Noble Smoke (Finally) Opens Its Doors

Monk: Personally, I have been following the Jim Noble barbecue restaurant quest for just short of four years. The first article I ever linked that mentioned Jim getting into the barbecue business was from an August 2015 linkdown and I’ve been tracking them on the Charlotte Big Board ever since. Though of course, as has been well established, Jim’s been looking to open a barbecue restaurant for over two decades but wasn’t going to open one without the right location, which Speedy and I got a behind the scenes look at last month. Well, after a visit during their soft opening, I’m happy to report that Noble Smoke is finally here and its spectacular.

While the official grand opening of Noble Smoke is July 25, they officially opened for business for a nearly 2-week period of soft openings (dubbed “The Little Smoke”) on Friday, July 12 meaning the restaurant opens at 4, food is served at 5, and they close once they sell out of meat. On the first Friday, the reduced menu comprised of pork and brisket (served either in sandwich form or by the ¼, ½, or 1 lb) as well as a several slides and a “hand pie” dessert.

And of course, with their on-site partnership with Suffolk Punch Brewing (who hasn’t opened this second location yet), they have plenty of beer on tap in addition to wine and cocktails. They even have a beer called “Noble Toast” which is a Vienna lager and was brewed in honor of their partnership with Noble Smoke. Once the brewery opens, it will surely cement its status as a destination barbecue restaurant.

I stopped in for a quick snack at the bar and am happy to report that they have hit the ground running at Noble Smoke. I ordered a ¼ each of pork and brisket as well as their Lexington-style red slaw. The pork is of course smoked in their custom brick pits fashioned with permission after the famous pits at Lexington Barbecue (Jim’s favorite barbecue joint along with Skylight Inn). I don’t believe they are serving it with the Lexington-style dip chopped in, instead allowing diners to add their choice of sauce. Adding a few dashes of the “Lex” sauce and mixing in the red slaw created the familiar taste of Lexington-style chopped barbecue. Next time I’ll try it on a sandwich. Also available is a sweeter “19” sauce and a mixture of the two, dubbed “Smoke.”

The brisket was what I was probably most interested in, having previously tried the pork at Suffolk Punch Brewing’s first location (then known as Hyde Brewing) for St. Patrick’s Day last year. As Speedy and I were shown a few weeks ago, Noble has 6 custom-built offset smokers that handle the brisket (and I’m guessing the rest of the forthcoming smoked meat items which I’m presuming will including chicken, sausage, pork ribs, and beef ribs). And what they put out is some seriously legit brisket. I was served both the flat and the point. The flat (or lean) had a great peppery bark and was not dry at all. The fatty cut from the point had well-rendered fat which melted in my mouth. Jim Noble’s focus has always been Lexington-style pork but (perhaps unsurprisingly) the man can make a mean brisket.

As I mentioned above, Noble Smoke has hit the ground running. The huge restaurant filled up quickly and had a line out the door by the time I left but I observed no major servicing hiccups. There was a little confusion at the bar as to when we were able to order but once ordered, the food came out promptly. Hospitality was great and all of the servers at the bar were friendly.

Once the soft opening period finishes later this month and the menu expands, I expect that Noble Smoke will be in serious contention for best barbecue restaurant in Charlotte. It’s that good.

Ten Lessons Learned from Smoking Our First Whole Hog

Monk: Back on Father’s Day weekend, Speedy and I set out to do something I’ve been wanting to do for years. And you know what? We rocked it. But even using both the Sam Jones Whole Hog book (review forthcoming) and the Buxton Hall Book of Smoke as references, there were still a few speed bumps that we can learn from the next time we smoke another hog (and yes, there will definitely be another time).

