Charlotte Barbecue News from the Second Quarter of 2020

Monk: Despite the generally bad outlook for restaurants, there was mostly positive news for our top ranked Charlotte barbecue restaurants. Noble Smoke and Sweet Lew’s both reopened with reduced capacity and social distancing measures in place and of course there is Jon G’s Barbecue which finally opened its long-awaited doors in Peachland.

Things were not so great for Queen City Q, which when we started the blog in 2012 was our second favorite barbecue restaurant in Charlotte at the time behind Midwood Smokehouse. And things seemed to be going pretty well in the mid-2010’s, with expansion to locations in Ballantyne, Matthews, and Concord. However, those quietly closed in recent years and the original location in Uptown Charlotte was apparently hanging on by a thread before it was forced to close as a result of the state’s pandemic response. It briefly opened in May as part of North Carolina’s phase 2 but then the final nail in the coffin came when it was forced to close again due to the threat of protests.

If I’m honest, Queen City Q had fallen off quite a bit from when it first opened. Our last visits were my solo trip to the Concord store in 2016 in which a poor experience prompted a re-review of the 6th Street location by Speedy and me a few weeks later. We left that visit disheartened and convinced that the drop in quality wasn’t an isolated incident. Neither of us had not been back since, and now they have shuttered their remaining location.

RIP Queen City Q (2012-2020)

April

4/7 Hillbilly’s Barbeque & Steaks in Lowell is moving to a new building on South Main Street

4/14 Jon G’s Barbecue updates their website ahead of their forthcoming brick and mortar in Peachland

4/20 Noble Smoke begins delivery service in Charlotte

4/30 Sweet Lew’s BBQ, which had been closed but serving their smoked meats out of Dish (also owned by Lewis Donald), announces they are reopening their store for to-go orders on May 7

May

5/1 Jon G’s Barbecue announces they are officially permitted for their upcoming restaurant

5/7 Sweet Lew’s BBQ reopens

5/20 A limited edition Sweet Lew’s BBQ shirt became available and supported two local small businesses with each purchase

5/21 Bill Spoon’s BBQ decides to remain curbside only even as restaurants are allowed to open with reduced capacity in phase 2

5/22 Noble Smoke reopens with extended safety precautions

June

6/4 Queen City Q announced that they are closing their uptown location, which was the last remaining location of their Charlotte locations after numbering as many as 4 in recent years.

6/8 Jon G’s Barbecue announces their soft opening dates starting June 19

6/19 Jon G’s Barbecue officially opens

6/27 Sweet Lew’s BBQ smoked enough pork for 175 plates for the Charlotte Community Kitchen

Jon G’s Barbecue Will Have an Authenticity You Can’t Fake

Have you ever made the trip from Charlotte to Lexington Barbecue during a work day for “a quick lunch?” Or when in Austin, have you ever made the trek to The Salt Lick in Driftwood or Snow’s in Lexington (TX)? When the long-awaited Jon G’s Barbecue brick-and-mortar restaurant opens later this month, it very well might fill that same niche for Charlotte in the small town of Peachland just a short 40-45 minute drive east (praise G’s for that new-ish 74 bypass).

If you’ve been following this site in the past three years, you should already know about Jon G’s Barbecue. But when their brick and mortar opens, they will instantly offer a few things you won’t find at other Charlotte barbecue restaurants.

There will almost certainly be a line, central-Texas style. Each tray will be sliced to order and the counter service simply takes some time for each customer to go through. This is of course not the usual in North Carolina where most of the joints both classic and new are sit down affairs and you rarely have to wait. And even though the reconfigured former Barbee’s Bar-B-Que space has been opened up, Jon G’s is still on the smaller end of the spectrum with only 40 or so seats inside and another 40 or so outside (weather permitting, of course). But that doesn’t matter, because…

As it turns out, the town of Peachland (just across the county line in Anson County) is actually a dry town so if you want brews with your brisket, you will actually be able to bring your own cooler (yes, you read that right). In line waiting for your barbecue? Sit on your cooler and have a cold beer as you move through it (you might even get handed a free one). Nice day out? Sit on one of the custom-built picnic tables outside and have a picnic once you get through that line. The newly-opened Prime BBQ in Knightdale is the only other example of a BYOB barbecue restaurant in NC that I’m aware of, but I love the idea.

Besides the line and the BYOB-nature of it all, Jon G’s feels different because its an updated take on the NC roadside barbecue joint (albeit one that happens to serve brisket, of course). There’s simply no pretension to their barbecue operation (not that much would likely be tolerated in Peachland). All of Kelly and Garren’s hard work has led to this point, from the tailgate tent at Southern Range Brewing to the food truck and now to a brick and mortar store. There’s no big money backers here, and they have worked for everything they’ve earned. Major props to them.

Then of course, there’s the barbecue itself. Jon G’s has been our favorite Charlotte-area barbecue for 3 years running and it looks like there is no stopping it anytime soon. Garren has honed his meats on his new Oyler smoker over the past few months and on the night I tried them the brisket, ribs, Cheerwine hot link, and pulled pork were all consistent with the meat I fell in love with that was smoked on the offset. And the tacos should continue to be big sellers.

