Authentic Flavor

Follow your nose to Scoot’s, home of award-winning barbecue.

Ribs with all the fixins’.

Photo courtesy of Scoot’s BBQ

Chef Gary Ward is cleaning tables outside of Scoot’s restaurant in Gloucester. I originally think his warm welcome is because I’m here to interview him. But soon I realize he greets everyone who walks in the door, many by name. Along with the restaurant’s glorious brisket, this folksy hospitality is one reason Scoot’s earned a competitor’s spot in Virginia Living’s 2019 BBQ Bracket Battle. 

The challenge, held last summer, pitted 32 of Virginia’s best BBQ joints in a March Madness-style competition divided among four regions. A panel of food journalists, professional BBQ judges, and reader polls selected these contestants from more than 250 Virginia-based BBQ restaurants. Voting commenced. Word got out on social media, and in the first week the magazine received 6,000 votes, narrowing the brackets to 16. The competition continued, culminating in 8,000 votes during the last week. Virginia Living tallied votes from BBQ fans spanning the mid-Atlantic, until the final week when two worthy challengers were left to battle it out. 

Side dishes.

Photo courtesy of Scoot’s BBQ

Gary and Karen Ward, the owners of Scoot’s, streamed themselves live on Facebook while watching the final announcement. Karen paced nervously, while Gary eagerly refreshed his feed. Seconds later, cheers erupted. It was Scoot’s for the win! Neither expected this victory, but both had marveled as Scoot’s advanced through the rankings. “We were getting votes from way beyond our area,” says Gary. “But it’s really important to let our community know that we are humbled and grateful for their support.” Karen agrees, “We got nominated for what we do, but we won because of what the community does. It’s a team win for sure.”   

By the time I arrive, the Wards have mostly recovered from the shock of winning and are back to business as usual, working seven days a week. After I order, two of Scoot’s regulars, Rick Klein and Milton Wegener, invite me to sit at their table. Klein tells me they eat lunch at Scoot’s every week. “The food is consistently great,” he says. “And it’s not just the barbecue that’s good. I also like the system. It’s a casual restaurant, but they bring the food you ordered to your table. Karen and Gary have been doing this for a long, long time. They’ve done a wonderful job with Scoot’s.”

Wegener comes for the fried oysters, which are sourced locally, while Klein raves about nearly everything on the menu, especially Scoot’s chipotle sauce. While chatting with them, I pour a little sauce on my pork barbecue. The meat has a silky, creamy texture, with no sign of gristle or fat. I’m savoring the caramelized bark of the brisket, alternating between bites of coleslaw, fried pickles, cucumber salad, and okra, when I overhear a customer exclaim, “This is the best barbecue I’ve had in forever.” 

Karen and Gary Ward.

Photo by Renee Sklarew

After the lunch rush, the Wards sit down to chat. They sometimes finish each other’s sentences, as long-time couples often do. Karen says Scoot’s is named for her beloved grandfather, and they have installed his Craftsmen workbox where customers pick up utensils. Vintage photos of the family’s three generations grace the wood paneling. Being a restauranteur runs in their family; Gary’s grandfather owned Ward’s, a combination restaurant, gas station, and general store that operated from the 1940s to the 1980s. 

Before Scoot’s, Gary and Karen created Olivia’s, a full-service restaurant in Gloucester named for their daughter. “We opened Olivia’s in 2003 but always felt there was a void for a good local barbecue restaurant. When this property became available, we felt we had enough experience and support from the community to give it a shot,” explains Gary. To learn smoking techniques, they experimented, asking family, friends, and customers to sample new recipes. “We were able to try out the items at Olivia’s as specials. So, for the mac and cheese, we probably tried 10 recipes until people said, ‘This is the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had,’ and then we’d say, let’s hang onto this.”

Peanut butter pie.

Photo courtesy of Scoot’s BBQ

Gary always enjoyed smoking meats, but 3,000 pounds of pork, brisket, and ribs each week was a new challenge. Their award-winning barbecue involves handling the meat properly once it’s out of their pit, which is located behind Scoot’s. “We cut the brisket to order, so it doesn’t dry out, and pull the pork right off the butt. This keeps in the natural moisture,” explains Karen.

Scoot’s location definitely helped them clinch the win. They frequently attract customers bound for coastal beaches like the Outer Banks. Bracket Battle voters commented on how Scoot’s caters to a multi-state palate by offering Scoot’s BBQ Sauce, a traditional version; Chipotle BBQ, a sweet and spicy sauce; and Carolina Sauce, which is a northeastern Carolina vinegar sauce. “Some say they come here every year; that we’ve become their stop,” says Karen. “They’re definitely appreciative of the mom-and-pop restaurant and want the authentic flavor of a real place. We even see people make U-turns when they smell the smoke. They’ll come in and say, ‘I followed my nose.’” 

