The Five Best Barbecue Joints in Charlotte – September 2019

Monk: It’s been over two-and-a-half years since we’ve updated the Charlotte Big Board and as you might expect, there’s been a lot of changes in that time. Longtime readers may recall that finding the best barbecue restaurant in Charlotte was the mission statement when we first started this blog, so we certainly take this seriously. Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen (our previous #2) has rebranded as Gibson’s Family BBQ and is a shadow of its former self and fell way out of the top 5. Midwood Smokeshack (previously our #4) closed back in December of 2017 after unfortunately failing to find its footing in Matthews though thankfully pitmaster Michael Wagner is still lending his Texas expertise to the broader Midwood Smokehouse franchise. One thing that has not changed is that Jon G’s BBQ continues to hold down the top spot and always knocks it out of the park every time I am able to try them.

Starting last December, I believe we have entered a new phase in Charlotte barbecue that signals an upswing. That’s when Sweet Lew’s BBQ opened and hit the ground running out of their converted service station in the Belmont neighborhood just outside of uptown. And then of course, Noble Smoke finally opened a little over two months ago off of Freedom Drive and raised the bar even higher with their destination barbecue joint that is the cornerstone of the “Noble Smoke Campus” that will include Bossy Beulah’s Chicken Shack (also from Chef Noble) and the Suffolk Punch Blendery, their second location that will focus on Belgian lambics.

If Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque continues to pursue a Charlotte location (fingers crossed), that would certainly elevate the scene to a whole new level with his traditional whole hog barbecue (something currently missing from Charlotte), brisket, and hash. And who knows, perhaps a restaurant from a currently unknown contender is in the works and can come out of nowhere to challenge for the (queen’s) crown.

There’s no reason why Charlotte can’t mirror the barbecue scenes of Charleston or even Houston, each for different reasons. Charleston got an infusion of outside talent in the past few years in Rodney Scott’s BBQ, Lewis Barbecue, and Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in addition to the expansion of homegrown local chains in Swig & Swine and Home Team BBQ. As Charleston-based food writer/historian Robert Moss has recently noted, the Charleston barbecue scene in the past five years has gone from “minor outpost to acclaimed destination.” Seems like Charlotte is always playing second (or even third fiddle) when it comes to the Charleston food scene and in this case, its no different for barbecue. While that may be too much for fine dining, there’s no reason why Charlotte can’t match or better Charleston in barbecue.

From afar, the Houston barbecue scene is a little more homegrown but has proven that a barbecue scene can sizzle even in an urban setting (the Houston metro area is nearly 3 times larger than Charlotte). But even in that spread-out urban setting, the barbecue community seems tight knight and the competition appears to be mostly friendly (again, this is from afar as I haven’t had the opportunity to visit Houston yet). When I spoke with Matthew Berry and Michael Wagner from Midwood Smokehouse earlier this year, they cited the lack of community in Charlotte’s barbecue scene as an area for opportunity. Perhaps until that improves, Charlotte can’t become a true destination for barbecue.

For #6-43, check out the Charlotte Big Board here.

And now, on to the only Charlotte barbecue list that matters…

Honorable Mentions: The Smoke Pit, Buddy’s Bar-B-Que

5. Bill Spoon’s Barbecue (review)

The one truly old school NC barbecue joint on this list, Bill Spoon’s has been around since 1963 on what was then a country road south of Charlotte. Charlotte has a bad habit of losing what few institutions it has, whether due to neglect or development, but let’s hope that Bill Spoon’s doesn’t fall victim to that trend because they are still making some fine eastern NC barbecue.

4. Midwood Smokehouse (review)

While somehow our last official review was in 2015 (I plan to remedy this in the coming months), Midwood Smokehouse is still a regular stop for the Monk family and seemingly most of Charlotte, as it has expanded to 4 locations in the greater Charlotte area (as well as one down in Columbia, SC). Not to mention that it’s the go-to spot for any celebrities or figures of note that come into town; President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bill Murray, Justin Timberlake have all been patrons of Midwood in recent years. Regardless, I will continue to give credit to Frank Scibelli for bringing wood-smoked barbecue back to Charlotte in 2012, saving us from the gassers and faux ‘cue that had plagued the city for decades.

3. Sweet Lew’s BBQ (review)

Sweet Lew’s BBQ was recently named to Thrillist’s 33 Top Barbecue Restaurants in the US and Garden & Gun’s Best New Southern Barbecue Joints, and it couldn’t be more deserved for Lewis Donald (the “Lew” in “Sweet Lew’s”) and partner Laura Grice. The menu has been described as “unfussy” and that’s precisely the right adjective for this barbecue shack located in an old service station in the working-class neighborhood of Belmont.

