Thirty-four years ago, it took Carl Teitloff months to perfect the art of smoking and seasoning meats for his White Bluff eatery.
But once he got it right, his Carl’s Perfect Pig Barbecue Ribs and Grill restaurant quickly became a Middle Tennessee institution, serving award-winning ribs, pork, brisket, chicken tenders and homemade desserts like banana pudding and fruit cobblers.
And with its pink and white booths, and abundant piggy paraphernalia all around, “the Pig” has been going strong for more than 30 years, garnering attention from Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, Southern Living, Emeril Lagasse, “Tennessee Crossroads” and even the Wall Street Journal.
But with Teitloff’s seemingly sudden Memorial Day weekend retirement decision, the Perfect Pig was stuffed with customers who ate (and savored) every last rib, every smidgeon of pork, every bite of brisket and every single spoonful of banana pudding.
“By the end of the day, we were out of everything!” Teitloff said.
“I’ve been thinking about (retiring) for a couple of years,” said Teitloff, 66. “It is hard work, and the heat really gets to me. You know what they say: ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,’ ” he said, laughing. “Seriously, I wanted to walk out and not be carried out. It was time.”
Even though he is at peace with his retirement decision, the heartfelt comments on his Perfect Pig Facebook page and the final days of farewells from customers and staff members, some of whom had been with him for decades, were emotional.
“It has been very humbling. I had wonderful employees, and we had great customers. I’ll miss the people,” he said.
How the Pig started
Teitloff was raised in West Nashville and moved to Houston in his 20s. He was a manager for a Kroger store there in 1988 when his aunt let him know that she wanted to sell her store in White Bluff.
He saw it as a way to come back home and start a business. “It was a store with gas pumps and coolers and a little deli where they sold bologna sandwiches and things,” he said.
“There was a pit outside and I had never barbecued in my life, but my cousins showed me some of the basics. I did a lot of experimenting.”
At first he was just cooking a few shoulders a week and giving away and eventually selling some BBQ sandwiches at another White Bluff location. But before long and finally with a good system for barbecuing, he had converted his aunt’s store into a full-fledged restaurant and had partnered with his friend Bill Clark to make the special barbecue sauce that the restaurant used and sold by the gallon.
“I could do the barbecue but couldn’t come up with a sauce I liked until I had Bill Clark’s. We had a handshake agreement all these years,” he said.
The recipes for the side dishes came from his mother and his employees and from experimentation. “I know what I like, and that is what we made,” he said, noting that he has eaten almost all of his meals at the restaurant all these years.
The restaurant has been a fixture in White Bluff and Dickson County. It has also benefited from being just 4 miles from Montgomery Bell State Park, which provided a steady stream of customers. Teitloff said Tip-A-Canoe and Foggy Bottom outfitters also pushed customers his way.
The restaurant typically prepared 200 to 300 pounds of pork and 50 to 70 slabs of ribs every week.
“And believe it or not, we sold 500 to 600 chicken tenders almost every Sunday — and hand-battered every one of them,” he said.
“I have had four or five people talk to me (about buying it). I’m not sure I want to sell it as Carl’s Perfect Pig,” he said, suggesting that he would prefer that the new owners come up with their own name.
“I don’t think I want to drive by and see my name,” he said. “I might could do Perfect Pig, but I don’t want ‘Carl’ on it, knowing that I created this.”
Meanwhile, he is looking forward to his retirement and being able to spend more time with his three grandchildren and not have to cook every day. “I will eat out a lot,” he said, laughing.
As a longtime fan of Carl’s Perfect Pig, I am sad to see it close. My first visit was 30-something years ago when our family stopped in and our little daughter wanted to order one rib. I tried to explain that the ribs came as a slab or half slab and not in singles. Even so, our server acted like her request was perfectly normal and brought out a single meaty rib with no questions asked. Since then, I have had the good fortune to feast on racks of Carl’s ribs, pounds of pork and piles of fried okra.
So I want to congratulate Carl and wish him and his staff a happy retirement and say that I hope that the new owners will continue his legacy of affordable good food, accommodating service and friendly atmosphere.
About Carl’s Perfect Pig
Carl’s Perfect Pig, 4991 U.S. 70 in White Bluff, started in 1988 when Carl Teitloff bought his aunt’s store and converted it into the restaurant.
Carl’s Perfect Pig never served beer or other alcohol. Teitloff said the no-alcohol policy was “out of respect for his mother and grandmother.”
The restaurant accepted only cash or checks. “I never took a credit card. If they didn’t have the money, I would tell them they could either mail it back to me or bring it next time,” he said.
He admitted that he did get burned a few times with that policy, but “it was still cheaper than paying for the credit card. And I got a lot of really nice notes from people who said it was nice to see someone so trusting.”
The Perfect Pig remained open throughout the pandemic, sometimes with tables outside, sometimes with “to go” only. “But we stayed open the whole time during COVID,” he said.
The Carl’s Perfect Pig bumper stickers have long been collectors’ items and were given away by the thousands.
“I came up with that,” said Teitloff, who said that years ago he saw a bumper sticker that said “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
“I just turned it around and made it say ‘A waist is a terrible thing to mind.’ It just hit me that it would be good on a bumper sticker. We ordered them by the thousands, and I’ve seen them all around town and even saw them on cars in Florida,” he said.