- Speaking of road trips, the latest reviews from Marie, Let’s Eat!’s NC barbecue roadtrip: The Barbecue Center in Lexington, Allen & Son Barbeque in Chapel Hill, Hursey’s in Burlington, and Short Sugar’s in Reidsville
- Bar-B-Q King in Charlotte is included as part of the history of Wilkinson Boulevard from the March 2014 issue of Charlotte Magazine
Few places are more familiar on Wilkinson than Bar-B-Q King. Follow the curved arrow of its sign, and most days you’ll see a lot full of cars. Behind the counter, a static buzz fills the room as co-owner Gus Karapanos flips on the speaker system.
“Same one we’ve had for 40 years,” he says. “People love to hear it.” The sign, too, has been the same since Karapanos’s uncles opened the place back in 1959. Except for a few days after Hurricane Hugo knocked it down in 1989, that sign and the billboard–sized, ice-cream-eating Inuit at Dairy Queen next door have remained constants in a changing neighborhood.
- Ed Mitchell, Sam Jones, and Rodney Scott are the pitmasters from the Carolinas in this year’s Big Apple Barbecue Block party in June
- I think I’ve seen a version of this list before, but in case you missed it Lexington comes in at #4 in this list of 10 best barbecue cities (h/t Rudy)
4. Lexington, North Carolina
Pork is the game in Lexington, a small town just an hour’s drive northeast of Charlotte, where a regional favorite is the wood-smoked pork shoulder, coarsely chopped and topped by a mostly vinegar based sauce -0 those who know their way around a Lexington grill often order it with some outside brown, which means more flavorful extra bark from the meat) and sometimes extra dip, which is just the word for the thinner sauce. Another Lexington trademark is red slaw, coleslaw that’s swapped out the mayo for BBQ sauce. There’s a lot to the Lexington scene, which is why the city throws the annual Barbecue Festival to celebrate it. For the regular season, Lexington Barbecue #1, established in 1962 and better known by locals as the Honeymonk, is the quintessential Lexington joint, widely hailed as the best in the business, always happy to help a diner out with a big plate of pork and some Cheerwine.
- Speaking of Lexington, this year’s BBQ Capital Cook-Off is April 25-26
- The Charlotte Smokeoff at Unknown Brewing is this Saturday in Charlotte:
Excited for this weekends event for wounded Veterans! Come on out to support, eat, drink, dance, & party w/ friends! pic.twitter.com/fXRurFjlbc— Unknown Brewing (@UnknownBrewing)April 14, 2014
Name: Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen
Order: Hand pulled NC pork shoulder plateful with Sis Gibson’s baked beans and Aunt Faith’s homemade chow chow and sweet tea (link to menu)
Price: $19.58 (don’t worry, I got 2+ meals out of it)
Monk: If you’ve eaten some of Charlotte’s best barbecue in the past decade, chances are it is in some way owed to Dan “Boone” Gibson. Along with his friend John “JD” Duncan, he helped start the original Mac’s Speed Shop on South Blvd (which in my opinion has gone downhill since they both left) in 2005 as well as more recently a Barbecue Bros favorite Queen City Q in 2012. Now, he has struck out on his own and started Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen, a food truck that has popped up in various south Charlotte office parks in recent months.
Boone’s family recipes, which don’t necessarily follow eastern or piedmont barbecue traditions, were the basis for Queen City Q and remain the basis for his food truck. So while they do have an eastern NC vinegar sauce, a SC mustard sauce, and a rib sauce (called “PoPo,” the same name used at Queen City Q), the signature pork sauce is apparently a mixture of the rib and mustard sauces. While it is referred to as a “Piedmont” sauce, you wouldn’t find anything like it at Lexington #1. The family influence is also evident in the names of the sides (again, some of which share names with sides at Queen City Q) – Sis Gibson’s baked beans with Neese’s, Aunt Nell’s mac-n-cheese, Aunt Faith’s homemade chow chow, etc.
You can choose either a “big sandwich” with one side or a “plateful” which comes with two. I ordered the hand-pulled NC pork shoulder plateful with baked beans and chow chow. And since it would likely be a while until I made it out again, I decided I also wanted to try the brisket and sausage. Thankfully, they obliged me with a couple of slices and a link for $6 extra. After a bit of a wait, the lady who took my order handed me two heavy boxes packed pretty well with smoked meat. I opened the boxes to a very strong waft of smoke, which was heavenly. The pork was moist, tender, and smokey and pulled with large chunks of bark. It. Was. Great. I mean, really, really great. I tried the Piedmont sauce with it but really, the meat didn’t need it at all.
