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