The True ‘Cue Newsletter is no more for a variety of reasons, but we are happy to announce that we will help spread any future True ‘Cue news from them received via press releases.
In the final issue of the newsletter, John Shelton Reed did have some nice news to share: In parting, there is some Campaign news to report. Our latest branch, joining those in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Kentucky, will cover Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. It is in the capable hands of John Tanner. We wish him well and look forward to hearing where one can get Real Barbecue in and near our nation’s capital.
An update on Bryan Furman’s plans for the Atlanta B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque
Mr. Barbecue in Winston-Salem had a pit fire last week, caused by embers, but they vow to return
Midwood Smokehouse has them some new fancy sandwiches
Stephen Colbertis at it again: “I love everything about North Carolina other than that damn vinegar stuff that y’all put on the barbecue.”
As usual, Kathleen Purvis puts it all in perspective:
Each year for the past four, order/fire, a Charlotte-based culinary web series, and Free Range Brewing have collaborated on an annual pig pickin’ and viewing of the latest episode of the web series. You may recall two years ago they featured Sam Jones from Skylight Inn/Sam Jones BBQ. While I missed last year’s edition, this year they featured Lewis Donald from Sweet Lew’s BBQ, with all proceeds going towards a great cause, the Community Culinary School of Charlotte, a non-profit that provides workforce training and job placement assistance in the food service industry for adults who face barriers to successful employment. Definitely a great cause, and one in-line with some of the values of Sweet Lew’s more on that in a bit).
The location is the same, but the surroundings are completely different, with apartments now surrounding the Free Range Brewing building whereas it was an empty lot just two years ago. Because of the potential for inclement weather Saturday night, Lewis and order/fire host Marc Jacksina opted to utilize the covered Sweet Lew’s smokehouse for the majority of smoking before relocating to the brewery Sunday morning.
As I arrived shortly after doors opened, Lewis and his two sons were beginning to pull from the pig and before long the sound of chopping filled the back patio. Speaking of the pig, Beeler’s Pure Pork (who supplies pork shoulders for Sweet Lew’s BBQ) had graciously donated a 95 lb pig for the event, which allowed more of the funds to go to the Community Culinary School of Charlotte. Duke’s Bread donated the rolls, again allowing more of the funds to go to CCSC.
Lunch was served before the first showing, and with a suggested donation of $10 per plate everyone got a full plate of chopped pork and a roll, with sides of slaw, mac and cheese, and baked beans and a cookie. In a nice bit of synergy, the sides were actually prepared by the CCSC. Lewis was also walking around handing out slices of brisket as long as it lasted. With bellies full, it was time for the first screening of the episode.
Free Range Brewing co-owner Jeff Alexander, order/fire host Chef Marc Jacksina, director Peter Taylor, and Lewis Donald took the stage for some quick words before the episode airing. In speaking with Lewis over the past few months, I’ve gotten a good sense of his vision for Sweet Lew’s BBQ – to be a community restaurant that is fully integrated with the Belmont neighborhood – but this episode really fleshed it out so much more through the conversation between Lewis and Marc. It’s hard to believe its only been about 5 months now, but Lewis clearly loves being in the Belmont neighborhood and was putting in work to build ties with neighbors starting with the construction of the restaurant last fall. And he’s got more great ideas for the coming months, from his continued practice of hiring teens from the neighborhood to a back-to-school carnival with free haircuts for kids next August. My social work wife was just eating up the backstory and vision, and for good reason because it’s something you don’t always see from a restaurant.
But the conversation also revealed more of Lewis as a person, from his background growing up in Cleveland, OH to his path in the food industry over the past 20 years, with stops in California, Hawaii, West Virginia, and ultimately Charlotte. Lewis has just about seen it all in the types of roles he’s had, from fast food, country clubs, fine dining, and corporate positions. Lewis is a guy who self-admittedly doesn’t talk a lot, but I was glad Marc was able to get quite a bit out of him in their discussion. Great stuff, and I’ll be sure to post the episode once its available online because it’s one you don’t want to miss.
Finally, a note on Free Range Brewing. I love what they have continued to do since they began operation. They actively promote a family-friendly atmosphere in which they want the NoDa community to gather. In addition to the annual pig pickin’, they host the other viewings of order/fire episodes as well as partner with local farmers and artists. If you live in Charlotte and haven’t been yet, I urge you to check them out well before next year’s pig pickin’.
In this conversation, Dave Chang focuses on how Franklin has become a shokunin, or master craftsman, for barbecue. In addition to the usual barbecue talk, Chang also asks Franklin a lot of questions about the hospitality that Franklin shows everyone that comes to Franklin Barbecue and how hard it was for him to step away from being in the restaurant almost 22 hours day.
