Wiley McCrary is the face of barbecue in Savannah. Though his restaurant’s logo is a pig, the cigar hanging out of its mouth is most definitely McCrary, as is the pulled pork that has made him a champion pitmaster.
Wiley’s Championship Barbecue, located on Whitemarsh Island, has been open for four years, but Wiley McCrary has been doing barbecue for the past thirty. “When I first started, barbecue wasn’t a big deal, but I had a vision it would be,” Wiley said. Along with his wife, Janet, Wiley started making barbecue for the Lowcountry in 2005, operating Savannah BBQ & Catering before starting their restaurant. “We came down here with a vision to bring competition barbeque to Savannah,” he said. They opened Wiley’s in 2008 and have the same vision they did when competing nationwide in barbecue championships: to create award-winning barbecue.
And they haven’t stopped competing – or winning. Along with their numerous competition awards (including National BBQ News Caterers of the Year, Georgia State Champions, South Carolina State Champions, and North Carolina Reserve Grand Champions, to name only a few), they have also been voted “Best Savannah BBQ” (2010 and 2011) by readers of Savannah Magazine, “Best BBQ” by readers of Connect Savannah (2010 and 2011), and one of the “Best of the Best Barbecue Restaurants in America” by National Barbecue News (2009). Yet despite their fame, the McCrarys remain down-to-earth, and their restaurant feels more like a welcome home than a testament to their trophies. “It was the most humbling experience I ever had when we first started doing barbecue competitions,” Wiley said.
But they’ve come along way since then. Wiley’s is known for its Kansas City-style barbecue, a type of barbecue famous for its tomato- and molasses-based sauce; in this case Wiley’s “Better Than Sex” Barbecue Sauce. Wiley’s also carries a spicy version of sauce (described as “Extra Tingly”) and a North Carolina vinegar-based one called”Wiley’s Mountain Sauce.”
When you’re trying barbecue, Wiley recommends, “first you taste the meat, then you taste the sauce, then you taste the sauce and the meat together.” The restaurant serves the classics, including pulled pork, beef brisket, and smoked chicken, as well as the traditional southern sides like baked beans, mac ‘n cheese, collared greens, and sweet potato casserole. But you can be on a diet and still eat at Wiley’s. The restaurant offers healthful options, such as their vinegar-based coleslaw, red beans and rice, and white meat chicken.
Wiley’s offers specials throughout the week, with a different one on each day. On Monday, you’ll find a prime rib french dip sandwich with french fries; Tuesday, a cuban sandwich with black beans and rice; Wednesday, a smokey meatloaf, new potatoes with feta cheese, and green beans; Thursday, a smoked sausage trio with french fries and cole slaw; Friday, a smoked corned beef reuben with french fries; Saturday, smoked hot wings; Saturday supper, smoked prime rib or smoked beef ribs.
Wiley’s is convenient to reach, whether you’re driving from Thunderbolt, downtown, or on your way to Tybee Island. Tourists have discovered Wiley’s alongside the restaurant’s faithful local following. “What really surprises me is the percentage of tourists we get here,” Wiley said. “We’re really blessed with this location.”
What’s Special About It? – Janet McCrary: “We love to entertain, and we wanted the restaurant to be like home. Barbecue is fun! We’re happy to be cooking barbecue, and we want you to have a good experience at Wiley’s. Southern hospitality is important to us…That’s what our focus is; we just want to do good food and do what we love.”
How Is It Made? – Janet McCrary: “We cook it low and slow…I want the meat to taste nice and moist and juicy; the trick is how to keep it that way. It takes more labor and time in the kitchen.”
What Do People Say About It? – Wiley McCrary: “I feel like we’ve successfully accomplished our goal: that everything on the menu is good. That’s one thing people say about us.”
Wiley’s Championship BBQ
4700 Highway 80 East
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. for lunch;
Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-8 p.m. for supper; Friday and Saturday 5 p.m.- 9 p.m. for supper or “until the bbq runs out!”