Opening a restaurant during a pandemic is not ideal and North Carolinians may not be quite used to driving long distances for barbecue (well, outside a few of us wackos). However, I assure you that it will be well worth your time. Once Jon G’s Barbecue opens full time, I predict I will be dragging as many people as I can out that 74 bypass to spread the gospel of Jon G’s. I would urge you to take the trip as swell. Congrats Kelly and Garren!

Introducing: The Lexington Big Board

Monk: Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that I quietly posted my Lexington rankings a few months back through the top navigation bar. Before the pandemic hit, it was my pet project to hit all of the current Lexington-area barbecue restaurants for my definitive* Lexington rankings. I’ve been a longtime fan of Lexington Barbecue and in recent years, The Barbecue Center. But as the self-proclaimed “Barbecue Capital of the World” (one of many cities claiming that title, it should be noted) boasting at times one barbecue restaurant per 1,000 restaurants (though this is not currently the case), I needed to explore the others to understand the quality and depth of the other restaurants.

I’ve broken the 14 restaurants I’ve reviewed thus far into three tiers. Someday I will get to the curiously named Lexington Trimmings for completeness sake but in the meantime, here is the most definitive list of Lexington-area barbecue restaurants on the internet*. Ladies and gentlemen, the Lexington Big Board.

*one man’s opinion
**that I know of

Tier 1

  1. Lexington Barbecue
  2. Bar-B-Q Center
  3. Rick’s Smokehouse
  4. Speedy’s Barbecue
  5. Smiley’s Lexington Barbecue
  6. Backcountry Barbeque

I need to revisit both Smiley’s and Speedy’s asap, as they may no longer be in business for too much longer as a result of the NC Department of Transportation widening Highway 8 that they both sit on. Also, both were reviewed very early in this blog’s life and while I really enjoyed both, I’ve had a lot of barbecue since.

Tier 2

  1. Speedy Lohr’s Barbecue
  2. Smokey Joe’s Barbecue
  3. Tarheel Q
  4. Cook’s Barbecue
  5. Arcadia Q

To my knowledge, all of these places smoke over wood with no gas or electricity but are just a notch below the best of the best in Lexington.

Tier 3

  1. Stamey’s Barbecue of Tyro
  2. Kerley’s Barbecue
  3. Randy’s Restaurant

Of the bottom tier, Kerley’s and Randy’s don’t smoke over wood and it shows in the actual barbecue.

Still to try

Lexington Trimmings

Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments or email us at barbecuebros@gmail.com.

Quarantinication: My First Time Smoking Pork Belly Will Not Be My Last

Monk: During the pandemic, more people are resorting to backyard smoking. Between the meat shortage due to supply chain issues and inventory being picked up by restaurants, selection can be hit or miss. This means I can’t just walk into my neighborhood grocery store and pick up a pork butt like I used to. However, this does allow for the opportunity to try some different cuts, assuming I come across them.

Pork belly is one such cut I’ve been looking to smoke but hadn’t come across it, even pre-pandemic. However, on a recent trip to Costco they were flush with pork bellies even though the rest of the beef and pork meat case was pretty bare.

But what to do with the 9 pound pork belly? Should I cube it and make pork belly burnt ends or smoke it whole with a salt and pepper rub a la a brisket? Robbie from City Limits Q down in Columbia suggested over Instagram that I split it in half and do both, which only made too much sense. His big thing, however, was to be sure I brine the belly and I did exactly that with kosher salt overnight the night before.

That morning, as I fired up the smoker and let it get to temp, I sliced the pork belly in half and cubed one half and sprinkled in with Hardcore Carnivore’s Red rub. For the “whole” half, I sprinkled the same kosher salt and coarse ground pepper rub I’ve used on tri-tip and other beef cuts. Then, onto the smoker they went.

After 2 hours at 250-275 degrees, the burnt ends were done with their smoke bath. The next step was to toss them in barbecue sauce, honey, and butter and put back on the smoker in a covered pan.

After 1.5 hours, I took off the foil and finished the final 30 minutes uncovered. Then, they came out in sauced little nuggets of pork and fat. About 4 hours total, and I got this perfect sweet and savory bite.

As for the other half of the belly, a little after 3 hours it was already up to 200 degrees internal temperature. I wrapped in butcher paper and rested in a cooler for a few hours until dinner time.

…But not before slicing off a couple slices and throwing onto a potato roll with some homemade pickles I made a few weeks back. The pork belly is such a fatty, rich cut that the acid from the pickles nicely counteracts it. The combination of which makes a pretty darn good sandwich.

I’m not saying this will replace my pork butt as my go-to but it’s nice to have it in the arsenal. While a pork butt will take me 10-12 hours depending on the size of the butt and how fast I’m smoking, I smoked this pork belly two ways and got two fantastic dishes in less than 5 hours total (both of which I have received really good feedback on). On one hand, it was nice to knock out the smoke before lunch but on the other, I didn’t get any extended beer drinking time.

As others have urged, if you are apt to smoking, use this weird time of pandemic as a reason to try something new. You may just love the results.