But in addition to the worthy smoked meats and homemade sides (including the only hash and rice I’m aware of in the Piedmont of NC), I’d like to give props to their work in the neighborhood where Donald donates his time and food for block parties and even recently partnered with a local barber shop to give kids free back-to-school haircuts. Now that’s the type of barbecue joint that should be in every neighborhood.

2. Noble Smoke (review)

You may be a bit sick of reading about Noble Smoke on this blog lately, but it has truly given Charlotte a destination barbecue restaurant and raised the bar for the city’s barbecue. Let’s hope others follow suit. Read more from our review here.

1. Jon G’s Barbecue (review)

Jon G’s Barbecue has topped our Charlotte Big Board for 2+ years now, and doesn’t appear to be to be losing the crown anytime soon now that Garren Kirkman (the firekeeper behind Jon G’s) is no longer working full time and is fully in the barbecue game. For that, the greater Charlotte area should be thankful even though it’d be hard to imagine his Central Texas-style brisket getting too much better (in addition to his other meats and scratch made sides). I predict more big things to come from him and his wife Kelly. For any serious Charlotte barbecue fan: SEEK OUT JON G’S BARBECUE.

5 thoughts on “The Five Best Barbecue Joints in Charlotte – September 2019

  1. I have yet to dine at Noble Smoke, so my ability to judge their barbecue on taste is yet to be determined. However, a friend of mine has dined there and upon looking at his food pictures on social media, I quickly noticed the pork was served pre-sauced by the kitchen. Strike three, right? I mean, unless you’re bucking for free meals, I can’t see how you could rate a NC bbq joint that highly, when the restaurant decides for you the pork needs sauce.

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    • Doesn’t seem as if you are too familiar with both styles of NC barbecue. Lexington-style barbecue comes with a thin vinegar and ketchup dressing in the meat. That is the style served at Noble Smoke, so it’s no surprise that it comes “pre-sauced.” Similarly, eastern NC whole hog comes dressed with a vinegar pepper sauce.

      May want to understand the full context before you criticize me or accuse me of “bucking for free meals.”

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  2. Having eaten at more than 600 different bbq joints in the U.S., including more than 125 places across North Carolina, I’d say I’m fairly educated on the regional barbecue of your State. Yes, I’ve tasted a small amount of sauce on the pork at some Lexington-style restaurants, but this certainly isn’t a practice at a majority of places in that region. Heck, I’ve stood in the kitchen at Skylight Inn and watched them chop and plate pork straight from the butcher block. No sauce there. The amount of sauce on the Noble Smoke pork was more than noticeable in the photo. Sorry, if you pride yourself on quality whole-hog smoking, why decide for me the meat needs to be flavored with vinegar, ketchup, etc…? That said, I haven’t tried all the Charlotte businesses on your list and look forward to doing so.

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    • Well then, as someone who has been to so many places in NC, I’m surprised that you aren’t aware of the very common practice of folding sauce into the chop in all Lexington-style joints across the Piedmont (giving the barbecue a reddish tint) as well as eastern places like Skylight Inn providing the acidity from the vinegar-pepper sauce already mixed in with the pork. Heck it’s even included in the whole hog recipe Sam Jones’s cookbook.

      Also, Noble Smoke doesn’t smoke whole hog – they smoke shoulders as is tradition for Lexington-style joints. Did you even read the post? Or perhaps you just aren’t paying attention and/or just trolling me.

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      • Troll you? Now that’s funny. I didn’t learn of your blog until the other day, so I look forward to checking it out and comparing notes on places we’ve both visited. There are more than a few places in NC I’d rate as mediocre or below, and I’m brutally honest with my reviews. Hope you are too.
        My info on Noble Smoke didn’t come from your blog. If you read what I wrote is that I understand some joints add sauce to the pork. Next time I’m down that way I’ll be sure to ask at my favorite places in the Piedmont as to whether they adhere to this practice or not. Certainly didn’t taste sauce on the coarse-chopped pork I’ve eaten at Clark’s and don’t remember it at Speedy’s. If they do add sauce it was a very small amount. As for Jones and Skylight Inn, I stood there watching it going from butcher block, to plate, to window. They didn’t sauce what I ate there. Like I said, I’ll ask next time I stop around Lexington.

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