Despite opening its Covington location just over a week ago, Tickled Pig BBQ’s simplistic menu elevates the typical barbeque fare. Headed by Covington local Bobby James Ray, the restaurant smokes its meat for over 18 hours each night. However, Ray considers Tickled Pig’s brisket to be the cream of the crop.
“It’s hard to find a really good brisket. It has taken me years and years of practice and a lot of briskets that I have messed up to try to get the right mix,” Ray said. “That’s the thing I think that we are talked about most for, is our brisket and our loaded brisket fries… You’ll hear the word ‘brisket’ when people leave the restaurant most of the time.”
In addition to its variety of briskets available, Tickled Pig BBQ’s other meat options include traditional pulled pork, pulled chicken and ribs, which Ray deemed “better than anything you’ll get in any county close by.”
Ray, who previously worked for AT&T for 22 years, started barbequing as a hobby, which led him to take barbequing classes across the country, cater his food and enter festivals and competitions. Soon realizing the enjoyment he received from his treasured pastime, Ray made the decision to switch career paths and become a small business owner.
Opening a restaurant was second nature to Ray, whose grandfather and uncles operated a barbeque eatery in Milledgeville.
“I was always around [barbequing] as a kid,” Ray said. “That was something that was always inside of me that I enjoyed doing, so it’s just kind of manifested over the years. A lot of thinking, a lot of studying, a lot of practice, a lot of messed up briskets and messed up food to try to get it right, but I think we’re at a good place now.”
Following coronavirus pandemic-induced setbacks, Tickled Pig BBQ’s first location opened its doors in July 2020.
The name, Tickled Pig, was inspired by Ray’s self proclaimed “class clown” personality as well as the atmosphere he strives for in his restaurant – a place for customers to gather, laugh, “let loose, enjoy the food and enjoy the people that they’re eating it with.”
Three years after its establishment, opening a second Tickled Pig BBQ location off of Hwy 278 in Covington allowed Ray to “come back home.”
“When we opened up the restaurant originally, there was not really a location that we could find in Covington, so we found the spot in Madison, which is great and we love it there,” Ray said. “We’ve always kind of wanted to come back home, so this opportunity came up and it’s been a perfect fit for us so far and I think it’s gonna be a good move.”
So far in its nearly week and a half of business, Ray said the influx of customers visiting Tickled Pig BBQ’s new location has been “great” with a sizable crowd each day. Being able to provide something he enjoys to others is what Ray enjoys most about being a small business owner.
“When you see [customers] ask for the owner or the pit master and they want to come talk to you and tell you how good the food was – that’s really what we enjoy most, is the people that come in,” Ray said. “We get to see old friends, new friends, we meet strangers and they become regulars. That’s to me what it’s all about – taking something that I love doing and sharing it with other people.”