Popular chicken BBQ along the Lincoln Highway

John Renock of Galion, Ohio, sent some photos about his favorite Lincoln Highway chicken barbecue stand. During the summer, it’s along the westbound lanes of US 30 west of Ligonier, Pennsylvania, very close to Idewild Park. The stand is in the lot of a closed dairy drive-in across from the Driftwood Inn (known for it’s 1950s signs).

John says it’s been a weekend adventure for a number of years to go on a Sunday drive from Ohio to travel back to his nearby hometown and to get barbecued chicken. In the photo above, that’s Mike Hocker (Executive Director of the Ohio Lincoln Highway Historic Byway) in the green shorts/white shirt standing in line.

The gentleman who owned the soft ice cream stand found out he could earn as much doing chicken every Sunday Memorial Day through mid-October as working a weekly schedule selling ice cream etc. So he closed the ice cream store and uses the cooler, etc. to support the barbecue built on the western edge of the parking lot. I believe he is helped by a brother and brother-in-law. Didn’t take serious notes when I interviewed him the first time. He is sort of gruff. Stands at the end of the barbecue pit and takes your order.

As the chicken halves are pulled off the grill, they are placed in large, covered roasting pans near the serving area. They steep in the steamy juices for an hour or so before they are pulled from the roaster, dropped onto precut sheets of aluminum foil, methodically wrapped and deftly dropped into a paper sack. Pop is kept cool in ice water in a 50’s vintage pop cooler. Cole slaw is available, too.

Be ready to speak up when it is your turn as the guy has a line of people to serve and gets a little grumpy if you hem and haw. Just put us in mind of the “Soup Nazi” on Seinfeld. They start the charcoal pit around 6 a.m. on Sunday and serve until all is sold. We estimated about 750 to 1,000 half chickens on a given day. (He wouldn’t say). Then you can find a spot on a nearby shade tree picnic table maintained on the proper tyand enjoy your prize. Melt in your mouth chicken! When we first went there in ’97 it was about $3 a half. Last time it was $4.25.

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12 Responses to “Popular chicken BBQ along the Lincoln Highway”

  1. Diane Thomas Says:

    John Saw your posting of the Chicken stand in Ligonier,Pa. Please make sure you try our chicken Aug 7 in Bucyrus. The Tourism Bureau has us cook for the Lincoln Highway Garage Sale. Stop by say Hi and let us know how our chicken stacks up against the Soup Nazi’s.
    We look forward to seeing you

    Diane and her Peeps at Grandmas Backyard BBQ

  2. Sheila Grimm Says:

    My family lives in Ligonier… You are “very close” on dubbing these guys the Soup Nazi’s… because the locals have called these guys “the Chicken Nazi’s for years! Grumpy is putting it mildly!

    Most of his business msut come from people driving along the Highway as the folks in Ligonier WON’T GO THERE!

  3. Ken Robinson Says:

    I have been traveling from Pittsburgh to Ligonier at least once a month during the “season” for the chicken since the mid ’70s. That is a round trip of 120 miles. It is the best barbecued chicken in this part of Pennsylvania. The man who owns the stand has always been a gentleman. I’ve never seen or head him be impolite or short with anyone. Since you can stand in the long lines for up to an hour, there is plenty of time to observe any impolite behavior on anyones part.

    The BBQ stand was up and working years before the same gentleman built and opened the ice cream stand. That was around 1980. The business only lasted a couple of years then it was shut down. I believe the BBQ stand owner also owns the Driftwood.

    I have stood in line talking to other customers. Most are from right around the area. I guess someone from Ligonier must eat there. Maybe they didn’t get the word.

  4. Lauren Schneider Says:

    Some folks in Ligonier sure do go there happily! I’ve never had one of these guys be rude to me, and the chicken is delicious.

    And if one of them ever was rude to a customer, they still wouldn’t have the monopoly on that quality in our idyllic little valley. Lighten up, folks! 🙂

  5. Ed Murphy Says:

    I am originally form Pittsburgh, Pa now living in Virginia. As a boy growing up we spent summers at the Loyalhanna Cottages on 711 going to Donegal. This was back in the late 50’s early 60’s. My first memory of this Bar B Cue stand was back in the late 60’s while taking our daughter to visit Idelwild Park and Story Book Forest. We then headed into Ligonier in search of a Gob. And found the chicken Bar B Cue in the parking lot of Branch’s Restaurant? I think. Became an annual trip every fall and we then went on out to Rector and found a picnic table in the park to enjoy our bounty. Do not remember a Nazi type feeling. Just be ready to place your order and git out of the way. Anyone remember the cookies sold and Frye’s market?

