A tribute to Mike Wilson, founder of SAW’s BBQ + Birmingham food legend

Mike Wilson, founder of SAW's BBQ
Mike Wilson of SAW’s BBQ fame. Photo via SAW’s BBQ’s Facebook page

North Carolina native Mike Wilson found his calling in barbecue, and his adopted hometown of Birmingham will always be grateful. As you probably heard by now, 46-year old Wilson passed away this past Labor Day weekend. He leaves behind a loving family and an incredible legacy with SAW’s BBQ + more in this foodie town.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece stated that everyone was welcome to a celebration of Wilson’s life. In fact, it is for family and close friends only. We apologize for the error.

From “Sorry Ass Wilson” to SAW’s BBQ

SAW's BBQ in Edgewood
SAW’s BBQ quickly became a neighborhood favorite in Edgewood. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

Early life

Mike Wilson was born and raised in North Carolina, where he developed a love of backyard barbecuing. From there, he pursued his passion for hospitality at The University of Alabama and his love of food at Johnson & Wales in Vail, Colorado.

After graduating, he worked as the sous-chef at Dean & Deluca in his hometown of Charlotte, NC, before relocating to Birmingham, where he spent a decade as head of the test kitchen at Cooking Light.

The Cooking Light Years

For me, during a brief 2005 stint at Cooking Light, tastings were an event. While the full-time staff would take tiny bites of each creation, evaluating the dish’s worthiness for inclusion in the magazine, I’d load up my plate like it was Thanksgiving.

When I read the news of Wilson’s passing, the exquisiteness of those tastings came flooding back. I also remembered the one and only conversation we had one day when I got to go back into the test kitchen—believe it or not, we talked about his love of barbecue.

The birth of SAW’s

In 2009, opportunity knocked in Homewood’s Edgewood neighborhood, when Wilson got word that Broadway BBQ was going out of business. With a lot of help from hardworking staff, it took less than a month for Wilson to have the first SAW’s up and running.

The thing I love the most at SAW’s in Edgewood

Most of y’all probably heard about that little hole-in-the-wall serving up the best-tasting barbecue like I did—from a family member or a friend who said “you’ve got to try this place.”

And so, SAW’S quickly became a favorite for any occasion people needed to gather. If you had people visiting from out of town, it was at the top of the list of must-try places. If you had something to celebrate, whether a birthday or a football game, same. Everybody enjoyed the food and the hospitality.

Before too long, there were multiple SAW’s restaurants, a food truck, and a burgeoning BBQ sauce empire. Wilson also had a hand in both Post Office Pies and Local 39 Homewood.

End of an era

Since we had just recommended SAW’s as one of seven places to pick up your Labor Day barbecue, we were as shocked and saddened as everyone else to read this announcement on Instagram yesterday.

“The Saws BBQ and Post Office Pies family celebrates the life of Mike Wilson, whose genuine passion to make everyone feel good was apparent in his love for soul food and BBQ. Mike never met a stranger, and always found common ground with everyone about food, music and fun. Everyone was welcome in his world and in his restaurants. He loved music and food almost as much as he did his two beautiful children. The “Son of Southern BBQ” (better known as Sorry Ass Wilson) and his recipes will live on and be enjoyed for generations to come, and his legacy will live on in his children, restaurants and recipes.

Forever, he will be greatly missed.”

The Saws BBQ

Locations

SAW’s Soul Kitchen in Avondale

SAW's Soul Kitchen in Avondale
Saw’s Soul Kitchen serves up the best food from a humble little place in Avondale. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

When Wilson and Brandon Cain opened this location in Avondale in May 2012, it quickly became my family’s favorite. Their fried okra is to die for, and my husband always loves seeing what surprises are on the menu.

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#foodforthesoul

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Word on the street is that SAW’s pork ‘n greens over grits is epic.

SAW’s Juke Joint in Crestline Gardens

SAW's Juke Joint in Southside
The bar at Saw’s Juke Joint. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

Doug Smith (former owner of Otey’s in Mountain Brook), Mike Wilson and American Idol winner Taylor Hicks went in together on Saw’s Juke Joint in 2012 and the Crestline Gardens area loved it. In pre-pandemic times, the place was packed every night, with crowds enjoying both the music and the food.

Sweet tea sandwich at SAW's Juke Joint in Crestline Gardens
Matthew was lucky enough to eat this sweet tea sandwich at SAW’s Juke Joint yesterday. You can also find it on the menu at Local 39 Homewood. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

SAW’s Southside

SAW's Southside
SAW”s Southside. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

Chef Michael Brandon opened SAW’s Street Kitchen back in 2014, and then the Southside location more recently. This is the place to go if you like your barbecue to include some Gulf Coast seafood options.

  • Location: 1154 11th Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35205
  • Contact: They are temporarily closed due to COVID, but you can call (205) 532-0021 for catering and special orders. | Website

Fan Favorites

Cindy Martin loves the loaded potato

“I love the giant stuffed potatoes in Homewood’s Saws.  I like to get it with chicken and broccoli and pour white sauce ALL over it.”

Cindy Martin, President, Bham Now

Pat Byington and his family have their own personal favorites

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Enjoy a loaded Baker for lunch today!!

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“My wife Kathy and I eat at SAWS for lunch at the Edgewood location.  We love to share the FULLY LOADED baker.  They are always great, and we sort of have our weekly romantic “Beauty and the Tramp” moment, with BBQ instead of spaghetti.”

Pat Byington, Content Director, Bham Now

“In addition to our favorite, Kathy’s sister from Seattle, Washington always orders the sampler platter, every day for 7 days straight.  There are few BBQ places in the Pacific Northwest, so this is her big annual culinary treat when she visits.”

Pat Byington, Content Director, Bham Now

Now tell us, Birmingham, what will you remember about SAW’s Mike Wilson? Tag us on social @bhamnow and let us know.