Vote Now: Best Barbecue in the Charlotte area?

For the first time in the Observer Tournament of Food’s six-year history, we’ve seeded the bracket completely randomly.

Why? Because we’re doing barbecue, and when you’re talking ’cue, all logical divisions – and all bets – are off.

“Barbecue” – as one reader chided me, it’s “Yankee” to specify pulled pork – brings out people’s passionate preferences more than any other single foodstuff I’ve written about. More than fried chicken, more than mac ’n cheese, more than Mom’s apple pie. That’s due to two powerful points, I’ve come to believe:

1. What you grew up with matters. If you got used to crushed-red-pepper-flecked-vinegar sauce on whole-hog ’cue, that’s the only thing that feels true. If you grew up with a sweeter red sauce on coarse-chopped shoulder meat, that’s what’s right, and everyone and everything else is wrong. Vehemently wrong. Peruse my blog posts about ’cue and you find one place’s product called ambrosial and slop by consecutive commenters. “I wouldn’t feed that trash to feral hogs” is one of my favorite slams, while “the only ’cue in Charlotte worth discussing” has been said (or written) to me about an astonishing number of very different restaurants.

2. The fact that barbecue pit-cooked over wood is a dwindling method matters. Traditionalists insist this is the only way to do it, and that’s one reason Michelle Obama was so roundly scoffed at when she said Charlotte had great barbecue. (Some folks mistakenly think it’s illegal now to cook over only wood in these parts; it’s not illegal but safety restrictions make it a more expensive method than most are willing to pursue. And even when they are, the price of wood and labor and maintenance are noteworthy.)

The local Charlotte paper is doing a barbecue bracket, and a few Barbecue Bros faves are in the running. Read about all 16 contestants here and vote now!

Vote Now: Best Barbecue in the Charlotte area?

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