Recap: Smoke & Grapes at the Charlotte Wine & Food Festival featuring Jon G’s Barbecue

Monk: This past Sunday, the closing event of Charlotte Wine & Food was a “Smoke & Grapes” event with Jon G’s Barbecue from Peachland paired with some beautiful wines from Andis Wines from the Sierra Foothills of California. Mrs. Monk and I were fortunate enough to be invited to it by friends of the blog Ariail and Andrew Barker.

After a cocktail hour with their Cheerwine hot link and an amazing beef rib croissant (wine pairing: 2021 Andis Sauvignon Blanc and 2019 Andis Cabernet Franc), we were treated to a three course meal of a good bit of their menu (all paired with some beautiful reds from Andis, of course). The first course was of course brisket served along with slaw, jalapeño cheddar grits, and beans. The brisket was a Jon G’s brisket, enough said. Wine pairing: 2020 Painted Fields Curse of Knowledge (Bordeaux Blend)

Second course was their ribs served with mac and cheese, Mexican street corn, and their amazing brisket fried rice. Mrs. Monk was most excited about three brisket fried rice but the spares were as good as ever. Wine pairing: 2019 Painted Fields Old Vine Zinfandel

The dessert course (not pictured) was an Oreo dirt pudding and Nutter Butter Pie and finished off the filling meal simply but nicely. Wine pairing: 2019 Andis Petite Sirah

For folks who haven’t previously had the pleasure, this was a nice way to try Garren and Kelli’s self-described “comfort food” without having to wait in line at Peachland or a food truck service. Speaking of waiting in line, one of the prized live auction items was a Golden Ticket to skip the line at the Peachland Store. It went for $900, if I’m not mistaken. I should also mention that a percentage of proceeds went to a handful of charities in Charlotte that help underprivileged kids.

For those of us fortunate enough to have have it previously, the consistency of all of the food should be noted. Everything tasted just as it always does, which is exceptional.

All in all, a fantastic event featuring great wines from a family-owned winery as well the amazing barbecue of a family-owned barbecue restaurant.

Why the Carolina BBQ Festival Could be a Game Changer for #CLTBBQ

This May at Camp North End in Charlotte, Lewis Donald of Sweet Lew’s BBQ will be having a celebration of pork barbecue (or, just “barbecue” for those of us from NC) and we’re all invited. In addition to a fun looking event, this year’s inaugural Carolina BBQ Festival also has a chance to help put Charlotte on the barbecue map. It will be the first barbecue festival in Charlotte for quite a few years, it will bring together some of the best pitmasters in the southeast, and it will also spotlight the still growing Charlotte barbecue scene.

It’s been almost 8 years since Charlotte hosted a true barbecue festival. Part barbecue-competition, part street festival, the Q City Championship ran for a few years in uptown Charlotte during the fall and was initially sanctioned by the Memphis Barbecue Network before switching over to the short-lived NC BBQ Association for its last iteration in 2014. It closed off the streets of uptown Charlotte for competition teams to waft smoke all over uptown but since you couldn’t taste the teams’ barbecue it didn’t feel dissimilar to the annual Taste of Charlotte or Speed Street festivals.

Looking down South Tryon Street during the Q City Championship in 2014

The Carolina BBQ Festival, on the other hand, looks to be a whole different animal. First off, its focus is strictly on pork instead of the multiple proteins needed for a competition turn-in box. Patrons will be able to enjoy beer, wine, and cocktails with a background of funk, soul, and bluegrass but the focus of the festival will be celebrating the different styles of barbecue throughout the Carolinas – East, South, and West (or Piedmont or Lexington-style).

Not to mention the proceeds from the festival will go to three charities: the Piedmont Culinary Guild, Operation BBQ Relief, and World Central Kitchen.

Charlotte has hosted some great pitmasters over the years in infrequent, one-off events – Sam Jones at Midwood Smokehouse and the Free Range Pig Pickin’ and Ed Mitchell at Midwood Smokehouse come to mind – but the Carolina BBQ Festival is bringing together 6 acclaimed pitmasters with roots in North and South Carolina.

Charlotte-raised Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue and Tay Nelson of Bobby’s BBQ will represent the Palmetto state, smoking a whole hog and dressing it with a mustard-based sauce. Bryan Furman is looking for his next opportunity in Atlanta after the unfortunate burning down of his second restaurant some years ago but has been recently doing pop-ups in the Atlanta area. Tay Nelson has found success in Fountain Inn, SC (just outside of Greenville) after he famously opened up Bobby’s BBQ after doing extensive research on YouTube.

Nathan Monk, third generation owner of Lexington Barbecue, and Elliot Moss of Buxton Hall Barbecue in Asheville will represent the West, cooking Piedmont or Lexington-style shoulders. Loyal readers know this blog’s thoughts on Lexington Barbecue, and it will be fascinating to see Moss’ influence on Lexington-style barbecue where his focus has primarily been Pee Dee-style whole hog and brisket at his restaurant in Asheville.

Matthew Register of the fantastic Southern Smoke and Brandon Shepard of Shepard Barbecue in Emerald Isle will handle the eastern NC vinegar-pepper duties. I was a big fan of Southern Smoke when I visited in Summer 2020 and hope to be able to catch up with Matthew again while he’s in town. I haven’t yet had the chance to try Shepard Barbecue but between this and the Pinehurst Barbecue Festival, he’s got a busy summer coming up.

