Southern Smoke BBQ – Garland, NC

Name: Southern Smoke BBQ
Address: 29 E Warren St, Garland, NC 28441
Order: Chopped barbecue, ribs, and smoked chicken with jambalaya and Dr. Pepper
Pricing: $$

I’m a Lexington-style barbecue guy through and through – as the saying goes, you prefer what you grew up on – but 8+ years into this barbecue journey I’ve learned not to be too dogmatic about my barbecue. I’ve learned that a slice of properly smoked brisket can be the best thing I’ve eaten in a long, long time and that a well smoked sausage in a snappy case can be something both my wife and I happily share when I inevitably drag her and the kids to yet another barbecue restaurant. Also, the other style of NC barbecue in the state rivalry – that is, eastern NC style – can wow me just as much as a sandwich from Lexington #1. Recently, Southern Smoke BBQ in the small town of Garland, NC (pop. 621) in eastern NC did exactly that.

Southern Smoke is the creation of Matthew Register, whose book I recently wrote on post on, and as the story goes was started in 2014 after he got inspired by reading “Holy Smoke” by John Shelton Reed and his late wife Dale. Others have covered his story better than I will attempt to here, but he and I have been circling each other on social media for the past few years and I’ve been meaning to find a way to get to Garland ever since. Not an easy feat, mind you, since its 3.5 hours away from Charlotte and 1.5 hours from even the Brunswick County beaches we often visit as a family. Recently inspired by an excellent John Tanner’s BBQ Blog entry, I made the decision to finally bite the bullet and go during the Monk family’s week-long stay at Ocean Isle Beach.

A side note – besides the barbecue itself, it was a real joy to drive the county roads and through the small towns of eastern NC that I hadn’t had the pleasure of passing through before. I lived in Fayetteville, NC for about 6 years until 6th grade but certainly hadn’t been on highways 701 or 211 or passed through the towns of Elizabethtown or White Lake.

On this day, a Washington Post reporter and photographer was in town interviewing Register as part of a story spotlighting Garland. Meanwhile, workers were speculating about who might be purchasing the Brooks Brothers shirt factory in town that had recently shuttered. Their hope was that it would help restore jobs for the 150 or so workers who were laid off earlier this year, and re-energize the local economy. I’m not giving up the city for a small town anytime soon, but its certainly nice to visit.

Once I reached Garland and Southern Smoke, I parked underneath the massive magnolia tree across the street and walked up to place my order outside of the restaurant where they’ve transitioned to taking orders during the pandemic. From there, I took my order of barbecue, ribs, and chicken (graciously comped but by no means affecting this review) out to their backyard seating area, which under normal times is used for their themed “South Supper Series” dinner parties they host at different times of the year. I would love to somehow take the vibe of it and drop it in my own backyard in Charlotte.

And I’ll be danged if the eastern style chopped pork didn’t hit the spot that day. It had the perfect balance of smoke and tang and my taste buds immediately thanked me for making the journey. My understanding is that Register and team smoke pork butts instead of whole hog before dressing it with their eastern style sauce. Say what you will about other types of barbecue, but the simplicity of that style of barbecue (perhaps the original style of barbecue in America) just makes sense. It definitely did on this day.

Each day that they are open – currently Thursdays and Fridays but adding Wednesdays next month – ribs and chicken of some sort (sometimes smoked, sometimes fried) are usually available in addition to the barbecue. The ribs are meaty baby backs and as with the barbecue were well smoked with a perfect balance of smoke, salt, and sweet in each bite. As for chicken, I’m not usually a chicken at a barbecue restaurant kind of guy but these two quarter chickens are certainly worthy of an order.

The sides at Southern Smoke rotate daily, and not all are your typical barbecue sides (Register jokes that he has a reputation on the barbecue food festival scene of being the guy with “pretty sides”). In fact, on this day I got jambalaya which shouldn’t be at all surprising if you’ve read Register’s book which not only features classic barbecue dishes and sides but also pulls from the Lowcountry and Mississippi Delta. The cornbread was on the sweeter end of the spectrum (which I always enjoy) and appeared to be cooked in a skillet. It was mouth-wateringly wonderful.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Matthew for a good bit after I finished my meal, and the conversation certainly wasn’t limited to barbecue. He’s a smart, thoughtful guy and our conversation ranged from soccer (we are both big Manchester United fans) to music to books to the current state of affairs. Of course we talked a good bit of shop as well, and it was great to hear his perspective on barbecue.

Southern Smoke BBQ is a destination-worthy barbecue restaurant in a small town in eastern NC. While you might be tempted to describe Garland as being in the middle of nowhere, the barbecue from Matthew Register and team is at least 200 mile barbecue – if not more. Do yourself a favor and find time to make the trip like I did. You won’t regret it.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 5 hogs
Ribs – 5 hogs
Chicken – 4 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 5 hogs

Lexington Style Trimmings – Lexington, NC

Name: Lexington Style Trimmings
Order: Large chopped tray with red slaw, hush puppies, and Cheerwine (link to menu)
Pricing: $

Monk: Since last fall, it has been my pet project to finish trying every Lexington area barbecue restaurant. As of February, I was making good progress and had just one or two more to try…before COVID 19 hit and shut the country down. Like a lot of things, my quest fell by the wayside.

As North Carolina entered phase 2 in late May and restaurants were slowly allowed to reopen with reduced capacity, I knew that it didn’t have to be too long before I was able to try the next restaurant on my list: Lexington Style Trimmings (although they closed for about a month between mid-June and mid-July due to a kitchen fire). Other than the name, I didn’t know too much about LST and even after doing research afterwards detail are a bit hard to come by other than it is a “longtime” barbecue restaurant at the same exit as the Bob Timberlake Gallery exit in Lexington.