The brisket was smokey, sauced, and had a good tug to it. The sausage link was slathered with the mustard sauce and it complemented it well. Both were really good. So at this point, Boone is 3-for-3. The beans and chow chow were reminiscent of the same dishes from Queen City Q, which I liked back then and liked on this day. There was also a small side of chow chow that I didn’t realize came with the pork (I wouldn’t have ordered a side of it if I knew).
Some minor nitpicks – the sweet tea wasn’t sweet at all and the ordering process could have been more efficient. A few folks who had ordered before I got there grumbled about the wait, and mine took maybe 7-8 minutes. Also, some hush puppies on the menu would have been nice - although logistically that might be tough in a food truck.
So does Charlotte’s best barbecue come from Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen? That’s hard to say, and I want to be careful not to romanticize too much simply because it comes from a food truck and everything can seem like it tastes better from a food truck. I can say that it is up there in terms of pork in Charlotte, and that I haven’t tasted too much better. I highly recommend you to track it down and try for yourself; as of this writing, Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen is available on Tuesdays at Coliseum Center Building 6, Wednesdays at Carmel Crossing office park at 51 and Johnston Road, and Thursdays at 5032 Parkway Plaza (near the Farmer’s Market off Yorkmont). (Update: apparently they are also at some Sizzlin’ Saturdays at the same lot that hosts Food Truck Friday - Camden at Park Avenue in Southend)
Speedy: Monk - I’ve read the entire review and I must say I’m skeptical. I’ve never sampled the food at Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen, but I just find it hard to fathom that it’s better than current Charlotte favorite Midwood Smokehouse. (Editor’s note: Speedy is not on board with the food truck revolution)
Rudy: In Texas I have seen some great barbecue come from food trucks (i.e. Franklin’s started in a truck). But the problem I have with them is, where is the pit and how are they cooking the meat? The two best barbecue trucks in Austin have permanent locations, so they have their pits right there, but what about this one that drives around between locations? Do they cook it at a pit located at one of their other restaurants and then just serve it from the truck? I’ll be interested to hear Speedy’s review to see if Boone’s stands up.
Monk: Good questions, and ones I’ve actually been thinking about since last week. Could Boone’s simply be a rebranded Queen City Q food truck with food that he cooks at the restaurant, or has he really started off on his own? The food and sauces are similar (down to the names in some cases), but I want to believe that the meat was higher quality barbecue than the restaurant - I don’t recall the meat at Queen City Q having this much smoke. Again, I have to be careful that I’m not looking at it through food truck-colored glasses. I guess I could ask next time I go…
Speedy: Speaking of Midwood Smokehouse, I think it’s time to go re-review it. Our original review is nearly two years old, and very early in our lives as Barbecue Bros (I mean we ordered smoked turkey for Chrissakes). I think I’ve grown to love it even more since that time.
Out of respect for our bro-ness, I have to respect this review and believe that Boone’s is something special, but I will be on the lookout for this truck in order to verify the review sample some of that ‘cue.
Monk: That’s fair, and maybe if you are ever in Charlotte during the week and can take some time off for lunch we can check it out. As for Midwood Smokehouse, I’ve been thinking a re-review of it was in order anyways. I mean, c’mon - smoked turkey!?!? Yeesh.
Speedy: So then it’s settled, a re-review of Midwood Smokehouse is in order. A gentleman’s agreement…
Monk and Speedy: Huzzah!
Pork – 4.5 hogs
Brisket – 4 hogs
Sausage – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4.5 Hogs
- As beef prices rise, more and more Texas pitmasters are turning to pork
- Ranucci’s Big Butt BBQ, Grand Champions of the 2013 Q-City BBQ Competition, is hoping to crowdsource a portion of their new food truck
- Thrillist’s list of best barbecue in Atlanta
- The latest Carolina ‘Cue Restaurant featured in Our State Magazine is Bum’s Restaurant in Ayden
- JJ’s Red Hots is having a Bacon Beer & BBQ dinner on April 24 as part of NC Beer Month
— Charlottes got a lot (@Charlottgotalot)April 4, 2014
- Mission BBQ, a military and first responder-focused Baltimore-based chain created by an Under Armour founder, opened earlier this week in Wilmington
- Another (more promising sounding) coastal barbecue restaurant, Southport Smokehouse BBQ, is opening sometime this month:
Natives of Lexington – a town some would argue is North Carolina’s barbecue ground zero – the Hemphills’ restaurant specialized in pork shoulders cooked over hickory logs “imported” from Davidson County. The pits, Elaine Hemphill said, were modeled after those at the famous Lexington Barbecue along Interstate 85 Business.
