Hunter’s Bar-B-Q is a homemade marvel in Albany, Kentucky
The unique barbecue joint located between two lakes—Dale Hollow and Lake Cumberland—is known as “the $2 bill place,” says Hunter Shearer, who with his wife, Shannon, owns the restaurant in Albany, which is served by South Kentucky RECC.
Growing up in the kitchen cooking with his Memaw, aunt Donna and mother, Debra, Shearer says he always loved eating and cooking. “I asked for a barbecue grill for my 13th birthday—a Weber grill, a good gas grill,” Shearer says.
Later as a welder, Shearer built his own mobile cooker, which he used to cook at family and church events. The very first time Shearer sold barbecue to the public was during the 127 Yard Sale in 2009. “We still do that event, it’s really big for us,” he says. His grandmother and aunt would prepare the homemade sides in his grandma’s kitchen.
He says he realized there was money to be made in the industry when the public started calling asking him to cook at weddings, and others called inviting him to sell his barbecue and sides at local and area festivals.
Building a niche restaurant
At the end of 2012, he and his father-in-law, Mike Duvall—and “the backbone of Hunter’s Bar-B-Q” says Shearer—decided to convert an old service station into a restaurant. He says they made the restaurant exactly the way they wanted, taking 16 months to build it. Hunter’s Bar-B-Q opened in April 2014.
They used red cedar extensively with live-edge trim throughout and for the handmade picnic tables. “The tops of the tables are hand-hewn to give a diamond-plate texture,” Shearer says. They finished off the rough tops with 10 coats of polyurethane.
“We built the smoke shack outside, the pits and all the cooking equipment, and we also built the charcoal makers,” he says. They make their own charcoal from hundreds of slabs of hickory that they buy from sawmills.
“We cut the slabs up and stuff them in a big barrel with a door on it. Once we get it raging hot, we cut the air off to it. It smolders down to a charcoal,” says Shearer. “And when we need charcoal for the pit to cook, we open the door, it gets air in it, and it’s charcoal that is ignited. So when you open the door, it’s ready to go, it looks like charcoal out of the bag.” They then scoop out the charcoal and carry it to the smoke shack to place it into the cooking pit, which has steel grates above for cooking the food.
The smokers, “Built, Not Bought #1” and “Built, Not Bought #2,” are named because Shearer says it took away the often-asked question, “Where did you get that cooker?”
Shearer says Hunter’s Bar-B-Q is different from other barbecue joints because they have both smokers and pits. That also means they can feed around 3,000 people a day.
The pulled pork, tenderloin, brisket and ribs are all cooked in the smokers. The chicken breast and sliced shoulder are cooked over open fire, or charcoal, inside the smoke shack.
He says a lot of credit goes to his two pit masters, Justin Burchett and Rick Hardin, who work daily at Hunter’s Bar-B-Q. “They have a strong purpose here and are a big part of this operation.”
The favorite dishes that keep customers coming back, says Shearer, are “the pulled pork and sliced shoulder—we sell the most of those—and then the brisket and ribs.” The barbecue sauce is homemade, as well as all the sides.
Shearer says the restaurant is kind of a staple to the town of Albany in more ways than one. “We are also known as ‘the place with the big flag.’” He says the 25×40-foot flag atop a 100-foot flagpole is almost as big as the store. “The community loves it.”
Out front of the restaurant is a huge grain bin, which stands on legs and with a big funnel at the bottom, once used for feeding cattle. Shearer painted it red, sat it right beside the road and labeled it “Barbecue Sauce.” “It’s 20,000 pounds of barbecue sauce,” says Shearer. He laughs. “We’ve got nothing in it.”
The restaurant is unique in its decor, and the Hunter’s name has double meaning as everything inside relates to hunting and fishing—featuring many animal mounts from his family members. Located between two lakes with four marinas, the restaurant has a lot of people stop in before they go out on the boat or camping for the weekend.
No matter where you look, you’ll find interesting objects of ”eye candy”—such as the huge wooden carved standing pig or the large rooster outside, and the family heirlooms inside that are part of the restaurant’s daily churn.
Shearer says everything in the restaurant means something to him. He speaks fondly of his great-grandfather’s chopping block. “He was a butcher, and we use his butcher block as our condiment station.” You’ll also find two 5-gallon buckets for the homemade barbecue sauce nearby—one mild and one hot.
He says the restaurant is big on kids (he has three of his own). There are lots of areas to play outside. He says they can ride the rocking pig—made out of bourbon barrels—for free, or there’s the Dale Hollow boat that they can ride for 25 cents.
Why different is good
“I’ve also got a weird lineup of drinks—you won’t find this anywhere,” says Shearer. He says people go wild over the sweet tea, which is brewed in-house, and the fresh-squeezed lemonade.
But it’s probably the Ski (made in Chattanooga, Tennessee) and the red and orange Gatorade fountain drinks that is most unique.
“My goal is to be different from everybody,” Shearer says. “The drinks are out in the dining room where people can help themselves to as much drink as they want.”
Another unusual thing you’ll find is that Hunter’s Bar-B-Q encourages you to write on the bathroom walls. That’s Shearer’s trick for solving the age-old problem that many restaurants have. So he provides a means for his clientele to brag on the restaurant.
“In my bathrooms there are funny signs and a big chalk board that reads, ‘Tell us what you think,’” he says. “People write all kinds of stuff, such as, ‘I traveled all the way from Michigan’ or ‘Best b-b-q ever.’”
Shearer and an artist buddy put together all types of merchandise that lake goers and others can enjoy. So, don’t leave Hunter’s Bar-B-Q without a t-shirt, hat, hoodie or coolie.
“Don’t be a chicken, eat one, Hunter’s Bar-B-Q” is just one of the many slogans. “I have that painted on my building,” says Shearer.
He says with music playing inside and out, they wanted to create a warm and welcoming place for lake visitors and locals alike.
Open Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Don’t forget, brisket and ribs are served on Fridays only. Shearer reminds us, “We do everything fresh daily”—which includes grinding the meats and making sides and fresh-squeezed lemonade.
Hunter’s Bar-B-Q can seat about 60 inside and 60 outdoors, with a covered area, or go through the convenient drive-thru. You can also call your order ahead at (606) 387-HOGS.
Catering is also a big part of the business. Shearer says they cater events, corporate functions or weddings most every weekend, and they will go long distances—as far away as Louisville—provided the group is large enough.
So, why is it called “the $2 bill place?” He says, “From day one we gave $2 bills and half dollars as change, and still do. … It has been tremendous—it’s the greatest marketing for no cost ever—with word of mouth people talk about it every time that $2 bill changes hands.”