Lesson #1 – If your barrel doesn’t have a bottom, don’t set it up on cinder blocks

Monk: The barrel I got, while free, already had both the bottom and top cut off. The top wasn’t needed, but I would have preferred the bottom attached so as to keep the coals in. I did get a tip that an aluminum water heater pan would fit perfectly, and it did. However, after just a couple of hours that pan started to disintegrate so Speedy and I had to figure out a way to get the burn barrel off the cinder blocks mid-burn. We managed to get it done, losing just a few coals in the process. Once we got it on the ground, it was smooth sailing…for at least a little bit.

Speedy: Monk may be underselling this a bit. Taking a hot burn barrel with an active fire off of cinder blocks could’ve ended badly, but the pig was the most important thing. To add to this, I’d say that if placing the barrel on the ground, put a solid sheet of metal that won’t burn through underneath, as it can be difficult shoveling the coals off the ground.

Lesson #2 – Be sure to allow enough time to let a solid bed of coals build up before you start to shovel into the pit

Speedy: What we found was that the cinder block pit we made was losing about 1 degree of temperature a minute, so we ended up dropping coals in every half hour. This shot the temperature back up 30 degrees quickly, but we had trouble keeping enough coals to shovel in (refer to lesson #5).

Monk: We were probably a little bit anxious in adding coals to the pit and should have let the fire go for at least an hour before we started shoveling them in.

Lesson #3 – Get fire proof gloves

Speedy: We were very, very fortunate that Monk’s neighbor had some fireproof grilling gloves that he brought over. These came in VERY handy (refer to Lesson 1), and I wouldn’t try this again without some.

Monk: Yes, these were definitely lifesavers.

Lesson #4 – Get at least a half cord of wood

Monk: In Sam Jones’ book, he says you might be able to get away with a quarter cord of wood, but he recommended at least a half cord because having leftover is far more preferable than running out. In our experience with a half cord, we burned through every last bit of firewood. Next time, I won’t consider ordering anything other than a half cord.

Lesson #5 – And definitely have a few bags of charcoal handy in case its needed (it will be needed)

Speedy: This was something Monk and I didn’t have handy, and we were struggling keeping temperature and weren’t making coals fast enough. Luckily, there was a 24 hour Walmart 10 minutes away, so I went to pick up a couple bags of charcoal while Monk manned the fire. This definitely did the trick, but it would have been nice to have them on-hand.

Lesson #6 – Be sure to have the right thermometer measuring your pit temperature

Monk: I initially used the wrong type of thermometer to measure pit temp (one used for measuring oil used for frying turkeys), and it wasn’t until a couple hours in that we realized we were probably 50 degrees below what we thought we were. Once I plugged in my Maverick Redi-chek thermometer, we were able to adjust our coals accordingly and get the pit temp up to where we needed it to be.

Lesson #7 – Working in shifts is definitely a good idea so that you can get some rest

Monk: We started at midnight to ensure enough time to get the hog done ahead of a 6pm party, and Speedy and I each ended up getting about 4 hours of sleep each. While some late night drinking and BS-ing by the burn barrel is fun and all, make sure you get enough sleep so that you aren’t a zombie the next day at your whole hog party.

Lesson #8 – You will be surprised how quickly the hog gets done

Speedy: Monk had told me the hog would be done in about 12 hours, and I thought no way that could be true. At the end of the day, I think we were cooking around 14 hours, but it definitely could have been done in 12 if we didn’t have temperature issues at the beginning. Lesson learned – never doubt Monk.

Monk: I have nothing else to add here other than to emphasize Speedy’s last point about never doubting me.

Lesson #9 – More is more when it comes to rebar, or consider using a grate

Speedy: To chop the hog, we first split it down the middle and then in quarters at the ribs. Unfortunately, when doing so, one quarter of the hog dropped through the rebar onto the ground. Some of the meat was salvageable, but we probably lost a good 8-10 pounds of meat. The good news is there was still plenty of our 126 pound hog to go around.

Lesson #10 – If you can swing it, smoke your first hog with your best friend

Monk: If Speedy wouldn’t have been able to make it, I would have been doing this solo. Besides the pure labor aspect of smoking a hog, there’s a definite sense of satisfaction of smoking your first hog with a good buddy. And remember – its Barbecue Bros, not Barbecue Bro.