Regardless, on first glance, Lexington Style Trimmings fits the bill of a Lexington joint. It sits at the end of a small strip mall, has car hop service (even pre-pandemic), and is a diner-style restaurant that serves barbecue in addition to other southern foods in two small, no-frills dining rooms.

However, the barbecue didn’t live up to Lexington standards. The chopped pork was mushy and had a rather unappealing texture. Not to mention a disappointing lack of smoke. For one of the last joints on my Lexington barbecue quest, this was quite a letdown and only made me want to revisit the better joints on the list post haste.

The red slaw was standard and while the hush puppies were a bit overdone and perhaps a tad too crispy, they were slightly sweet and by far the best part of the meal.

There is now one more joint to try – the newly discovered Blazin’ BBQ and Kickin’ Chicken in downtown Lexington – and there are some joints I need to revisit in my Tier 1 of Lexington joints (like Speedy’s and Smiley’s, which I last visited in 2012), so I’ve still got just a little more work to do. As for Lexington Style Trimmings, now that I’ve punched this one on my card I think I’m good.

Ratings:
Atmosphere – 2.5 hogs
Pork – 1.5 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 1.5 Hogs

The Cheef (food truck) – Brevard, NC

Name: The Cheef
Order: Brisket wrap, sausage wrap (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: After a day hiking or tubing on the river in the mountains of NC, a wood smoked barbecue food trailer parked outside the local outfitter is quite a welcome site. On a recent trip to Brevard , The Cheef was that welcome site parked outside of Headwaters Outfitters on the North Fork French Broad River.

The Cheef serves Tex-Mex barbecue from a food truck that makes the rounds in the town of Brevard and nearby Rosman. I actually spotted it twice on Fourth of July weekend, once here and the very next day at The HUB Pisgah Tavern at the doorstep of the Pisgah National Forest.

Actually, “food truck” would be a little misleading, as the meat is smoked on a reverse flow offset Lang Smoker mounted in the bed of the heavy duty pickup truck that also hauls a food trailer. Based on Instagram posts, the menu seems to regularly consist of a variety of smoked meats including smoked pork, sausages, brisket, and chuck roast. Though I didn’t have it that day, chuck roast is smart as its a cheaper cut of beef than brisket that I can personally attest makes great tacos. Well played, The Cheef (or is it just Cheef?).

Other than the El Guapo (a pork taco topped with roasted tomatillo salsa, onions, and cilantro) or the loaded baked potato, the menu is largely made of smoked meats presented simply with either Texas toast or a large flour tortilla. I opted for brisket and smoked sausage at $13 and $6 respectively.

The brisket looked to be moist and perfectly smoked, and that was mostly the case. My only minor complaint was that it could have used a little more flavor, though that was ultimately achieved by pouring some of the sauce that came on the side over the brisket before folding it in the tortilla as a wrap. It proved to be a pretty satisfying mid-afternoon snack, even though it was a little pricey for what you get.

The smoked sausage was a little less successful for me, with the kielbasa-style sausage plenty smokey but not exactly what I was looking for in my order. Admittedly, I was hoping for more of a Texas-style link such as a the ever-present jalapeno cheddar. However, at $6 it was less than half the price of the brisket and offers a good beef alternative at a much lower price point.

A Tex-Mex barbecue truck is a bit of a rarity for North Carolina, much less in the mountains. Not to mention one smoking with a legit smoker such as a Lang. When in the Brevard area, definitely be on the look out for The Cheef while having a beer after your outdoor adventures.

Ratings:
Brisket – 3.5 hogs
Sausage – 3 hogs
Overall – 3.5 Hogs

Jon G’s Barbecue – Peachland, NC

Name: Jon G’s Barbecue
Address: 116 Glenn Falls St, Peachland, NC 28133
Order: 1 pound brisket, 1/2 lb ribs, 1 Cheerwine hot link, 1 jalapeno cheddar, cheddar grits, baked beans, cole slaw (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: On the first day of their soft opening dates, I made what is sure to be the first of many trips east to Peachland out to Jon G’s Barbecue. Assuming there was going to be a line for a 4pm start, I arrived at about 3:25 and found that indeed there was one. Once in line I confirmed that I was 12th in line (behind Adam and his wife of Apple City BBQ nonetheless!). I cracked open a beer with my (actual) brother Andy and friend of the blog Chris and happily began our wait in line.

For this first day at least, Jon G’s was just letting one group in at a time to order at the counter so the line moved a little slower than it ultimately will once things are normal (whenever that may be). No matter though if you’ve got a cooler full of beer, which I can’t recommend enough.

Once through the line, we headed out to the picnic tables with our food. On this warm day, some intrepid patrons ahead of us in line set up a tailgate tent over one of the tables and I was immediately jealous. The heat was not unbearable despite it being late June, and between the intermittent breeze and the cold beer we managed. Of course, the barbecue helped.

If you’ve been paying attention, you already know how I feel about Jon G’s Barbecue, so I won’t dwell too much on the food. But as expected, the Texas Trinity of brisket, ribs, and sausage each hit the mark. The mix of lean and moist brisket was buttery soft with a great pepper crust, the ribs are rapidly becoming my second favorite meat there, and the sausages (their signature Cheerwine hot link and a jalapeno cheddar) each had a nice kick with a great snap.

Kelly and Garren will be understandably focusing on the restaurant for the foreseeable future at the expense of the food truck so if you want to try the best barbecue in Charlotte, you’re just going to have to make the trip to Peachland to try Jon G’s Barbecue. I would recommend getting there early if you can, as the line had grown to upwards of 60-70 as I left. Regardless, make the trip, bring a cooler, and I promise you won’t be mad that you did.

Ratings:
Brisket – 5 hogs
Ribs – 5 hogs
Sausage – 5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 5 Hogs