Photos: Meeting the Marie, Let’s Eat! Crew at Midwood Smokehouse

Last weekend, Speedy and I were fortunate enough to meet up with Grant of Marie, Let’s Eat! (plus the rest of his crew) at Barbecue Bros favorite Midwood Smokehouse. You see, he was kind enough to reach out to us a few months back since they were planning to do one of their crazily awesome day trips to the Carolinas (I don’t want to spoil it too much, but in addition to Midwood they also stopped by Mac’s, two seafood restaurants in Fort Mill, as well as a barbecue restaurant and ice cream place in Gastonia – those chapters should be posting on this blog in the coming weeks), and we were more than happy to meet him at our favorite barbecue restaurant in Charlotte.

In addition to eating barbecue (for the record: Grant – pork; Speedy – burnt ends; Monk – brisket; with some sharing of course), we talked barbecue road trips, discussed Atlanta and Charlotte, got a brief pit tour by an associate manager, and stopped by Lunchbox Records after we finished up. All in all, a pretty great way to spend a couple of hours with some new friends. I’m not sure when I’ll be in Atlanta next, but whenever that is I hope to share another barbecue meal with Grant.

-Monk

Linkdown: 1/28/15

- Check out The NC BBQ Map’s Top 5 Most Adventurous Charlotte BBQ Restaurants on Charlotte on the Cheap; we even lent them our photo of 10 Park Lanes to use!

Ask a North Carolinian about their favorite BBQ, and you’re likely to incite a great debate. Everyone knows exactly where to find the “best” BBQ, and The Great NC BBQ Map will help you track down your favorite style around the state. But we believe that even the most ordinary things can be turned into an adventure with just the tiniest shift of perspective. Above all, that was the goal of our map. These top five highlight some of Charlotte’s most unique BBQ joints and are a reminder of our motto: “Every Day Is an Adventure.” #EDIA

– Snooks BBQ has reopened in Davie County as of last Thursday; its hours are 11-7 Thursday through Saturday

– Q 4 Fun reviews 521 BBQ and Grill’s Tega Cay location

– Garden and Gun Magazine check out Hite’s Bar-B-Que in West Columbia, SC in their latest issue

– Robert Moss goes even deeper on chicken mull

– Also from Moss, slaw or pickles: who ya got?!?! – there’s even a poll for you to weigh in

– Rep. Robert Pittenger paid off his Panthers playoff bet with Washington state representatives with barbecue from Mac’s Speed Shop in Charlotte

– Our State checks in at Grady’s this month

Hillbilly’s BBQ & Steaks – Lowell, NC

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Name
: Hillbilly’s BBQ & Steaks
Date: 1/15/15
Address: 720 McAdenville Road, Lowell, NC 28098
Order: BBQ pork sandwich with collard greens and sweet tea (hush puppies included) (link to menu)
Price: $8

Monk: When looking for a new barbecue joint to try, I always seek out a wood-smoked joint over a gasser joint (as do most serious barbecue fans). And in general, that rule of thumb has served me pretty well. Unfortunately, Hillbilly’s BBQ & Steaks in Lowell just outside of Gastonia was a rare case of a wood-fired joint that simply let me down.

As I mentioned in our latest Charlotte Big Board, we are going to have to start branching out to surrounding cities and towns to try new local barbecue spots, because barring a wave of new restaurant openings we are very close to running out of ones in Charlotte proper. Hillbilly’s was my first conscious attempt in 2015 to do just that. Call it my barbecue New Year’s resolution.

This Lowell location of Hillbilly’s is the original, opened in 1989, and they have a Gastonia location a few miles away as well. I believe they also used to have a Charlotte joint off Tyvola but that closed many years ago. The open flame pit at Hillbilly’s is interior to the restaurant, similar to what they cook barbecue on at Old Hickory House only just a bit bigger. It is also one of the first things you see at the front entrance. Also similar to Old Hickory House, they cook over hickory wood.

The meal starts off with a tray of fresh hush puppies brought by the waitress, even before you order, albeit with a thick ketchup-y barbecue dipping sauce. They were hot and crispy, and started the meal off right sans sauce. Unfortunately, the barbecue sandwich that followed was slathered in that same thick sauce that masked the red slaw and chopped pork. When I was able to try a piece of unsauced pork, it was slightly dry and honestly pretty bland. I chose collards for my side, but they tasted as though the flavor had been stewed right out of them in a steam tray.

Speedy: So my question, Monk, is where did they go wrong? Was there no rub, was the pork sitting under a heat lamp, was it overcooked? Was the sauce just bad? It sounded so promising…

Rudy: The sauce would have been a red flag for me.  Usually when you are loading something up with that much sauce, you are trying to cover up for some inadequacy.

Monk: The sauce, if not commercially made, was a house made impression of one. And if I had to guess, the pork’s lack of seasoning was due to minimal rub applied to the pork. It’s almost as if they wanted the sauce to provide all the flavor, which is never good.

Hillbilly’s BBQ & Steaks goes to show that you can’t always assume a wood-fired joint is going to deliver. Unfortunately I just can’t recommend checking them out, though thankfully this experience will not dissuade me from seeking out more wood-smoked joints in 2015.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 2 Hogs
Hillbilly's Barbeque & Steaks on Urbanspoon

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Linkdown: 1/21/15

- You may have heard recently that Chipotle is out of carnitas at 1/3 of its locations, but Charlotte Magazine is glad at least several local dishes aren’t affected

Midwood Smokehouse’s ribs

You know that feeling when you get to Midwood Smokehouse a little too late, and you see someone being served the last fall-off-the-bone, flavorful rack of ribs? Yeah, let’s hope that their pork supply remains plentiful. 1401 Central Ave., 704-295-4227, midwoodsmokehouse.com.

Mac’s Speed Shop’s pulled pork 

Chipotle may be able to pull it off, but barbecue joint without pork? This is one place where if we’re coming in for the smoky, Carolina-sauced pulled pork, we won’t be so happy to substitute the chicken. 2511 South Boulevard, 704-522-6227, macspeedshop.com.

– Robert Moss’s 5 great interstate highway barbecue joints includes Fuller’s Barbecue, who we visited last fall

– In Madison County, Robin Reeves is raising her heritage-breed pigs partly on whiskey mash; introducing: WhiskeyPigs

The WhiskeyPigs name refers to Troy & Sons’ spent mash, which the pigs and Reeves’ other animals slurp down for 30 days prior to slaughter. With 10,000 pounds of mash per week, the distillery produces more than enough for the WhiskeyPigs fleet. The majority of the 2-3 percent alcohol concoction is collected for another local dairy farmer’s cows.

“They’re a little bit calmer, because they’ve had a little buzz,” says Reeves of the pigs’ final month, “but they’re pretty calm as it is. It’s their personality.”

– According to Atlanta Eats, Buxton Hall’s barbecue pop-up at Kimball House in Atlanta is one of the best things they ate this week

Upcoming Asheville BBQ joint, Buxton Hall made the journey down to Atlanta on Sunday. In one word: incredible. The line was long to get to the porky goodness, but it was SO worth it. The pulled pork was perfectly cooked and I’m still thinking about the fresh bread it rested on. So, roadtrip to Asheville soon?

Barbecue for breakfast? It’s definitely a thing in Texas.

– The latest barbecue stops for Marie, Let’s Eat! are Paul’s Bar-B-Q in Lexington, GA and Rooter’s BBQ in Athens

– The barbecue Illuminati gathered for the Whole Hog Extravaganza at 17th Street BBQ this week:

– Daniel Vaughn has some great photos, in particular

– Sugar Creek Brewing in Charlotte and Team Spearhead are having a barbecue benefit this Saturday to benefit the Charlotte Bridge Home; brisket and barbecued chicken will be served

– According to this, Kansas and Missouri are the only two states with “BBQ” restaurants at a disproportionate level of representation, according to Yelp; more explanation here

Here’s the breakdown for NC for your reference; I wonder if all those “Southern” restaurants also included barbecue

North Carolina

  1. Southern — 229 percent higher than national average.
  2. Cheesesteaks — 207 percent higher than national average.
  3. Hot dogs — 80 percent higher than national average.
  4. Chicken wings — 47 percent higher than national average.
  5. Soul food — 39 percent higher than national average.

Charlotte Barbecue Joint Big Board – January 2015

Last time around, I thought the best hope to shake up the Charlotte rankings was Kyle Fletcher’s in Gastonia. While the portions were huge, it only lands at #6 in our latest big board (though we will be visiting again in a few weeks). The Improper Pig recently opened in December and shows promise, but didn’t quite deliver on our first visit landing at #8, and Bar-B-Q King just made the top 10 due to its neat drive-in setting. Outside of those, the rest of the new reviews since last May were mainly disappointing. At this point, we are running out of new Charlotte-proper spots to try so we may be branching out into Gastonia, Concord, and Kannapolis more.

What other Charlotte area joints should we check out? Feel free to weigh in on your favorite in the comments and if you present a strong enough case we will try to head there next.

-Monk

  1. Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen (food truck)
  2. Midwood Smokehouse (original review)
  3. Queen City Q
  4. Sauceman’s
  5. Bill Spoon’s Barbecue
  6. Kyle Fletcher’s Barbecue & Catering new
  7. Old Hickory House
  8. The Improper Pig new
  9. Elwood’s Barbecue & Burger Bar
  10. Bar-B-Q King new
  11. 521 BBQ and Grill (Tega Cay) new
  12. 521 BBQ and Grill (Indian Land) new
  13. Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q (Concord) 
  14. Smoke & Go Bar-B-Que (food truck)
  15. Mac’s Speed Shop
  16. R&R Bar-B-Que
  17. Lancaster’s BBQ (Huntersville)
  18. Lancasters’s BBQ (Mooresville) new
  19. Rock Store Bar-B-Q
  20. Moe’s Original Bar-B-Que
  21. McKoy’s Smokehouse and Saloon
  22. Brooks’ Sandwich House new
  23. Rock Store Bar-B-Q (Mint Hill)
  24. Bobbee-O’s BBQ
  25. Farmer’s BBQ
  26. Bubba’s Barbecue 
  27. JJR’s BBQ Shack
  28. City Smoke
  29. OooWee BBQ (food truck)
  30. Carolina Ribs on the Run new
  31. R.O.’s Bar-B-Que new

Still to review: Dan the Pig Man (food truck), Q2U, Fort Mill BBQ Co, Bodrick’s BBQ

Previous Big Boards: May 2014December 2013July 2013

Linkdown: 1/14/15

- Barbecue Bros fave Midwood Smokehouse is adding a Ballantyne location so that folks in suburbia can have good barbecue too; it will also allow them to expand their catering operations with the space’s larger kitchen

– Charlotte Observer restaurant critic checks out The Improper Pig and has mixed reviews

The place’s selection of sauces also include a sweet/spicy traditional, an Eastern-style and a mustard one, plus versions dubbed Korean, Thai and teriyaki. You’ll want to try them, and use at least one liberally. A half chicken, smoked, had more moisture than the pork, though not much more flavor. Wings were OK, and go for $10 a pound, in our case eight wings.

– Over in the Triangle, Big Mike’s Brew N Que opens in Cary; half barbecue restaurant, half bottle shop

– Robert Moss breaks down the unique regional variations of brunswick stew

– Speaking of which, in his latest column he moves away from exploring certain dishes to reviewing a barbecue joint; first up, its B’s Cracklin BBQ in Savannah, who only opened last October but is cooking heritage breed hogs over all types of wood

– Steve Raichlen predicts barbecue trends in 2015

The Eater National 38 includes Franklin Barbecue and Gunshow in Atlanta, which serves whole hog barbecue

– Daniel Vaughn’s most underrated barbecue meats and sides in Austin

– Useful NC infographic

– King’s in Kinston gets the Our State Carolina ‘Cue treatment

City Barbeque – Cary, NC

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Name
: City Barbeque
Date: 11/14/14 and 1/7/15
Address: 1305 Kildaire Farm Road, Cary, NC 27511
Order: Lil City (Combo plate with pork and brisket), gumbo and hushpuppies (link to menu)
Price: $10

Speedy: Look – I know City Barbeque is a small chain (though they don’t franchise) and I know they use a gasser (though it is a Southern Pride), but I had a hankering for ‘cue one day and I had driven past this place before, so I decided to stop in. And I’m glad I did.

City Barbeque sits as a stand alone building in a good sized shopping center. It’s Southern Pride smoker is attached to the building, such that the wood is put in from the outside, but there’s a door on the smoker inside the building as well. The restaurant has a modern feel. You order at the counter, and the meat is then cut or pulled and you take your seat. The order method makes it seem like it’s trying to be old school, but it kind of falls flat on that aspect. It’s not a bad atmosphere, per se, but not my fav.

City serves all kinds of ‘cue – pork, brisket, sausage, chicken, turkey, and ribs. It definitely has a newer feel. Both times I’ve been, I’ve avoided the ribs (as I’ve been in business-wear) and opted for an off-menu (but often ordered) Lil City, which is a half portion of brisket and half portion of pulled pork. I’ve had three sides total in two trips – the gumbo (never before seen as a ‘cue side), hush puppies, and vinegar slaw.

The pork has a really nice bark and is pretty tender. I could use a little more smoke, but the flavor is there. There is a station with several sauces available (kind of like the salsa bar at Moe’s), one of which is a vinegar sauce. I think adding a bit of this enhances the flavor, but overall, the pork is good.

The brisket, I think, is a little bit better. It is also plenty tender with great bark. There might be slightly too much tug, but I’m nitpicking a bit. I also think it could use a little more pepper in the rub to give a little more bit to the bark, but overall, I think it’s a very good brisket – especially for North Carolina.

The sides are top notch. The hush puppies are perfect. The slaw, which contains carrots and peppers in addition to the cabbage, is strong, and the gumbo is great (note: I’m a sucker for gumbo at all times, so having it available as a side here is a huge bonus). Overall, I couldn’t be happier with the sides.

Monk: Hmm…I’m not sure how I feel about gumbo at a barbecue place, but at least it was good. Sounds like City Barbeque (a chain started in Ohio) is worth a try next time I’m with all of the other relocated yanks in Cary.

Speedy: I definitely want to go back some time for dinner to check out both the ribs and the sausage, but overall, City Barbeque is a really good meal. It doesn’t have the down home feel of the old-timey ‘cue joints, and it does use a gas smoker instead of a stick burner, but these guys understand how to smoke meat. I’ll definitely be back.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 2 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Brisket – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 3.5 Hogs
City Barbeque on Urbanspoon

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Linkdown: 1/7/15

- More on the closing of Jimmy’s Barbecue, whose closing “signals change with barbecue” in the Lexington area

The closure of Jimmy’s continues a change in the local barbecue scene. Five years ago, seven restaurants participated in the annual Barbecue Festival. The closing of John Wayne’s Barbecue and Whitley’s Barbecue dropped the number to five, and now it will fall to four. The remaining restaurants and festival organizers may want to consider adding some of the county’s other barbecue restaurants to gain more manpower and food for the annual event.

– Yahoo! Travel calls The Barbecue Festival in Lexington the “can’t-miss event” in North Carolina

– Red, Hot, and Blue is opening a second RDU location, this time in Cary

A look back at the Kansas City bbq scene in 2014 (h/t @mossr)

A Reuter’s article on Daniel Vaughn, BBQ snob, from a few week’s back

“When I saw him walking up, I was a bit nervous. He can make or break a business,” said Matt Proctor, the pit master and owner of Stillwater.

