Prime Barbecue – Knightdale, NC

Name: Prime Barbecue
Date: 7/28/22
Address: 900 Park Offices Dr Suite 120, Durham, NC 27703
Order: 3 meat sampler with pork, brisket, and ribs, deviled egg potato salad (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Speedy: A quick work trip afforded me an opportunity I’d been looking forward to for a long time – a visit to Prime Barbecue. Monk first clued me in to Prime Barbecue in early 2020, when he was invited to tour the not yet open facility and sample some of the planned menu. Reading his description of Texas style ‘cue in NC got me interested, and pitmaster Christopher Prieto’s time on “BBQ Brawl” season 2 only made me that much more determined to make it out to Knightdale to sample the goods. However, due to various scheduling challenges and a bit of a pandemic, it took me over two years to make it happen. Let me tell you, dear readers, it was worth the wait.

Monk: I haven’t yet made it back out to Knightdale for an official review, but was thrilled to see Speedy was going to check it out for himself while back in NC recently.

Speedy: Walking up on this hot Thursday around 12:30 in the afternoon, I saw a large outdoor space, complete with a play area for kids and covered picnic style seating. On this day, the outdoor area was pretty sparse (did I mention it was hot?), but walking in, the space was buzzing. The large dining room was nearly full, and there was a line of about a dozen customers ahead of me. The line moved quickly until it was time for me to place my order.

The main reason I like dining with Monk is not the company he provides…

Monk: …hey, wait a minute…

Speedy: …but rather the addition of another eater that allows me to order everything on the menu. Alas, on this day, I was dining solo, so I had to make some tough choices.

Monk: Longtime readers know that I feel your pain here.

Speedy: Of course I opted for the three meat platter – selecting brisket, ribs, and turkey (along with sides of barbecue rice and green beans). The pulled pork and sausage will have to wait for my next trip (and there will be a next trip).

Let’s start from the top – the brisket. Generally, I order a mix of fatty/lean, but today it all looked very moist, so I stuck with the lean. I didn’t sample the fatty, but the lean was nearly perfect. Great bark, moist, peppery, and flavorful with just the right amount of tug. Prime Barbecue struck a perfect balance of enough seasoning to penetrate the meat fully without over-seasoning the outside. That kept every bite flavorful. This was a top ten brisket-gasm of my life.

Next up – the ribs. Prime serves pork spare ribs, that to my taste were perfectly seasoned and cooked. I was able to get a good, clean bite, but also pull meat from the bone easily. The ribs were glazed enough to add some sweetness without being too sticky. I have no improvements to offer here either.

Monk: While the brisket was really good during the aforementioned media preview in 2020, the ribs were the star of the show for me. Seems like that is still the case here.

Speedy: I’m on record lately as to really enjoying smoked turkey, so I was excited to try my final meat – the sliced turkey breast. For me, this was the only meat I didn’t love. While cooked perfectly and not at all dry (the usual culprit for imperfect turkey), I found the turkey to be a bit on the buttery side. My presumption is the turkey is wrapped in foil with butter at some point in the smoke process, and while it definitely kept the meat moist, I felt like the turkey and smoke flavors got overpowered. If you are a fan of buttery meat, I still think you will love this dish, but it wasn’t for me.

I was pretty full from the feast above, but did still have room for a couple of bites of each ordered side. The green beans were solid, and worth ordering. The barbecue rice (complete with bits of sausage) was like no other rice I’d had before and will be something I’ll order again. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I washed it all down with Cheerwine from the soda fountain – just an extra cherry on top of a great meal.

Since we started our blogging over ten (!) years ago, the Barbecue Bros have seen the proliferation of Texas-style barbecue all over the country. I’m happy to say that Prime Barbecue takes this style (along with a few twists) and not only does justice, but serves up one of the best meals you can find anywhere. Five hogs.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 4.5 hogs
Brisket – 5 hogs
Ribs – 5 hogs
Turkey – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 5 hogs

Lawrence Barbecue – Durham, NC

Name: Lawrence Barbecue
Date: 7/23/22
Address: 900 Park Offices Dr Suite 120, Durham, NC 27703
Order: 3 meat sampler with pork, brisket, and ribs, deviled egg potato salad (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: Jake Wood and Lawrence Barbecue burst onto the Triangle barbecue scene a couple years ago and has come out strong. Originally slated to be one of the many barbecue restaurants announced to open during 2020 as part of Raleigh’s big year of barbecue, it eventually opened in June 2021 and has since been named by Robert Moss one of Southern Living’s best new barbecue joints and best barbecue in Durham by Durham Magazine.

Lawrence Barbecue opened as part of Boxyard RTP, a shipping container park that has retail stores as well as a tap room for Fullsteam Brewing. Wood was originally going to smoke whole hogs but plans changed and he now has three Lang reverse-flow smokers where he smokes pork butts, Texas-style brisket, ribs, chicken, turkey, and wings.

On this visit I got a three meat sampler of 1/3 pound each of pulled pork, Texas-style brisket, and sticky ribs along with the deviled egg potato salad. While I get why it didn’t make sense logistically to smoke whole hogs, at least Jake Wood and team are executing their pork butts nicely. Not really Lexington-style even though they are smoking butts, the pork had lots of bark chopped in and adding their OG vinegar sauce really set it off.