Noble Smoke will raise the bar for Charlotte barbecue when it opens this summer

Jim Noble will officially enter the barbecue restaurant world with the opening of Noble Smoke in the coming few weeks, but he is certainly no newcomer when it comes to barbecue, having grown up in High Point and spent his life going to Lexington Barbecue. Noble Smoke will be the culmination of a decades-long idea that’s been rumbling around in Jim’s head ever since he got started in the restaurant business. Jim may have started off in french cuisine and fine dining, but from spending some time with him getting a behind the scenes tour of the upcoming restaurant, it’s pretty evident that barbecue (and in particular, North Carolina barbecue) is a passion of his.

We’re still a few weeks ago from the opening, but its pretty clear to me that once opened, this will be a destination barbecue joint. The touches that you would expect from a Jim Noble restaurant are there – there will be a full service bar, the design is impeccable, and the dining experience will be well thought-out – but where it will really stand out is what’s housed in the custom built smokehouse out back.

That is where there are 6 custom-built reverse-flow offset smokers (each one named for Jim’s great aunts and uncles) as well as a brick pit that pays homage to Lexington Barbecue via a slightly tweaked design of their pits. This was probably the coolest part of the tour for Speedy and me, as longtime readers will know that Lexington Barbecue is our #1 all-time favorite restaurant (Rudy too). Jim is also a huge fan and has learned from the Monks, the family behind Lexington Barbecue, for years. With Noble Smoke, he will be very much looking to continue the Lexington-style barbecue tradition that began with Sid Weaver and Jess Swicegood and their stalls across the street from the Lexington courthouse in 1919.

Besides the smoked meat, the other part of the experience that will help make Noble Smoke a destination barbecue spot will be Suffolk Punch Brewing, which shares the other side of the old bus depot that will house the restaurant. A beer garden and killer patio will make the strong case for customers to stick around well after their meals are done, and Suffolk Punch will be doing some lambic style brewing of sours onsite at this second location, which will surely help differentiate it in the Charlotte market.

Let’s not forget Bossy Beaulah’s, the chicken shack that will sit on the property down a small hill closer to Freedom Drive. Jim has named that after his Aunt Beaulah, whom he named a mobile smoker trailer after and whose fried chicken he grew up on. That will have a smaller menu but patrons in the beer garden will be able to order from it with the servers running up a small hill to bring them brined and buttermilk breaded fried chicken sandwiches.

Jim Noble is a North Carolina guy who is passionate about North Carolina barbecue and I am confident that he will raise the bar when it comes to barbecue in Charlotte. Midwood Smokehouse brought back wood smoked barbecue to Charlotte in 2012 and Sweet Lew’s BBQ has contributed greatly to the scene to it with its opening last December, but Charlotte has so much more room to grow when it comes to its barbecue scene. If Houston’s barbecue scene is blowing up, there’s no reason why Charlotte can’t do the same. I think it just takes more passionate folks like Jim. Noble Smoke will continue the upward trend of barbecue in Charlotte with its opening this summer and I predict will stake a worthy claim to be Charlotte’s flagship barbecue restaurant.

Memphis in May 2019

Monk: For my second Memphis in May with the Cotton Pickin’ Porkers, they finished a very respectable 12th out of 35 teams in whole hog (just missing a call) in addition to 18th out of 118 in tomato sauce, 23rd out of 95 in mustard sauce, and 71st out of 145 in wings. Not bad for a group of guys that gets together once a year to do this festival, even if they’ve been doing it for the past 29 straight years (one of only a handful of teams that can claim that). In any case, Memphis once again proved to be a fun weekend of barbecue and drinks. Can’t wait for next year!

Cotton Pickin’ Porkers

Some of the other tents

Speedy, Mrs. Monk and me

Miscellaneous shots from the festival weekend