And Ronald Simmons of Master Blend Family Farms in Kenansville, NC will be providing all hogs and pork for the festival. He himself has been getting into barbecue after being a recipient of the Kingsford “Preserve the Pit” Fellowship in 2021.

Charlotte may not have experienced the same barbecue boom that Raleigh did (even if the ended up being to a lesser degree than expected due to the pandemic), but in Sweet Lew’s BBQ and Jon G’s Barbecue we have two places to be proud of when it comes to #cltbbq. Lewis and Garren and Kelly Kirkman won’t be cooking for the main festival; instead they are cooking for a VIP brunch the morning of the festival. While they’ve each gotten great media coverage up to this point, this event will surely open them up to new and different circles of influence in the southeastern food and barbecue scene.

Then there’s the fact of Charlotte hosting such an event in the first place. While anyone who pays attention to barbecue may not bat an eye at such a celebration of barbecue, it reminds me of something more along the lines of an event at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival or any number of similar events in Texas like the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival. These type of events don’t seem to happen in Charlotte. Not to get ahead of myself, but let’s hope this festival becomes a mainstay of the Charlotte food scene for years to come.

The inaugural Carolina BBQ Festival has a chance to put Charlotte barbecue on the map through its first-of-its-kind festival for Charlotte, its collection of talented pitmasters from the southeast, and its spotlight of the current Charlotte barbecue scene. The slogan of the festival is ‘Divided By Sauce, United By Coals’ and in that spirit I hope Charlotte shows out in unity for what is sure to be a fantastic afternoon of barbecue. I hope to see you there.

The Carolina Barbecue Festival takes place Sunday, May 21st from 12-4 at Camp North End in Charlotte. More information and tickets available on their website.

Monk’s Favorite Barbecue of 2021

Monk: While my hunch is that I had roughly as much barbecue as last year, I suspect the ratio of mediocre barbecue to great barbecue was higher than in past years. There’s always highlights to pick out, but let’s hope next year is a more favorable ratio.

In alphabetical order:

Jon G’s remains the gold standard for the Charlotte area. And it seems that the rest of the southeast is starting to catch on with Eater Carolinas naming them “Barbecue Restaurant of the Year” and Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn raving about them in an article from mid 2021. The future for Garren and Kelly remain bright.

Chopped pork sandwich from Noble Smoke – Charlotte, NC

Some of the meats at Noble Smoke can be a little hit or miss for me, but the Lexington-style chopped barbecue sandwich is ever reliable.

Speedy has said he often thinks the ribs at Peg Leg Porker are the best in the state of Tennessee, and who am I to argue? The full wings are also a must-order.

Randy’s ribs are a sub-regional variety with a sauce that I understand is found primarily in the Savannah area. It expanded my framework as to what barbecue is in different parts of the US.

Life-changing whole hog. So far I’ve only made it to Sam Jones’ outpost in Raleigh but I can’t wait to try this same tray at Skylight Inn this spring.

Sausage, wings, hash and rice, ribs, brisket, and turkey from Sweet Lew’s BBQ – Charlotte, NC (link to post)

Between the house-made sausage, the barbecue hash, and Lewis Donald’s ever-constant tweaking of his main meats, Sweet Lew’s continues to evolve, and I’m here for the the journey.

It’s a shame that Whispering Pines was takeout only but I’ll make the hour drive to Albemarle again I’m sure. Great Lexington-style barbecue.

Charlotte Barbecue News from the Fourth Quarter of 2021

Monk: We enter the new year with cautious optimism, both on the real world as well as barbecue world fronts. My hope for 2022 is that we can regain any Charlotte barbecue momentum that has largely been on pause for the past two years and see some new players enter the game.

Bring it on, 2022.

October

10/12 At Mac’s Speed Shop, beef ribs and bacon-wrapped jalapenos are two of the prep-intensive items that are being taken off the menu for now

10/21 Jon G’s was featured in the Fall 2021 Issue of QC Exclusive

10/28 Lewis Donald and Sweet Lew’s BBQ raised funds to help the family of a young girl who tragically took her own life at the age of 11

November

11/8 Mac’s Speed Shop is closing its Cornelius restaurant but opening a new one in Mooresville

11/8 A new live-fire cooking restaurant called Cinder is opening in Charlotte from Husk veteran Duke Kroger (who identifies himself as a pitmaster in his Twitter profile)

11/17 After announcing that its Lake Norman location was going to close, Mac’s Speed Shop announced plans for the restaurant to stay open as a smaller location after an outpouring of love from the community

11/29 Jon G’s Barbecue and Salud Beer Shop team up for a pizza collaboration for the month of December

December

12/6 Sweet Lew’s BBQ celebrated 3 years open

12/8 Jon G’s Barbecue is named “Barbecue Restaurant of the Year” by Eater Carolinas

12/9 Tony Salerno Named Vice President of Operations for Mac’s Hospitality Group

12/13 Local coverage of Jon G’s being named “Barbecue Restaurant of the Year” by Eater Carolinas

12/13 With it’s upcoming stall at Optimist Hall, Noble Smoke is one Charlotte-area restaurant in expansion mode in 2022

12/29 Jon G’s and Salud Beer Shop announce they will continue their pizza collab in the new year for the first part of January