Name: William ‘Hickory Bill’ C. Ross, Jr.
Occupation: Bar-B-Que Master/Owner of Hickory’s Bill’s Barbecue
How long have you been up here?
I came here from Columbus, Ohio in 1964, and I’ve been in and out of here ever since.
How long have you been barbecuing?
Barbecuing? I left social work about 11 years ago. I worked as an adjustments counselor at the public schools in Pittsfield. I left that, I opened a place initially in Pittsfield, a little diner, I was there three years, and then I opened a full service restaurant in Great Barrington and I was there seven years, and I’ve been here since May of last year.
When did you learn to barbecue?
I learned here about 15 years ago. A gentleman from Beaumont, Texas took me under his wing, because I had been trying to barbecue. I have this barbecue that y’all say you like a lot, but I was a kid I didn’t know how to make it, I just knew it was great, and I’d been for years trying to find out how to make it. And about 15 years ago I ran into this old guy, Becket, and he took me under his wing, and actually July the ninth, 1984, was the first day I barbecued myself. At that time I was a social worker.
Have you ever catered for Williams?
I did. I did a graduation, class of ’83. I did their reunion there, and I’ve gotten a couple of calls this year to do some graduation parties. They haven’t been firmed up yet. You get lots of calls, so I’m waiting to hear from them.
Why did you leave Great Barrington?
Summers were good, catering was good, but even in the summer the restaurant itself wasn’t what it should be.
So, on the menu, what’s your favorite thing to barbecue?
Well, probably the brisket, because no one knows how to do that right, and, it’s an exceptional piece of meat. Even though its an inexpensive cut when you barbecue it, when you barbecue it and are finished cutting it, it jumps from like one dollar to five dollars a pound. That and spareribs and the beef back ribs are probably one-two-three.
Do you like the beef ribs or the pork ribs more?
I tell you, I like them all, I really do. Some days I like the beef back ribs; the rubs and the way that I learned to do them, they’re just very special, and they’re ideal. I know if you get ribs, chicken, or beef back ribs today you’ll get the best I can do. They just came out of the pit. And when you’re busy, that’s what you’re doing, I mean ideally barbecue, if you’re real busy where there’s turnover, you get the very best.
Where is the pit?
It’s the next room. We can go over there. We have ribs in there now. And they are about ready to come out.
So the demands and the needs up here are different than the big city, huh?
Well, yeah, yeah, we have been highlighted in the top magazines, even though we’re not a very auspicious operation. But, we’ve been in Travel and Leisure, Yankee Magazine, U.S. Airlines, Gourmet Magazine, all these magazines, but there’s not that locally. People who are more cosmopolitan in their eating habits, who can travel, and a place like Williamstown where people come from all over, the students at the college and the people who come in they see us. Williamstown is Williams College to a great extent.
When I moved here, not so much for this place, it was more to get rid of the restaurant, and have a professional setting to operate from, but this is going to be busier than I had hoped.
Have you ever considered taking a couple of Williams students under your wing?
I don’t know. I’ll tell you what. It’s a problem, because the only asset I have is what I do, in terms of my business. And, my problem about teaching people; a very good friend of mine, in fact a former sweetheart of mine, just begged me for my cornbread recipe, and I said, “I’ll let you have it if you just have it for you and your family.” I went to visit her in Florida and her sisters, her aunts and uncles, all of them had it. Ain’t nobody on the globe gonna have this recipe but me. It’s just too seductive to have something that you know is very special and you want to share it with people, and that’s just what happens, you know.