A trio of restaurateurs, Troy Knight, Jim Sparks and Ryan Salley (who will serve as pitmaster) has taken over the spot and are returning it to its roots. They’ll offer brisket, ribs and pulled pork with both Lexington-style and vinegar sauces cooked over hickory. Salley said he’ll mostly be smoking shoulders, a hallmark of the upstate variety, but would occasionally go whole hog, the more traditional method in the Eastern region.
- Scott’s BBQ is having their annual picnic on April 19 and oh how I wish I could make it back down to Hemingway for it
It’s that time again! Grab your lawn chairs,and come join us! pic.twitter.com/bvwZek7sQp— Rodney Scott (@rodneyscottbbq)April 8, 2014
Name: The Pit Durham
Address: 321 W. Geer St., Durham, NC 27701
Order: Lexington style outside brown, eastern style chopped pork, beef brisket, beef short ribs, corn bread, red slaw, fried okra (link to menu)
Price: $117.64 (for four people, including drinks)
Speedy: Upon finding out that Raleigh favorite The Pit was opening a new restaurant in Durham, I started looking for excuses to check it out, as I’ve had nothing but solid experiences in several trips to The Pit. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the new Pit quite lives up to the standard.
Monk: Although the rating for The Pit in Raleigh isn’t quite up there with our highest rankings, we did have a great time there a few years back and thus I was jealous of Speedy’s trip.
Speedy: Walking in, the atmosphere is more upscale than most barbecue joints, but overall is similar to the Raleigh version. It is a bit more closed off, and our group was seated in a large dining room, which was completely separated from the bar area. Overall, the atmosphere is fine, but it doesn’t scream “barbecue” at all.
The first thing I noticed about the menu is that it is somewhat different than The Pit in downtown Raleigh. Many menu items are the same, but The Pit Durham focuses on more “family style” ordering. Also, The Pit Durham did not have the BBQ soul rolls on the menu, which was a huge disappointment as these BBQ style egg rolls might be my favorite appetizer on Earth. Our group skipped all the appetizers and ordered an assortment of meats, sides, and cornbread.
Monk: No soul rolls?!? For shame!
Speedy: When the meat arrived, we received fairly large portions of our four meats. The menu advises that these are large enough for two people, which is probably about right; however, our group was totally prepared to sacrifice our stomachs (more on that later…) to over-indulge on smoked barbecue delicacies.
My personal favorite meat was the eastern chopped pork, as I found it to be tender with just the right amount of vinegary goodness. The Lexington style pork was fine, but just didn’t hold a candle to the real stuff you get in Lexington. Strangely enough, the rest of my group (who all grew up in Eastern NC) did not think much of the Eastern style but really liked the Lexington style. To me, that really just means that you can find much better versions of either style elsewhere. I remember all of the pork being better at the Raleigh version.
Monk: Funny how that worked out…
Speedy: The brisket, I thought, was pretty good and very similar to the Raleigh version. I’ve definitely had better and as my brisket palate is becoming more refined, I’m starting to learn what great brisket is. This was not great brisket, but it’s also really easy to get horrible brisket, and this certainly isn’t that either. I would probably order this again on a subsequent trip.
As for the short rib, this order was not my idea. For some reason, short rib seems to have become the most “mainstream” of all the traditional barbecue goods, as it can be found on menus of many high end restaurants. I’m not sure I understand why. I get that the meat can be cooked such that it’s super tender, but I don’t think it holds the smoky flavor in as well as some other meats. I’ll personally take pork ribs ten time out of ten when it comes to any type of rib. All that being said, this was a pretty decent version of short rib - it’s just not something I would tend to order at any barbecue joint. So take that into account when you consider my rating - similar to “degree of difficulty” on a gymnastics routine - I’m not sure there could ever be a short rib that would earn five hogs.
Monk: I’ll be honest here, I had to look up what a short rib was. I don’t think I’ve ever had one, unless I still just don’t know what it is.
Speedy: I was a little disappointed in the sides. The hush puppies and fried okra were strong, but the barbecue slaw lacked the necessary tang and was just so-so. The corn bread was kind of bad. It looked like banana bread and just didn’t taste quite right.
Monk: Being that the Durham location of The Pit just opened last November, do you think they could still be working out the kinks any? Or maybe the slight differences in the menus between the two may just mean that Durham won’t ever be quite as good.
Speedy: The issues I had with the food didn’t really seem to have much to do with it being new. The service was fine. It just seemed like the operators made a conscious decision to make The Pit Durham different from The Pit Raleigh. In my opinion, the changes were not for the better.
Overall, I thought the meal was good, but not as good as my experiences at The Pit Raleigh. I will say that starting about three hours later, my stomach was in bad shape for about two days. I think this is likely due to my extreme over-indulgence, and it wouldn’t stop me from a return trip, but I do think it probably has affected my perception, and thus my rating. I had high expectations going in, and was left wanting a little more (in terms of quality - I had eaten plenty of food).
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 2.5 hogs
Eastern Pork – 3.5 hogs
Lexington Outside Brown – 3 hogs
Brisket – 3.5 hogs
Short Ribs – 2.5 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 3 Hogs
The brisket was from Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen from lunch this afternoon, and *spoiler alert* it was fantastic. Review coming next week.
- The NC ‘Cuegrass Festival will take place April 26 in Raleigh outside of The Pit
- The latest update on The Great NC BBQ Map includes the fact that the map will eventually be able for purchase outside of the Kickstarter campaign; sign up on the mailing list to know exactly when
- Restaurateurs from Denver, NC will start selling eastern-style barbecue next month at a stand in downtown Belmont
- An update on the latest barbecue restaurants in the Triangle, including Ed Mitchell’s ‘Que which is set to open April 9
- Could Charlotte’s best barbecue come from a food truck? Restaurant Traffic seems to think so, specifically from Boone’s Bar-B-Que:
— Restaurant Traffic (@RestauranTrafic)March 25, 2014
- BBQ is taking on Fried Chicken while Cheerwine is against Sweet Tea in this Southern Food Bracket (aka Mason-Dixon Madness)
You reallllly don’t want to miss this one. Triple C brought in the big guns with ‘BeerBQ’. It starts with a big ass pork butt smoked and shredded to perfection. Then topped with a Smoked Amber BBQ sauce and finished with battered and deep fried onion pieces. That is all. This one really doesn’t need any further explanation.
Name: Elwoods BBQ & Burger Bar
Address: 16139 Lancaster Hwy, Charlotte, NC 28277
Order: Classic Carolina Pulled Pork plate with cornbread, hush puppies, red slaw, and sweet tea (link to menu)
I never ate at the previous incarnation of Elwood’s Barbecue & Burger Bar (then simply known as Elwood’s BBQ) but from what I can tell I wasn’t missing much. Then last fall it was purchased by a couple of brothers-in-law, one of which was a former manager at Ri-Ra, who then hired a chef who previously worked at Burger Co. As I understand it, they immediately began to overhaul the menu and improve the quality of food.
But before I get to the food, Elwood’s interior is nice and generically rustic with a good array of televisions. With a solid beer list in tow, I imagine this could be a pretty good place to watch a [insert favorite sport here] game. In addition to wings and various burgers on the menu, they have barbecue in various forms - pulled pork, brisket, chicken, ribs, and burnt ends. Naturally, I ordered the pulled pork with hush puppies and red slaw.
The pulled pork came out in a mix of slightly dry and more moist shreds of pork. My order had decent pieces of bark (a welcome sight) that to my surprise had decent smoke. Very unexpected, considering there were no signs of a stick burner in the middle of this restaurant on the end of a strip mall. There were two pork sauces on the table: a “Piedmont” vinegar” sauce (which if we’re nitpicking was really an eastern-style vinegar sauce) and a non-traditional “Elwood’s” sauce that was tomato and vinegar-based with a special blend of spices. Of the two, the Elwood’s sauce worked best with the pork for me.
The menu states that all sides are scratch-made in house, which I can certainly appreciate. The hush puppies automatically came with a side of honey butter, which I am always happy to see. The red slaw had an off-putting brownish tint to it and had a slightly unappealing texture, so I did not finish it. Each plate order comes with cornbread, which was a little redundant with my hush puppies order but it was a nice, sweet-ish little muffin that I didn’t mind.
So Elwood’s Barbecue & Burger Bar exceeded my somewhat (and perhaps unfairly) low expectations going in. If it weren’t all the way in south Ballantyne I could see myself maybe going again in the right circumstances. As it stands, it’s an average barbecue restaurant for Charlotte.
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 3 Hogs