In 2009, when Aaron Franklin and his wife, Stacy, opened up a barbecue trailer on the side of a highway in Austin, Texas, they had no idea it would snowball into one of the most popular barbecue restaurants in the nation. But Franklin Barbecue wouldn’t have become what it is without Aaron’s unwavering commitment to hard work and dedication. A decade removed from the Austin institution’s humble beginnings, Dave speaks with the world-class pitmaster from the Uber Eats House during SXSW about transfusing love and care into cooking, making an intentional effort to maintain work-life balance, and growing the restaurant through failure.
Albemarle, NC has their own branch of the NC barbecue family tree via the Galloway family who have opened three barbecue restaurants over he years in the small town: Log Cabin, Whispering Pines, and Darrell’s Bar-B-Que in nearby Rockwell
Hogs for the Cause is not just a regular barbecue festival
However, in the years since we haven’t heard much from Johnny; his site Barbecue Rankings hasn’t consistently been updated since 2016 and his Twitter since 2017. I recently wondered the reasons behind the hiatus of sorts, so I reached out to him for an interview to see what he’s been up to lately. Big thanks to Johnny for his time and thoughtful answers as well as the use of some of his photos from the big trip.
So last time we caught up during your yearlong barbecue odyssey I believe you were based in St. Louis. Where are you now and what have you been up to for the past few years? Missouri is home, but I haven’t been there much the last few years. I’m in the Navy Reserves and that brought me to the Middle East in early 2016 for what was supposed to be a year. Three years later I’m still here. I agreed to extend and support so it wasn’t as if I was forced into anything. I’m not here for too much longer, however, as I’ll return to the States this summer. Obviously friends and family are the main thing one misses when away, but it’ll also be great to get back to the regular, American patterns of life. Among other things, I miss watching sports and sharing that experience with a community, the ease of American life and, as you can imagine, foods. Barbecue is at the top of that list, but Mexican food and Chick-Fil-A are up there too. I also just miss the ritual and shared experiences of big meals with loved ones – the prep work in the kitchen, passing plates around the table and the simple laughs over a meal.
You mentioned you had been focusing on freelancing more recently. What type of work have you been doing? I started freelancing when I kicked off the book project in 2013. Once the book came out I wrote and edited full-time for a couple years and really enjoyed it, even though it isn’t the easiest way to make a living. I loved meeting a variety of people, the flexibility of the work and being my own boss. Unfortunately I have had little opportunity to keep that up over the last three years as you can tell by my outdated Barbecue Rankings site. Nevertheless, I still write and edit just a little bit for some St. Louis-based outlets. It’s actually quite therapeutic for me as it helps take me home mentally for a few hours and offers an escape. I’ve written a little bit about some of my international travels while on leave and covered a few things where a local presence is not required.
Are you still eating barbecue much and if so, how often? And are you still as skinny as ever? I don’t think I’ll ever match the pace or amount of barbecue I ate on my tour for the book. With that said, my barbecue consumption is definitely at a low point now, not by choice but simply by my surroundings. First, on occasions when the galley serves something akin to barbecue (often baked or steamed), let’s just say I go with another entree. Locally, pork isn’t easy to find in the Middle East and I don’t have a smoker or even charcoal grill with which to work. Options are not great. I am still pretty lanky. An active lifestyle is a big part of that now.
What’s the best barbecue you’ve had recently? It’s been a while. I was able to spend four days in Missouri last May – just enough time to see family for a couple days, watch the Cardinals play at Busch Stadium and get some City Butcher in Springfield, Missouri. Some restaurants drop off over time for a variety of reasons – over-expansion, cost cutting, pitmaster departures, for example – but I think City Butcher is only getting better and it was already one of my favorite places years ago when I did my book tour and they had just opened. I look forward to a barbecue binge this summer when I get home.
Any plans to get back into barbecue game in some aspect? No chance there’s going to be a second book, right? I certainly hope to reintegrate into the barbecue community upon my return home. Maybe I’ll do some freelance work covering barbecue restaurants, maybe join a competition team sometime down the road, maybe do a little more restaurant consulting, who knows? I don’t know exactly how that will look, but I miss it. I miss the food, but also the community. You can meet some incredibly kind, interesting, gracious, hard-working people in the barbecue world. I certainly hope to write more books, but I don’t know that I’ll ever get to embark upon a year-long road trip around America again.
Anything else? I’m glad you guys are so dedicated to Barbecue Bros. We started around the same time with, I believe, some shared values and goals – provide a local voice in barbecue to share news, give honest opinions, build community and explore something we love.
Lolis Elie, a food writer and critic who wrote the barbecue road trip book Smokestack Lightning, joins David Chang on his podcast for a wide-ranging conversation on food and identity, only a short portion of which discusses barbecue. It’s a good conversation between Chang (who is really coming into his own as a podcaster) and the ever-thoughtful Elie.
People have subjective definitions when it comes to quality, and food is no exception. To compare one genre of food to another often requires nuance and context, making the whole endeavor that much more difficult. Dave speaks to writer and food critic Lolis Elie about how to evaluate food with care and respect.
Name: Gibson’s Family BBQ Date: 3/29/19 Order: Pulled pork sandwich and brisket (link to menu) Pricing: $$
Monk: Last fall, I received word that Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen, who at one point was our favorite barbecue in Charlotte, had closed (at least according to their page on Yelp). I reached out via Facebook (though their page had not been updated since the summer) but never received any word. As reader “John” pointed out in the comments a few weeks back, Boone’s had rebranded as Gibson’s Family BBQ, presumably with Dan “Boone” Gibson still involved.
In the years since we had initially named Boone’s our Charlotte #1 back in 2014, a lot has changed in the world of Charlotte barbecue. Having been a few years since I had tried them, how would Boone’s/Gibson’s stack up? They’ve been making the rounds at the local breweries lately, so this past Friday I got a chance to try them at Pilot Brewing, a small brewery that recently opened in Plaza Midwood.
Things appear to be status quo between Gibson’s as it was with Boone’s. The menu has the same items, all of the sauces have the same packaging, and the food truck even still has the branding of Boone’s. At this stop, however, Boone himself wasn’t there, though that may or may not be significant if he was back at their commissary kitchen in Southend. Everything felt very familiar up to this point.
That mostly includes the food itself. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich and brisket with no sides. I imagine Boone is still smoking on a Southern Pride gasser, which he was always able to coax some good smokey cue out of. On this day, I could taste the smoke but the pulled pork itself was quite dry as if it had possibly been reheated. Eaten on the humongous brioche roll, it was a big mouthful of dryness even after adding the slaw and their eastern vinegar sauce. I’ll chalk it up to an off day unless that’s the case next time.
On the other hand, the brisket slices definitely could not be accused of being dry. Upon opening the box, I was reminded how Boone’s brisket bears very little resemblance to just about all brisket out there. The brisket slices are finished on a grill and then doused in their sweeter PoPo’s sauce. It’s not a bad bite of barbecue, but just don’t expect anything in the Central Texas tradition as this preparation is unique to Boone.
I had removed Boone’s from the Charlotte Big Board a few months back when I believed they had closed. Of course I’ll be adding it back now that I’ve tried Gibson’s, but it won’t be anywhere near the top of the leader board. Charlotte barbecue, and perhaps more specifically my tastes, has evolved in the past 6 years and as a result, Gibson’s Family BBQ no longer stands out like Boone’s once did.
More content from Charleston Wine and Food Festival from the Tales from the Pits guys. A lot of familiar ground on Rodney Scott, with a little more focus on his recent expansion to Birmingham and any potential future expansion plans he has. Lots more podcasts to come from Tales from the Pits from the festival.
Rodney Scott grew up cooking whole hogs at his family’s general store in the small town of Hemingway, South Carolina. The tradition of hogs cooked under the direct heat of coals burned down from wood splits was the way Rodney learned to cook and still utilizes today.
As food media began to take notice of the whole hog traditions being carried on by Rodney, Hemingway would see an increase in tourists coming to try he and his family’s barbecue. Over the course of time Rodney would meet and become friends with Nick Pihakis, who encouraged Rodney to come to Charleston to open his own place. Rodney Scott’s BBQ opened in 2016 to huge success and acclaim. The city of Charleston embraced his barbecue traditions and in 2018 he became only the second pitmaster to win an acclaimed James Beard chef award.
Rodney and the Pihakis Restaurant Group continue to grow the Rodney Scott’s BBQ brand and spread more whole hog greatness across the country, the latest installment being the opening in early 2019 of a new location in Birmingham, Alabama.
“By cutting costs of operation, our long tradition of serving great eastern North Carolina barbecue and good food will be resumed quickly,” he says, adding, “I hope all our loyal customers will return when our doors are open again.”
Robert Moss on the reader-voted South’s 10 Best Barbecue Joints; Southern Soul BBQ in St. Simon’s Island in Georgia again takes the top spot