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Fort Wayne Barbecue Restaurant Wins "Best Of Indiana" Voters' Choice Award

Lisa Ryan, WBOI News
Shigs in Pit is located at 2008 Fairfield Ave. in Fort Wayne.
Credit Lisa Ryan, WBOI News
Pictured: BBQ pulled pork sandwich and homemade mac and cheese

Every year Indiana’s tourism agency collects “Best Of” nominations for categories like foliage, camping, and food. Hoosiers ranked Fort Wayne’s Shigs in Pit the best barbecue in Indiana.

Visit Fort Wayne nominated the barbecue restaurant for “Best of Indiana” and more than 5,000 Hoosiers voted for their favorite places in the competition. Shigs in Pit ranked higher than Squealers Barbecue Grill in Indianapolis, the second place winner, and Barbecue and Bourbon in Speedway, the third place winner.

Tiffany Pryor is a spokeswoman for the restaurant and says she’s excited that it received the recognition.

“What’s great about us winning this award is we’re a great family-friendly option,” Pryor said. “We have great shareable plates that if you have a large group you can come in and enjoy together, so it’s not only great food, but it’s something that you can experience as a family.”

Jeff Neels is a co-owner of Shigs in Pit, and co-owns Mad Anthony Brewing Company as well.

When Neels and his business partners at Mad Anthony’s bought a building on Fairfield Avenue in 2012 to expand their catering operations, they decided to turn the storefront into what it is now: Shigs in Pit.

“We thought, why not expand and kind of do something barbecue related to kind of bring in some income on the property that we’re going to use as, you know, an expanded catering space,” Neels said. “It happened so quickly, but this thing kind of took off on its own and became its own little successful venture.”

Neels says it’s been so successful, they often run out of tables in the dining area. On weekends on nice days, it’s not uncommon to see people eating outside.

Neels says he started barbecuing in 2009, and he and his friends would enter competitions across the Midwest. Over the course of six years they won 13 grand championships for their barbecue. Shigs in Pit was the name of their barbecue team.

“There are a lot of creative team names out on the barbecue trail, and so it definitely made us stand out because when the organizers would call us up for awards, they were very careful on how they pronounced our name,” he said.

They decided to keep the name, because it felt like a part of their identity as pitmasters.

“People try to figure it out. There are some that don’t figure it out,” Neels said.

But the name is more than just a play on words. Shigging is a cooking term used to describe the act of trying to steal a secret recipe. On the barbecue trail, Neels says it can be done under the guise of chatting with another team. In their case, they were talking in another team’s camp when they accidentally saw a product they weren’t supposed to see.

“We met a lot of great people on the barbecue trail,” Neels said. “There’s a lot of friendly ribbing.”

The director of marketing for Visit Fort Wayne says the award can bring recognition not only to the restaurant, but also to the city, and co-owner Neels agrees.

“Just like breweries, barbecue’s become sort of a destination,” he said. “People seek out those type of restaurants. They have barbecue lovers around the country that when they come to Fort Wayne or they’re coming to other communities, they want to seek out those types of concepts.”

Michelle Youngblood brought her father to Shigs in Pit. They’re from Fort Wayne, but had never been to the restaurant.

“This is our first time and (we) love it,” Youngblood said. “Want to take some home actually.”

They say they’ll definitely be back.

Neels says what sets Shigs in Pit apart from other restaurants is their consistent recipe. He says the pork comes from local, Indiana producers and the sausage is made just for Shigs in Pit by Zanesville-based Lengerich Meats.

Credit Lisa Ryan, WBOI News
The sauces come in original, hot, and tangy.

Their team doesn’t compete much anymore because the business takes most of their time, but when they did, Neels says he enjoyed meeting a lot of people. It takes about 14 to 16 hours for pork and brisket to cook, and he says there’s a lot of downtime.

“Well, the one thing that really was exciting about barbecuing when we were doing the competitions was the camaraderie, and the overall weekend experience,” he said.

Shigs in Pit sells its spices and sauces on the restaurant’s website and to other stores, like Jamison Meats. Neels says he hopes to expand to another location in Fort Wayne.

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