The Georgia Pig's Newest Pitmaster Carries On A More Than 60-Year Tradition
The Georgia Pig has had four pitmasters since opening in 1952. With Dan Fitzgerald at the helm, the barbecue institution won’t be changing—or revealing—its secrets anytime soon.
Dan Fitzgerald wanted to get out of his job at a fancy restaurant, where his late hours threatened to cut into time with his wife and the baby they were expecting. A friend told him about an opening across town. It wasn’t fancy, but it was family-oriented, and they made a mean pulled pork sandwich. The Georgia Pig needed a new pitmaster.
So Fitzgerald and his wife, Amber, stopped by for lunch one day. They picked a booth along the wall, under black and white pictures of old Florida and newspaper clippings about pitmasters of the past.
When they finished eating, Fitzgerald walked over to the counter where owner Wayne Anderson was tending the fire. They made small talk for a few minutes. Then they shook hands and Fitzgerald asked how he could submit his application. Anderson told him not to. He’d already got the job.
The Georgia Pig is one of those institutions that reminds us South Florida isn’t as transient as it seems. We’ve got holidaymakers and drifters and snowbirds, but we’ve also got the Andersons and the people like diner Tom Bedat, who’s 63 and has been eating Georgia Pig barbecue since the Nixon administration. And in all that time, the only thing he can remember that’s different about the place is “they changed the French fries from a bag to a cup.”
(The Georgia Pig uses its original cash register to ring up customers’ orders.)
Wayne’s parents, Linton and Frances Anderson, were a farming family in Jesup, Georgia, but they joined a generation of post-war Americans heading south in the early ’50s. Linton helped build the suburbs—construction paid much better than farming—and the family managed a grocery store on the corner of 441 and Davie Boulevard. Back in Jesup, Frances’ sister and brother-in-law had become famous in the barbecue world for their restaurant, The Pig. It was an idea Linton and Frances could get excited about.
So, across the street from the grocery store, Linton and some friends stacked concrete blocks into a 50-seat room, and the Andersons incorporated their restaurant as the Georgia Pig. It’s been there ever since.
The salmon-colored clock is still hanging on the wall. In six decades, nobody saw a good reason to move the woodpile from the southwest corner of the building. And the logo is still a smiling pig in a bow tie, playing the fiddle for a honey bee.
"The Georgia Pig is one of those institutions that reminds us South Florida isn’t as transient as it seems."
Linton died in the ’70s, and Wayne took over the pit. When Frances died in 1997, the restaurant lost a large part of its soul. There’s a sign behind the counter that Frances found on the side of the road that says, “How to be happy.” She liked it and made it the unofficial motto. Step one: “Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry.” For casual diners, she lives on that way.
In 2014, Wayne and his wife, JoAnn, a waitress, sold the Georgia Pig to Luke and Robert Moorman, whose family owns Carroll’s Jewelers on Las Olas Boulevard. Only after all the contracts were signed did Wayne reveal the barbecue sauce recipe.
Fitzgerald, who has been the pit man for more than seven years now, knows just about everything there is to know about the Georgia Pig. He knows that if the wind is blowing from the north, the dining room turns smoky. He can sense when the fire is too hot and remedies it by squirting water from a hose. Six days a week, you’ll find him planted behind the counter, watching the flames and a tall stack of meat, talking with the couple hundred weekly regulars who can’t stop stopping by. But only the owners know the sauce recipe. Ketchup and mustard. That’s all they’ll say. They fix it in a back room behind closed doors.
(Dan Fitzgerald sprays water on the meat to keep it moist while cooking.)
Before the Pig, Fitzgerald, who was born in Plantation and met Amber in high school, never thought much about barbecue. In fact, he’d studied film at the University of Central Florida. But bills being what they are—inevitable and unrelenting—he went into the restaurant industry with a job at the ritzy Da Campo Osteria. The switch to Georgia Pig was about as abrupt as it was for Linton, all those years ago. But what Linton learned about barbecue he taught to Wayne, who taught it to Rick Franklin (pitmaster for about five years) and then Fitzgerald. “It’s where I was supposed to be really the whole time,” he says. “It’s one of those things where I just followed the universe.”
“Right away I knew he was going to be good,” Wayne says of Fitzgerald. “He was better with people than I was. I had to learn it. My mother was beautiful with people. I had to learn to be like that.”
Think about all the things you think about when you think about barbecue. Now forget all those things. This is fresh, juicy pork. Not smoked, but barbecued over golden flames fueled by live oak. (A tree company drops off the wood in exchange for pulled pork sandwiches.) And if you want sweet sauce, you’ll have to bring it yourself.
“We allow it, but we’re always looking funny at them,” Fitzgerald says. “Wayne gets very offended when people ask, ‘Where’s your sweet sauce?’”
Several years ago, a guy from a South Beach restaurant drove up to the Georgia Pig asking to buy the salmon-colored clock. Wayne said no, sir. “That would be like selling my thumb. I can’t sell that clock. It’s just part of the building. It’s part of that place.”
(Pitmaster Dan Fitzgerald, current owner Luke Moorman and former owner Wayne Anderson)
Barbecue does this to the people who work with it, or eat it, or write about it. It makes you nostalgic for something. For what? I don’t know. For something country. Something slow. For a time when pigs wore bow ties and played the fiddle—that is, a time that never happened, but happens six days a week off 441 and Davie Boulevard.
“Every week I’ll see men in suits and ties sitting at the counter next to a dusty construction worker [and they’re making conversation],” Fitzgerald says. “I’ve seen the place filled with customers and standing-room only, a table opens up and two or three people that don’t know each other will sit at the table together with the only thing in common [being] their love for Georgia Pig barbecue. [I’d] never seen that before I worked here.”