 4 hours before serving to guarantee a fresh, just-smoked flavor. Consistent excellence is a point of pride for Sonny’s BBQ. Their commitment to training and process means spectacular, mouthwatering pork at every Sonny’s location.

Where the Magic Happens

The secret to Sonny’s acclaimed pork barbecue happens long before it reaches the restaurant smokehouses. The magic starts at the Sonny’s Prospect Farms pork facility in West Point, Mississippi where pork shoulders are specially prepared for Sonny’s BBQ.

Owned by Sonny’s, Prospect Farms sources premium pork from Midwest farmers. Under the direction of Sonny’s expert meat scientists, the pork shoulders undergo proprietary trimming and curing. This pre-smoking process expertise gives Sonny’s complete control over their pork from pig pen to pulpit.

Trimming removes excess fat and connective tissue while retaining enough for moisture and tenderness. Curing adds seasoning and helps the meat retain moisture during smoking. The prepared shoulders are then shipped to Sonny’s restaurants where pitmasters finish the process. Controlling pork preparation at the source is an invaluable advantage for yield, consistency and flavor.

From humanely raised pigs to artisanal butchery to time-honored smoking, Sonny’s spares no effort in making their pork barbecue an obsession for ‘cue fanatics. The pulled pork has earned over 100 awards and counting for its succulence and craveability. When you taste those first magical morsels of Sonny’s pork melted by hickory smoke and your mouth, you’ll understand why it’s such a big deal.

The Menu Around the Pork

Of course, it’s not all about the pork at Sonny’s. While the pulled pork may be the crown jewel, Sonny’s offers a wide range of delicious barbecue dishes and southern sides. Let’s do a quick run-through of menu highlights.

For smoked meats, beef brisket and smoked chicken join the pork lineup. The brisket delivers melt-in-your-mouth tenderness after 15 hours in the smoker. Chicken quarters get infused with rich smoky flavor.

Beyond main meats, Sonny’s serves up crowd-pleasing barbecue sandwiches like Pulled Pork, Brisket, Smoked Chicken and the signature Squealer which packs sliced smoked ham, bacon and pulled pork on a bun.

On the side dishes front, enjoy Southern classics like mac ‘n’ cheese, fried okra, collard greens and hearty Brunswick stew. Top it off with banana pudding or pecan pie for dessert. With this supporting cast of comfort foods, Sonny’s has all angles covered.

While pork may be the star, the full Sonny’s barbecue meal experience offers something for everyone. Even vegetable sides get the Sonny’s smokehouse treatment to add extra flavor. Balance, variety and value are hallmarks of the menu.

The Sonny’s Sauce Lineup

No barbecue meal is complete without a good sauce. Sonny’s provides an extensive sauce selection so guests can customize their dining experience:

House Original – Sweet, tangy tomato-based sauce with a hint of spice. The classic Sonny’s sauce.

Sweet & Mild – Tomato-based sauce with brown sugar and mild seasoning. Sweeter, less tangy.

Alabama White Sauce – Mayonnaise-based white sauce with apple cider vinegar and black pepper. Tart and tangy.

Carolina Mustard Sauce – Zesty yellow mustard-based sauce. Great on pulled pork.

Georgia Red Sauce – Ketchup-based sauce with strong tomato taste. Thick and rich.

Mississippi Comeback Sauce – Chili sauce, mayo, Worcestershire, lemon, garlic and spices. Savory with some heat.

Texas Hot Sauce – Tomato-based sauce spiced up with ancho chili and cayenne pepper for fiery flavor.

This array of sauces lets guests enjoy their smoked meat with any regional barbecue flavor profile. The sauces also add another layer of customization. At your table you’ll find bottles of Sonny’s Original, Sweet & Mild, Alabama White and Carolina Mustard for mixing and matching.

Quality and Hospitality

Beyond its famed pulled pork, Sonny’s success stems from providing high-quality barbecue, side dishes and service at a fair price. Sonny’s fans also rave about the hospitality that makes you feel like family.

The fast-casual dining experience focuses on generous portions, speedy service and keeping diners happy. Service with a smile and genuine care for customers is central to the Sonny’s mission.

These principles were established by founder Sonny Tillman back in the 1970s and remain vital today. Sonny’s still operates with a sense of family devotion and small-town charm even as the chain has expanded across 17 states.

It’s this combination of exceptional barbecue, true Southern hospitality and commitment to value that makes Sonny’s a community pillar. Sonny’s restaurants often feel like the heartbeat of the neighborhood, where everyone belongs for good times and great eats. The pork may lure you in but Sonny’s charm keeps you coming back.

Rapid Growth and the Future

Founded in Gainesville, Florida in 1974, Sonny’s BBQ has experienced explosive growth in recent years as word spread of its finger-lickin’ pulled pork. Some key facts:

– Currently over 200 locations in 17 Southern and Midwestern states
– Opening around 30 new restaurants per year
– System-wide sales exceeded $500 million in 2021
– Ranked #7 on Technomic’s Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report in 2021

This meteoric rise shows no signs of slowing. Sonny’s plans to continue expanding, targeting over 600 restaurants in the future. International franchise opportunities also now exist, furthering global reach.

Sonny’s is well-positioned for growth after strengthening its leadership team and infrastructure. The company brought on former McDonald’s executive Frank Sinatti as CEO in 2020. His expertise in scaling restaurant brands will help guide Sonny’s expansion.

Technology upgrades have improved operational excellence as Sonny’s evolves into a modern franchise system. Sonny’s still adheres to time-honored traditions of real pit barbecue while innovating with the future in mind.

Staying true to its Southern hospitality roots will be key for Sonny’s. Rapid growth can often erode company culture and quality. Sonny’s greatest challenge may be preserving its reputation for exceptional smoked meats, savory sides and welcoming service.

But with robust systems in place and a leadership focus on excellence, the Sonny’s of tomorrow can taste just as amazing as the Sonny’s of yesterday and today. The pulled pork promises to remain as finger-lickin’ satisfying as ever.


For almost 50 years, Sonny’s BBQ has served as a delicious destination for incredible slow-smoked Southern barbecue. Its tender, juicy pulled pork put Sonny’s on the map as masters of smoking pork shoulders low and slow over hickory wood.

But it’s not just sublime pork that makes Sonny’s a barbecue powerhouse. An array of smoked meats, savory sides, signature sauces and friendly hospitality complete the Sonny’s experience. Quality and consistency span the entire menu.

Attention to detail sets Sonny’s apart – from the customized pork preparation process to the meticulous smokehouse protocol to their steadfast commitment to generous helpings and customer satisfaction. These principles have fueled Sonny’s rise to become one of the most prominent barbecue chains across the South and Midwest.

For barbecue lovers, Sonny’s pulled pork manages to exceed even towering expectations. The smoky, succulent pork exceeds the already-high standards for great ‘cue. Once they try Sonny’s pork, smoked to tender perfection after a 14-hour journey of patience, most folks are hooked.

So whether you’re already a proud member of the Sonny’s Pork Fan Club or still wondering what all the fuss is about, stop by your local Sonny’s soon to get your fill of their famous barbecue. Because when you truly want to taste Southern smoked pork at its very finest, Sonny’s is the place. The pork will speak for itself.

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