  6. Ryan Alkire Says:

    This is hands down the best chicken I have ever had. I was born in Latrobe and have family in Johnstown and as a kid, “Ligonier Chicken,” was a big part of any Sunday picnic/event. I moved away from the area in 1980 and then to Florida in 1987 but always make it a point to get over to Ligonier for this chicken when I am in the region.

    I was just there on July 5th of this year with my parents and it was as good as ever. I don’t know the old man’s name but he said he has been there for 43 years cooking this chicken.

    This outdoor pavilion/grill is on west route 30 in Ligonier, PA a 1/2 a mile or so east of Idlewild park. They are only open on Sunday (Memorial Day through mid-October) as previously mentioned and I believe they were 5.25 for a 1/2 chicken. There is no number to call or even a name to the place….it’s just great chicken and the old man talked to my dad for 30+ minutes ….and the “nazi” even gave my daughter a lollipop from his candy jar. I would love to know how to cook this myself if anyone has dissected the ingredients in any way. I’m worried that one of these years I’m going to go back an it will be gone!

  7. Debbie Nicely Says:

    I grew up in Ligonier PA and love to go home for visits. When I am home in the summer this is an absolute must stop for me followed by a trip to the Diamond for the band concert on Sunday night.

    I was just there this past Sunday August 2, 2009 and maybe my opinion is a little biased since we are related but the BBQ Chicken chefs could not be any more friendly. Maybe next time try to throw a compliment their way for the hard work out in the hot sun next to a steaming fire pit carrying on a local tradition.

    I’m looking forward to dinner this evening, I bought an extra one to bring back to NC. And a gob for dessert!

    Keep up the chicken grilling for another 43 years! It’s always Nicely Done! 🙂

    Thank You,

  8. John Renock Says:

    Folks, I must say that my comment about the Seinfeld character only came because he was so focused on serving chicken. The whole scene just put me in mind of the character. When he did have a moment to talk, we had a great conversation. They work hard and are in constant motion tending to the chicken. We have returned there many times spending a weekend holiday in the ‘burgh or the area from central Ohio, just to enjoy the chicken and head back home on Sunday afternoon. I went to Idlewild as a kid in the 50s and have great memories going there. Grew up in the New Kensington area before moving to Ohio. I have great respect and admiration for the crew and the “chief chef”. That’s why I have photographed the place, plus made some video. I also have seen or talked to a number of local people who show up with cardboard boxes taking away 10 to 20 chicken halves for a family dinner.

  9. Edward Nicely Says:

    I have to say that I am more than familiar with this bbq pit. The owner is my uncle by marriage and I spent many a Sunday helping out since my father was one of the original chefs. I’m not sure exactly when it opened, but it was early to mid 1960’s. The owner does own the Driftwood and the ice cream stand came about after the chicken stand. I have many memories about those times and the best tasting bbq chicken I’ve ever had is one. Here’s hoping Uncle Fred has another successful year.

  10. Slats and Debbie Hunger Says:

    We live in Vandergrift,Pa.and make a chicken run often during the summer and fall,including of course the pie shop in Loughlin town and a couple beers at Joe’s bar to look at the mounted animals.My mother and father loved the chicken and often talked to the guys cooking and knew all the history.We’ve been going for twenty years and and my parents twenty years before that.So hail to the wonderful chicken guys.I’ll see you there with my grandchildren.

  11. Jeannie Says:

    I grew up in Boswell, Pa just outside of Ligonier and about the only time we passed the BBQ chicken place was on our way to idlewild park and I always loved that smell. We never stopped since we were too exited to get to the park and my parents probably thought that it was just your average BBQ. I moved to Connecticut in 1984 when I was 22 years old and the first time I went to the BBQ was with my sister while I was home visiting probably around the mid to late 80’s. I now go there if I am home visiting on a Sunday during the BBQ pit open season May through mid October. I get at least 10 or twelve and give some to family members. We love the seasoning and the chicken is so tender and juicy. I would love their recipe just in case they ever close. The people who run the BBQ have always been nice and the older man is just a man of a few words but always polite. Maybe him being gruff is a little too harsh. He could just be very tired and hot. After all, he is probably in his eighties. Great chicken and a definite must stop!

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