Chef Spotlight: Clay Coleman

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Clay Coleman, owner of Clay’s Bait and Tackle and C.H.O.P.

By Ginna Parsons

For the past eight years, Clay Coleman has been selling bait and tackle at a little shop on Veterans Boulevard in east Tupelo.

When Clay Coleman first opened a barbecue restaurant in one side of Clay’s Bait and Tackle a year ago, he was smoking eight Boston butts a week. Now that the word is out, he does somewhere around 75 butts a week, along with four briskets, 40 pounds of sausage, 30 slabs of ribs and 120 pounds of rib tips.

“I could not believe the response and how people were reacting to my food,” said Coleman, 46. “God has just about blessed me to death. But I’m having a ball.”

The meat at C.H.O.P., or Clay’s House of Pig, is cooked on a grill his father made.

“I was probably 6 or so when I helped him build his first grill and we’ve been cooking ever since,” Coleman said. “Me and my brother and my dad are always sharing recipes and rubs and ideas. We’ve been developing our rub for over 40 years.”

His father lives in Tennessee and his brother is in South Carolina. The three used to do the competition circuit, but they’re over that now.

“I’d rather feed friends and family and now customers,” he said. “I always strive to make my food better. I’m a one-trick pony and that’s the only trick I have.”

The grill is on permanent loan from his father.

“The flavors coming out of Dad’s grill are fantastic,” Coleman said. “I could give somebody that grill and they couldn’t duplicate what we’re doing. I could give somebody my recipes and they couldn’t make it exactly as I make it on their own grill. The grill and our recipes go together.”

The best-seller on the menu is the whole baked potato, which is seasoned with sea salt and black pepper and topped with queso, chopped pork and a Memphis-style barbecue sauce.

Other popular items are the barbecue nachos, ribs, rib tips, brisket, link sausage and, of course, his signature chopped pork.

“We smoke our butts over 100-year-old pecan wood that’s been cured for a minimum of six months,” he said. “When it’s done, it has this black crust on it, so when you chop the meat, you see white meat, dark meat, pink meat and black meat.”

Homemade sides include baked beans, coleslaw and loaded baked potato salad.

“I’d love to be able to serve chicken but I don’t have room to expand the menu because there’s no room to expand the kitchen,” he said. “I’ll expand the menu when I can expand the kitchen.”