Karen gets a bit teary describing the day Scoot’s won the Bracket Battle: “I kept saying, ‘I can’t believe we won this.’ I got my grandfather’s picture off the wall and held it.” Gary marvels too, summing up his emotions this way: “The outpouring of voting and sharing, seeing the comments—people were really into it. I was just like, Wow!”

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Battle of the Barbecue

How our bracket crowned a champion of smoked meat.

This summer, in anticipation of the release of our third annual Smoke + Salt—a special issue dedicated to barbecue, oysters, and other iconic Virginia foods—we held our first-ever Best BBQ Awards Bracket Battle. A panel of expert judges narrowed our Best BBQ Awards list from more than 250 restaurants to just 32, divided among four regions: Central, Eastern, Northern, and Shenandoah & Southwest. (Shenandoah and Southwest joined forces because a five-sided bracket seemed unnecessarily complicated.) Each week from July 29 to Sept. 1, readers voted for their hometown favorites to determine which restaurants advanced to the next round until Scoot’s BBQ of Gloucester Point in the Eastern region was crowned champion. Read more below about our three other regional champions that made it to the Final Four, our judges, and our sponsors.

McCoy’s BBQ

Regional Champions

Established in 1946 by brothers John and Clinton King, the Petersburg favorite moved to its current location in 1956 and is currently in its third generation of family ownership by John’s granddaughter, Alicia, and her husband, Matt Keeler. King’s is known for its oak-smoked meats with a 73-year-old recipe for vinegar and tomato sauce, as well as its apple pie. King’s beat out Richmond’s ZZQ in the Elite Eight round before making it to the finals to face off against champion Scoot’s.

Northern: McCoy’s BBQ, Fredericksburg & Stafford

After operating in Fredericksburg for years, McCoy’s opened its second location in Stafford in 2018. The menu, featuring pulled pork, beef brisket, barbecue chicken, ribs, and more with Carolina influences, is also available for catering. McCoy’s defeated Sloppy Mama’s Barbecue of Arlington in the quarterfinals before making a last stand against King’s in the Final Four.

Shenandoah & Southwest: Triple Crown BBQ, Luray

Owners John and Joanne Coleman opened the family business in 2011. They offer smoked pork, beef, and chicken made with a signature blend of wood and homemade rubs and sauces. A Washington state native, Joanne likes to incorporate apples into her recipes as well. Triple Crown championed over Checkered Pig Barbecue in Danville and Martinsville to advance to the semi-finals.


Triple Crown BBQ

Tim Carman is a James Beard Award-winning food writer and columnist for The Washington Post. He previously served as food editor and columnist for Washington City Paper and has also had work appear in numerous editions of the Best Food Writing collection.

Joseph Haynes is an award-winning barbecue cook, a Kansas City Barbeque Society Master Certified Barbecue Judge, and the author of two books: Virginia Barbecue: A History and Brunswick Stew: A Virginia Tradition

David Heilbronner, a Charlottesville native, is a certified Master BBQ Judge through the Kansas City BBQ Society and former orthopedic surgeon, founded Bone Doctors’ BBQ Sauce Company in 2008 with longtime friend and fellow orthopedic surgeon Bruce Wilhelmsen.

Joshua Shook is a certified culinary scientist and a manager in research and development at Smithfield Foods. He and his wife, Heidi, form the award-winning competitive barbecue team HamTown Smokers. (Read about them in our 2019 Smoke + Salt issue!)

Pete Snyder is chief executive officer of Disruptor Capital, an angel capital investment firm, as well as a World Championship certified barbecue judge. Active in Virginia politics, he has served in various leadership roles in the Republican Party.

King’s Barbecue


Alexander Brothers, Timberville, bottle openers and cutting boards,

ARTon Products, Lively, custom-printed pint glasses,

Barrel-Art, Hampton, barbecue smoker chips,

Belmont Butchery, Richmond, $50 gift certificates,

Bone Doctors’ Barbeque Sauce, Charlottesville, barbecue sauce,

BS Grillin’ Co., Lynchburg, Smokin’ Chipotle BBQ sauce,

Dizzy Pig Seasonings, Manassas, barbecue rub,

Hub’s Peanuts, Sedley, Sweet Heat peanuts,

Java Food Co., Cheriton, Sumpthin’ Spicy Tandoori Java Dust spice blend,

Joseph Haynes, Virginia Barbecue: A History,

Landcrafted Food, Independence, beef sticks,

Route 11 Potato Chips, Mt. Jackson, Barbeque potato chips,

Smithfield Foods, Smithfield, oven mitts, cooking utensils, and coupons,

Stone Spice Company, Lynchburg, BBQT barbecue rub,

Virginia Wine Expo, Richmond, SMOKED! event tickets,

Whitley’s Peanut Factory, Hayes, Bourbon Barbeque peanuts,

This article originally appeared in our December 2019 issue.

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