Legitimate Eastern North Carolina Barbecue in Portland? Maine?

Name: Wilson County Barbecue
Date: 6/3/23
Address: 82 Hanover St Suite 8, Portland, ME 04101
Order: Two barbecue plates, one full rack of ribs plate, order of wings, pork belly burnt ends with collards, beans, mac and cheese, slaw, hush puppies, order of biscuits, fries (link)
Pricing: $$

Rudy: It’s been a while since all three Barbecue Bros had been together and been able to do a review together. But more importantly, it had been so long since I have had decent barbecue. Since moving to western Michigan, the opportunities are limited to say the least. So of course the place that we needed to go to try true authentic North Carolina barbecue was…Maine?

Monk: Despite its Maine locale, Wilson County Barbecue does have some barbecue bonafides. It’s been loved by both John Shelton Reed and friend of the blog John Tanner and has been certified as a True Cue joint meaning it smokes over wood with no gas or electric assistance, as evidenced by the sticker in the front door. Owner/operator Spencer Brantley’s family originally hails from Wilson County, NC (hence the name) and they’ve even got a “Grady’s passed-down sauce” dressing their whole hog barbecue (from the legendary Grady’s Barbecue joint in Dudley). 

And did I mention that they smoke whole hogs over direct heat in a pig cooker from BQ Grills from Elm City, NC? Throw in the “Hot Biscuits Now” fluorescent sign apparently created by the same guy who does the Krispy Kreme “Hot N Now” signs for good measure, and these North Carolina boys definitely had to check this place out during our most recent annual trip for sure.

Speedy: At Wilson County Barbecue, you order at the counter and are given a number which is called when the food is ready. Our large group was fairly unorganized, so approached the counter without knowing our order – apparently a big no-no. We were asked to go sit at a table and figure out our order and come back despite being the only customers who had yet to order. The staff was polite, but it felt a little like a Seinfeld episode (no whole hog for you!). Anyway, after organizing ourselves, we put in an order to include whole hog, ribs, pork belly burnt ends, and sides, along with some wings. We walked to the counter to grab our food and were ready to dig in. 

Rudy: The whole hog was the best option of all the foods we had, in my opinion. Again, because it had been some time since I had enjoyed good pulled pork, I had to confirm with others that I wasn’t hyping it up more than it deserved. The thing that I loved about it was that it was true eastern North Carolina whole hog. It had the vinegar sauce mixed in, which gave it a great tangy flavor that didn’t overwhelm the meat, and allowed the smoke flavor to come through. After everyone took a sampling, I made sure I finished off the leftovers.

Monk: As Rudy and Speedy are well aware, the camera eats first and while I was taking snaps of the food I thought to myself just how unphotogenic pork can be. Luckily, looks don’t really matter all that much when the whole hog is as authentically eastern NC as it is here.

Speedy: Agree with everything said above. The whole hog was the star of the show. The ribs had good flavor but were a bit over cooked, as the meat slid totally off the bone and was a little mushy for me. Several in our party (aka those WITHOUT barbecue blogs) love the “fall off the bone ribs” so everyone’s mileage may vary. Still, seasoning and sauce was on point, so props to Wilson County on the flavor.

Rudy: I liked the flavor of the ribs and agreed with the overcooked part, but my other complaint was the amount of sauce on them. I think it is a personal preference, so I wouldn’t dock them too many points, but sometimes I feel like the sauce is overcompensating a bit for the cook. The part of the meal that I liked the most (other than the pork) was the pork belly burnt ends. Great flavor and very tender, the fat was rendered perfectly. There weren’t many to go around to our big group, so the one that I got, I really enjoyed.

Speedy: The pork belly burnt ends were very good. Saucy, tender, and with just the right amount of bark. Besides the whole hog, this was probably my favorite part of the meal.

Monk: Carbs-wise, the hush puppies and biscuits were a highlight, both fresh and on point from a texture perspective. I found the beans, mac and cheese, and slaw to be standard and the collards in need of a little more vinegar. Nothing egregious, but the bread options were my favorite part of the meal. 

Rudy: I know that several people in our group didn’t care for the sides and thought they were bland, but the bite of greens that I had were good. Maybe they weren’t consistent for people that had more than the one bite that I had, but I didn’t mind it. If a barbecue restaurant is going to be lacking in anything, I am ok with them lacking on sides as opposed to meat.

Before we left, Monk introduced himself to the manager. It was more of a “nice to meet you” instead of a “do you know who I am?” but either way, he offered to let our group try a couple of the desserts for free.  Even though we were given them for free, I will not let that impact my review. I cannot be bribed with free food (although I welcome any restaurant to try)! We had both the key lime pie and the banana pudding. The key lime pie was really good and had a great graham cracker crust. I was looking forward to the banana pudding most and was slightly disappointed. The flavor was great but the pudding had not fully set and was soupy.  I think it could have been as good as the key lime pie, if not better, but the pudding was too runny for me.

Monk: Shout out to Dickie for the desserts and to reiterate, while they were good and we appreciated the gesture they did not affect our review or ratings. 

It’s always a big occasion when all three Barbecue Bros founding members are in the same place for a barbecue review. Thankfully, in Portland, Maine of all places, Wilson County Barbecue’s whole hog lived up to the hype. That barbecue would comfortably sit in the upper tiers of any eastern NC whole hog rankings and I’m glad we were able to visit shortly after the 11th anniversary of this blog.

Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3.5 hogs
Pork (whole hog) – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 3 hogs
Pork Belly Burnt Ends – 4 hogs
Wings – 3 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs

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