– Is this guy (the so-called “brisket bandit”) kind of like the Robin Hood of brisket? Update: looks like he’s been caught as of Monday

– Speaking of brisket, it is more expensive than ever

– Our review posted earlier this week, but here are 8 things you need to know about The Improper Pig from Charlotte Five

– The SC BBQ Trail now has an interactive map:

– File this under “The More You Know”:

The Improper Pig – Charlotte, NC

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Name
: The Improper Pig
Date: 12/19/14
Address: 110 S Sharon Amity Rd Charlotte, NC 28211
Order: Monk: Cotswold platter with pulled pork, sliced brisket, asian slaw, and sweet potato hash; Speedy: Half rack of St. Louis ribs with collards (link to menu)
Price: Monk: $12; Speedy: $14

Monk: If memory serves, The Improper Pig might be the first new barbecue restaurant to open in Charlotte since City Smoke over 2.5 years ago (whose disappointment by Speedy in part led to the creation of this blog). It is brought to you by the same folks who run The Pizza Peel and local franchises of The Flying Biscuit and Moe’s and is located in a former Mama Fu’s in the Cotswold shopping center (interestingly, they kept the wok to use in several of their barbecue dishes). So you know that Speedy and I had to check it out at first opportunity.

Speedy: The restaurant certainly has a “new school” feel. Without knowing anything about it, you wouldn’t guess barbecue restaurant walking in. It is not well lit and you’re greeted by a hostess. You can see into the kitchen, including the smoker. While the restaurant isn’t overly pricey, it has more of an upscale feel than your typical ‘cue joint. In order to sample as wide a variety as possible, Monk ordered a Cotswold platter (two-meat combo) with pork and brisket and I ordered the half rack of ribs. We also talked Mrs. Monk into upgrading to the Cotswold platter in order to allow us to try to sausage as well.

Monk: The Improper Pig (great name, btw) and its pitmaster Will Bigham utilize a Southern Pride gasser, which as Speedy alluded to is visible in the kitchen. While it is a shame that they are going this route, it’s not completely unexpected. That’s not to say that you can’t get good meat out of one of these, but you unfortunately you can pretty much tell that they are using a gasser in the pork and brisket. They both have some bark but neither is as smokey as I would have liked. Seeing as this was maybe the second week of the restaurant being open, Speedy and I discussed that they still might be figuring things out with the smoker, so we tried to be somewhat understanding. And to be fair, what they did serve that night wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t great yet.

Speedy: The ribs were somewhat disappointing as well. While they were tender and had decent flavor, they were cooked and served with the membrane still attached, and it was noticeable. I know people have different opinions on this, but I just don’t enjoy eating the membrane, as I think it’s harder to chew. The andouille sausage was decent, but could have used more snap. Overall, I just think that all the meats were overcooked, which was particularly noticeable with the brisket and ribs. It could just be that the pit masters were still figuring out the intricacies of the smoker, so I’ll go back and try again in a month or two. Like Monk, I didn’t dislike any of the meats, but I also wasn’t overly impressed.

Monk: On this night, the sides may have been the best part of the meal, though they aren’t your regular barbecue sides. They don’t have hush puppies or traditional cornbread on the menu, instead going with a small corn biscuit which I could have taken or left. The house slaw was mayo-based, so I went with the asian slaw which was quite good (and a nod to the asian spin on some of their barbecue dishes). The sweet potato hash was essentially mashed sweet potatoes and was different but I enjoyed it. Most of the rest of their sides looked worthy of an order in the future, with nearly all being vegetarian friendly.

Speedy: I thought the collards were really good as well. I’m on record as saying I don’t like taking sides into account when judging a ‘cue joint, but here, they were good enough to really add to the meal. There are also several non-traditional menu items that I’d like to try, including the asian inspired tacos and southern egg rolls. So while The Improper Pig doesn’t top the list of Charlotte barbecue joints, I’ll definitely be back.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Brisket – 2.5 hogs
Ribs – 2.5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 3 Hogs
The Improper Pig on Urbanspoon

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