The Texas-style brisket was well smoked and had a great bark that had a little something something else in it – maybe giving it a tangy hint in addition to the usual salt and pepper bark. The brisket was trimmed perfectly and had a nice thin layer of fat in the two slices of fatty I got. Another nice touch were the two burnt ends that were also included.

The sampler came with two bones of spares for their “sticky ribs” and they were smoked perfectly. Sticky and sweet, the bites were clean and flavorful.

I only got one side – deviled egg potato salad – but I’ve been told all are legit and inventive. I can see that based on this twist on a classic potato salad. And they even have their own beer they’ve collaborated on with Trophy Brewing named Leisure Land Lager (“leisure” is big in the world of Jake Wood).

With Lawrence Barbecue, the Research Triangle Park has legit barbecue that competes with the best in the state as well as the southeast. Next time I go, I’ll go on a cooler day (although the covered area has a huge fan, temps were near 100 that day) and will get some oysters in addition to all of the delicious barbecue.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3.5 hogs
Pork – 4.5 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4.5 Hogs

Lancaster’s Bar-B-Que – Huntersville, NC

Name: Lancaster’s Bar-B-Que
Date: 7/14/22
Address: 9230 Beatties Ford Rd, Huntersville, NC 28078
Order: Eastern style BBQ pork and sliced brisket with slaw, Brunswick stew and hush puppies (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: My Charlotte revisit continues this week with Lancaster’s Bar-B-Que in Huntersville. Lancaster’s first location is 20 miles away in Mooresville (aka “Race City USA”) where the original was opened in 1986 but before being moved to the current location in 1992. This Huntersville location opened in 2006 in the historic Puckett’s Gas Station & General Store. With the original location having opened in 1986, I believe that makes it one of the oldest barbecue restaurants in the Charlotte area along with Bubba’s Barbecue which also opened in 1986 in the old Bill Spoon’s Barbecue location before moving to its current location on Sunset Road.

I made my first visit back since 2014, and it appears they toned down the NASCAR decor as part of a 2014 facelift some time after my visit.

As for the barbecue, it was lean, not smoky, and coarsely chopped. It had some pepper flakes but no vinegar unless you add in the vinegar pepper table sauce. Does that make it eastern style as they advertise? They certainly don’t smoke a whole hog and they cook on a gasser with added wood according to my trusty NC BBQ Map (RIP EDIA Maps, the maker of it) .

I did order a second meat on this day and since fried chicken would have taken 30 minutes to fry (per the waitress), I bravely tried their brisket. It came out thinly sliced, finished on the grill, and doused in a sweet sauce. No bueno.

The hush puppies came in a manageable number in small cardboard tray and was easily the best part of the meal. The Brunswick stew was tasty although I have a hankering that veggies were frozen. The mustard slaw was reminiscent of Bill Spoon’s Barbecue.

I should also mention that Lancaster’s had some controversy in 2018 when they were sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) because of alleged racial discrimination against a former employee. That employee worked at the Mooresville location but I haven’t found any resolution to that case in my research.

So where does that leave Lancaster’s Bar-B-Que? The rest of the menu is very much a Southern food restaurant with wings, burgers, fish camp fare like fried fish and shrimp, and on that criteria perhaps its more successful. In terms of barbecue, between its lackluster cue and potentially problematic workplace issues you can continue to look elsewhere.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 2.5 hogs
Brisket – 1.5 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 2 Hogs

Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q – Charlotte, NC

Name: Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q
Date: 7/9/22
Location: 5121 Trojan Drive, Charlotte, North Carolina 28278
Order: Bar-B-Q platter with hush puppies, cole slaw, and potato salad (link to menu)
Pricing: $

Monk: Living in Raleigh during my college years at NC State, whenever we headed east on I-40 towards the coast, we tended to hit up the Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q in Garner on the way out or back home. However, I moved to Charlotte in early 2005 so the last time I had actually gone to any Smithfield’s was likely in fall 2004; it had been quite some time. Smithfield’s (not related to Smithfield Foods, the Chinese-owned pork producer and food-processing company out of Virginia) has been around for 40 years and since those days in the early 2000’s it has grown to 40 franchise stores and has expanded slightly west into North Carolina’s Piedmont. And I do mean slightly – their sole location in southwest Charlotte near the outlet malls is their farthest store west by a good bit with their nearest Piedmont location in Greensboro or Rockingham.

I recently visited that location headed west towards the mountains on my way out of town. While I was tempted by the titular fried chicken, I went with a bar-b-q platter and kept it simple with their standard order: hush puppies, cole slaw, and potato salad.

And you know what? The barbecue, while surely mass-produced on a huge scale, did the trick. Sure, it doesn’t have a ton of smoke, but it tasted fresh and was chopped nicely. Adding the vinegar sauce and/or Texas Pete enhances it but isn’t necessary.

The hush puppies were some of the better fast casual hush puppies, and I felt bad tossing some in the trash after I filled up (though I did briefly consider bringing them in the car with me, though that would have meant throwing them away an hour down the road). While I didn’t regret going with potato salad over French fries, after a few bites I had my fill.

In a pinch, stopping at one of many Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q across the state will certainly do, and is probably your best bet for chain barbecue ahead of Cook Out or Jim ‘N Nick’s. Oddly, I probably received the most feedback of any post on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter so people seem to feel strongly about them (good or bad) for whatever reason. Next time though, I’ll probably go for a fried chicken thigh in addition to the barbecue.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs